Friday, June 08, 2007

Auctions and the buyer's premium

Also in today's blog

Memoirs of a Twentieth Century Antique Dealer

This section may be considered "off topic", but I'm hoping that some Bookworm readers share my enthusiasm for antique shops and auctions. Not that they are the happy hunting grounds they used to be back in the Eighties. In fact it's some years since I saw anything at a view which lured me to attend the sale.

Reading the online catalogue for a sale held yesterday, I was surprised and dismayed to see that my local auction house has increased the buyer's premium to 10%. According to receipts for things I bought in the mid-Eighties, no premium was charged, but by 1989 a b.p. of 5% was in place.

There's a good article on the subject of the buyer's premium by Stuart Maclaren, editor of Government Auction News, published monthly by
Wentworth Publishing Ltd, 17 Fleet Street, London.

He writes - "The buyer's premium is kept by the auction house and is not passed on to the vendor. This means that you are paying an additional fee to the auction house for the privilege of having bought from them: it's a bit like Tesco's charging you 30 pence for tin of baked beans, and then charging you an additional three pence fee for the pleasure of having shopped in their store."

After learning that "Christie's now charge an amazing 17.5%, and Sotheby's a truly astonishing 20%!" I then read, "So that's 'what it is' - but 'why it is' is a more difficult question. What do you get for the privilege of paying this money? Not catalogues, which you have to buy separately. Not a great service either, because the auction houses which charge the most are often the most chaotic. The truth is, you get nothing at all for your additional 10% (or whatever percentage it is). A buyer's premium is purely a tax on your spending, and auction houses charge it because they can, and because it makes them a lot of money."

Memoirs of a Twentieth Century Antique Dealer

A book which tempts me, even though it costs £20, is Roger Warner: Memoirs of a Twentieth Century Antique Dealer.

Who was Roger Warner. On an elegant page at the Regional Furniture Society's website, I read -

"Roger Warner was an antique dealer in the Oxfordshire town of Burford for over fifty years. During this period he traveled the United Kingdom visiting other dealers, buying stock and enjoying infinitely more encounters with furniture, both remarkable and unremarkable, than any curator or historian could hope to achieve in a lifetime. Starting business in 1936, he began by specialising in things that did not interest his fellow members of the trade. Beds, 'back stairs' furniture and obscure medieval items caught his early attention. Some objects were bought privately, but many of his prize finds came from the great country house auctions that occurred with such distressing frequency just before and after the Second World War. This was the great heyday of twentieth century collecting, an era in which almost every sale would turn up something of rarity and interest; items that are now certainly absent from the market, or their kind disappeared altogether."


Treva and Richard Havers posted interesting comments yesterday. I'll comment on Monday.

Treva, if you have time over the weekend, could you send me the list of Bridge titles you've bought to

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bestseller, The Good Reading Magazine

Also in today's blog
"Glaring glitches" in crime novels?

As I mentioned yesterday, the other book magazine, of which I unearthed six copies, was Bestseller, The Good Reading Magazine, price £1.95. Publisher Nick Snow. Editor Peter Grose. Published by 21st Century Publishing Ltd of 531-533 King's Road, London SW10.

The Letter From the Editor in the June 1992 issue [Over 250 Books Previewed, we're told on the cover] begins –

"Until today, you've been part of a neglected majority. More than half the women of Britain, and almost half the men, have read a book in the last week. Yet until today you've had no easy way of keeping up with the latest books. There are magazines for satellite television watchers, opera buffs, gardeners and people who like to knit. Now Bestseller has arrived for half the population – including you – who like to read books."

On the cover of the launch issue is a still brown-haired Jilly Cooper and topping the Features listed is an article "Jilly Cooper on Rider's rude bits…a television mini-series is looming, based on Jilly Cooper's sex-in-the-saddle blockbuster Riders. But the script riders have been forced to avoid some of the raunchier bits. Jilly reveals all to Roz Owen."

The third item on the list asks "Do you have £1,000 in your attic?…we investigate the world of first editions and help you to find out if your ancient Girls Annual is worth anything."

However the article which interested me was by Bestseller's editor, Peter Grose, headed "Who gets my tenner?" It was an explanation of who gets the largest cut from the price of a book and, not surprisingly, they were Bookseller, Publisher, Printer, Author in that order.

Curious to know how long Bestseller survived and what Peter Grose is doing now, I tracked him to the Orion website where I found that he has a book coming out later this year called A Very Rude Awakening : The night the Japanese midget subs came to Sydney Harbour.

He is described as a former publisher at Secker & Warburg, founder of Curtis Brown Australia and former chairman of ACP (UK).

Orion's publicity department has not yet responded to my request to be put in touch with him.

"Glaring glitches" in crime novels?

