Everyone’s talking about ‘self-publishing’, aren’t they? I heard that last year a Japanese chick-lit book, sold a staggering 420,000 copies in one month. This is impressive because it was self-published by a 21-year-old nursery teacher, who incidentally wrote the whole thing on her mobile phone. I remember thinking, ‘if Tokyo’s Mary Poppins can become a self-publishing powerhouse on her Nokia, why can’t I?’
I mean, I’ve written for loads of magazines, and like everyone it seems, I had a brilliant idea for a book. You see, I also have an obsessive illness that has seen me amass what has been called an ‘important’ collection of Tottenham Hotspur match shirts. Seriously, I’ve got pieces on loan at the National Football Museum and over 200 shirts: I’m mentally ill. But it keeps me out of jails and brothels. So I decided I’d write the history of the Spurs kit, illustrate it using photographs of old shirts, publish it myself and retire a millionaire by Christmas. That was August. Since then I’ve narrowly avoided legal action, spent literally thousands of pounds, done one victory lap of my front room and cried real tears once. This is my story.
The plan was simple: Photograph a match-worn Tottenham shirt from every season since 1951, print up 500 copies of an A5 paperback book detailing their history and flog them to Spurs fans like me, ‘on Amazon or something’. Spurs were enjoying a rare successful period, and people had become suddenly mad for retro kits, and this would be a perfect Christmas gift at a modest £6.99. What could go wrong?
I convinced various collectors and museums to open the doors to their collections, and I photographed 30 beautiful kits on a mannequin I liberated from the fashion cupboard of a men’s magazine. I borrowed a camera and some lights from a photographer friend, and got busy on InDesign laying out pages. Now, a journalist using InDesign is like your milkman trying to play the harp. InDesign is not a beginner’s sport. I felt like when I was a child trying to progress from Lego to Meccano, and the leap was so unrealistic, so brain-throbbingly complicated that I poured the metal pieces into the fish tank. I still don’t know why.
For a wannabe photographer and debut designer, my first effort wasn’t bad. But when I showed a real magazine designer, he just shook his head and scowled: I’d used fonts I had no right to use, and it turned out I’d have to pay for those pictures of old footballers I’d hastily stuck in, and I’d done the whole thing as A4, not A5.
What an idiot! I bet that Japanese teacher didn’t have these problems on her Nokia.
"I decided I’d write the history of the Spurs kit, illustrate it with photos of old shirts, publish it myself and retire a millionaire. That was August. I’ve since narrowly avoided legal action, spent thousands, done one victory lap of my front room and cried real tears."
This wasn’t the most deflating thing to happen that week. Days earlier, my beloved Spurs played their first game in the Champions League qualifier against little known Swiss opposition called Young Boys. We were three goals down in twenty minutes, and Spurs were never going to make it into the Champions League proper. I sat in the pub watching it, knowing that failure would seriously affect sales. For the first time in my life, the fortunes of my blasted team would directly affect my own, like when ET got Elliot rat-a***d.
What’s more, sports photo agency Action Images told me I had to ask Tottenham Hotspur FC for permission to use one of their pictures of Jurgen Klinsmann celebrating a goal, wearing a shirt I actually own. “They do know you’re doing this?” asked the kind man. A cold chill shot down my spine. Spurs were not going to like this one little bit, were they? Why didn’t I think of this?
John Fennelly, Head of Publications at Tottenham Hotspur, was polite and helpful, but started using words like ‘intellectual property’, and ‘licensing’ and then I read a blog about an author having his entire stock pulped by another football club for using their logo illegally. John said he should see this book immediately. I sent off some proofs after hastily adding “100% Unofficial” to the title. That, I hoped, should help the fact that my front cover was a close-up of their famous brand logo. Their precious logo.
I had finished the final draft by now, my nights necking Nescafe and my mornings subbing copy on my iPhone on the bus to work. Then one night I got home to an email from a lady called Victoria at THFC, and my heart sank. I opened the mail expecting a ‘cease and desist’ legal threat and the end of my publishing career. I read it in silence. But it was an offer to stock my book in the official club shop. They were not suing me! They loved my book! The club I love, they loved me too! I was on my feet, the computer chair was kicked back and I was off round the lounge, arms wind-milling like a post-goal Klinsmann.
That evening, Spurs met Young Boys again in the home leg, with everything to play for. As our fourth goal crashed in, I ran out of the stadium before full time, racing down Tottenham High Road waiting for the signal to return to my iPhone so I could leave a breathless voicemail for the printer to double my print run from 500 to 1000. This. Was. Brilliant!
