My Biggest Mistake: John Drummond

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The Independent Online
MY BIGGEST mistake was to assume, when I did my first book, Good Business, that writing it was the tough part.

I found that finishing the book - far from being the end of it - was only the start of the troubles. It's only when you have finished the writing that you become aware of what can be the rather rough end of book publishing.

In the course of my book coming out my publisher was taken over, and this resulted in a series of name changes. Coupled with this was an alarming change in personnel, who are, after all, an author's main point of contact.

When you deliver a book for the first time, you assume that you are plugging into a massive marketing effort that has been tried and tested over the years. What is more likely to happen is that the publisher will issue a press release and then make clear that the author is expected to make a huge effort to ensure that as many people as possible know about it.

Although this is a shock to the first-time author, it is not surprising when you consider it from the publisher's point of view. The small publisher tends not to have the resources to devote to marketing, while the large one is probably publishing a book a day, so it does not have much time for each book. The exception is if you are somebody like Joan Collins, where the promotion needs to match the investment made. But I was unaware of that equation at the time.

But it is not just the marketing that can be disappointing. Distribution is also a problem. Good Business received very good advance reviews, which were carried on the cover. But, despite this, family and friends who tried to obtain it were either told by bookshops that they had never heard of it or that it would take weeks to order.

It makes you wonder how any book sells. I was very tempted to do what I heard other, now well-known authors have done - hire a van and take a load of books from the warehouse to distribute around the country.

It was all a great shock. Because I have been a businessman all my life I made the assumption that publishing was like any other business - which proved woefully wide of the mark. It seems that although many publishers are now part of big corporations, they can still behave in old-fashioned ways. They often do not seem to have been hit by modern management thinking.

For example, I was talking to a publications editor the other day about another book. When I said that it might appeal to a wider audience than the one originally envisaged, he looked at me with incredulity. The idea seemed to be that achieving larger sales than expected would pose a problem. Other businesses would love to have that problem.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have gone about things differently. I think the choice of publishers is very important - I have no complaints about Butterworth-Heinemann, the publisher of my second book - though flexibility is rarely available to new authors.

But you need to realise what can happen. I come across people in business all the time who think they are doing something interesting that they should write about. They always assume that once they have got it to a publisher their problems are over.

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