The printers rang back in the morning with some questions about pagination and stuff, and it was during this conversation that I realised I’d really f***ed up. After a decade working in publishing I didn’t know they charged by PP [“printed page”] rather than by the sheet of paper. My book was 78 pages, not 39. Honestly, I could have died in shame. The printer doubled the quote to many thousands of pounds and blew my business plan out the window. In fact the costs were now spiralling out of control, and I had started to realise this self-publishing lark wasn’t a poor man’s game. My girlfriend was there when the barcode arrived for the back of the book. “How much did that cost?” she enquired innocently, holding up the tiny piece of paper.
“£118”, I told her. “But don’t worry, I got ten for that.”
She went very quiet.
It wasn’t just about the cash. “Lilywhite & Blue” was now taking up all of my time. I had chosen to sell my books on Amazon, and signed up for their ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ programme. (You send them the books, they flog them and put them in those little brown boxes). The costs were endlessly confusing: ‘Variable closing fees’ and ‘pick and pack’ and I learned my books would even pay rent to sit in Amazon’s warehouse.
What’s more, to ship your books to their depot, one must read a four-page document on their rules and print complicated shipping documents. There was a diagram of an Amazon-approved pallet, the type a fork-lift truck might lift, and a warning that should you use the wrong one, they’ll just turn your delivery away. Where do you get a bleeding pallet from anyway? I wanted to pour the Meccano into the fish tank again.
I rang the helpline and spoke to a lady called Sian, who saved the day. Sian works in Amazon’s Slough office, and was basically an angel. She said, “Leave it to me,” and helped the printer ship the books straight to them. This was September and I wanted the book out by October. This was when Spurs would be doing battle in the Champions League against teams like Milan, and a million Spurs fans would be asking for Spurs related Christmas presents.
"I’d used fonts I had no right to use, I’d have to pay for the pictures of old footballers I’d stuck in, and I’d done the whole thing as A4, not A5. What an idiot! I bet that Japanese teacher didn’t have these problems on her Nokia."
By now I’d decided to make each book a limited edition of 1,000 and individually numbered, an idea by my mate Tim, who is clever with things like that. Everyone I knew was helping by now, even my Dad, my new PR director.
I drove to the printers in Oxfordshire to take the first copies off the press, and it felt brilliant to smell the ink and hear the presses rolling. I stole numbers 1, 61, 81, 91, you know, all the Spurs Cup Final years, and Klinsmann’s number 18 (I told you I was strange), and left them to ship the boxes to Amazon, on an Amazon approved pallet and a van that was the correct colour for Amazon. That was it. I was now officially a self-publisher.
The next few days exceeded everything I’d ever hoped for when I began the project. Amazon sold 66 copies in the first three hours of it going on sale. I was invited to dinner with the board of Directors at THFC in the Oak Room at White Hart Lane, before the Aston Villa game. I had the lamb. I sat in the front row of the Director’s box with Fabio Capello as Spurs triumphed 2-1 over Villa. Afterwards Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy was given a copy of my book and, shaking my hand warmly, he asked me to sign it.
“To Daniel. Come on you Spurs!” I wrote, flushing crimson, signing my first ever autograph in the player’s lounge at Spurs. Headrush.
Of course, for self-publishers like me and that Japanese school teacher, there are always low-points. While Lilywhite & Blue briefly reached number 5 in the Amazon>Sport book chart, I received an email from a customer in Chicago: “You’ve got problems with the rags and serious typographic errors,” he complained. “I’m a typographic designer and the layout really bothers me,” he added. Reviews online varied from the gushing, “Thank you so much for doing this for the fans,” to “small club mentality- what a waste of tree,” which I actually lost sleep over.
But do you want to know very best thing is? Sales. Sweet, sweet sales. Every time Amazon flogs one, you get an email alert: “We have sold your book!” “We have sold your book!” “We have sold your book”. I flogged two of the b******s while I did the washing up last night, and one while I brushed my teeth. I’ve even made good, honest, self-publishing wonga while I sleep, dreaming of course, of Tottenham Hotspur football shirts. I’m glad I gave it a go, rather than being one of those blokes who endlessly talks about ‘the book’ and who never actually writes it. But one more thing: Never again.
To buy Jeff's book 'Lilywhite & Blue', click the link below.