I was delighted to read in his comment yesterday that Adrian Weston thinks "Ann Bridge's Peking Picnic is a novel directly comparable with books like A Passage to India - well worth serious consideration. Some of her later books tapered off but her first handful were outstanding."

I would rate Peking Picnic more highly than E M Forster's A Passage to India, but it's several decades since I read the latter. Must re-read.

At his Books That Matter site, Adrian writes – "It also made me reflect upon the places where I most often encounter really bad typos, sloppy editing, inconsistencies, etc .... yes, crime novels. Am I imagining this or is there a lower standard of desk editing in that sector of the industry? Surely the sort of audience that is poring over hints, clues and innuendo is going to be enraged by glaring glitches? Or am I unusual. I don't think so."

Is he right, or is sloppy editing the norm now? The website of a leading literary agent has "due to" instead of "owing to" on her submissions page, but probably no one under 60 would notice it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Discovering a cache of magazines about books

[Apologies for today's blog being up later than usual. Last night I had techie problems with the sewing machine and today is Mr Bookworm's birthday.]

Also in today's blog

Reply to Lorna's comment on "corporatization"

The Grand Purge on my workroom has revealed a forgotten cache of copies of Million magazine and Bestseller magazine.

The earliest copy of Million I seem to have is No 3 published May/June 1991. It cost £1.95 and the cover lists profiles of
Anne McCaffrey
Robert B. Parker [see photo]

Leslie Thomas and others.

All their websites are well worth a visit, even if the authors are unknown to you.

The last of the three carries a quote from Larousse Dictionary of Writers by Rosemary Goring, a book I haven't come across before and will investigate.

Getting back to Million, it was published bi-monthly by Popular Fictions, Brighton, the editor and publisher being David Pringle with Kim Newman as associate editor.

Replying to readers' letters in issue No 3, David Pringle wrote –

"The readership of Million is shaping up to be predominantly female, while that of Interzone is mainly male. Also, I suspect that Million readers are older on average (some of them are even old enough to recognize what the title means – "the million" was a pre-World War II term for "the masses", and one reader in his seventies has informed me that there was actually a short-lived left wing political journal called Million, published from Glasgow in the 1940s; although ours is a very different sort of magazine, it's highly likely they were using the title in exactly the same sense as we are.)"

"Moreover, the new magazine is succeeding quite spectacularly with public libraries, in a way which Interzone has never done, Although its subscription base is much smaller so far, Million already has about twenty times the number of UK library subscriptions that Interzone enjoys. Librarians love it! Because of all these factors, we suspect that the new magazine will eventually outstrip the older ones in total sales and subscriptions. This will take a while to achieve, though."

However, in an interesting interview with him, mainly about Interzone, he says –

"Million was my other pet hobby. I made mistakes; I was feeling a bit cocky. Interzone had been successful, and with Million I invested too much money too quickly. I shouldn't have started with a bi-monthly; I should have started with a quarterly. And the colour covers: I really should have started it as a fanzine. But the main reason it didn't succeed is we're talking about a very different kettle of fish. Interzone is primarily a fiction magazine, and Million was a magazine that commented on popular culture, popular fiction. And I suppose I discovered that the world didn't need such a magazine... "

Corporatization of the arts

In a comment earlier this week, Lorna of Sacramento, CA, wrote -

"Thanks for your explanation about Past Forgetting, Anne. I think that corporatization (if that's a word) of the arts has done a lot of harm, not only in writing, but also in the news media.

It's been a long time since I have read a new novel, mostly because whenever I have picked one up in a bookstore, I end up putting it back on the shelf after reading a few pages. Most of them just do not appeal to me."

I'm in the same boat, Lorna. Most of my current reading is non-fiction, or I re-read novels I've had for years.

If you can get hold of a copy of Ann Bridge's Illyrian Spring, first published by Chatto & Windus in 1935 and re-published as a Virago Modern Classic in 1989, I'm pretty sure you would enjoy it.

From time to time I make an effort to keep abreast of the books in the bestseller lists. Recently I read a couple of titles by a British writer who sounds a nice woman and whose books are selling 100,000 plus copies in the UK alone. But, for me, it was an effort to plough through novels about people whose suburban lives don't interest me and who seemed to have no interests apart from their emotional problems.

From Ann Bridge's novels, at first reading, I learnt many fascinating things about other countries and aspects of life I hadn't known about before. They were enriching in a way that the popular fiction of the early 21st century rarely is.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Autumn paperback preview by marketing man

In the Autumn Paperback Preview which came with the 1 June 2007 issue of The Bookseller, Paul Henderson selected "the best paperbacks from the publishers' lists for July to December."

In an introductory piece, he wrote, "My choices are driven by volume, so apologies to the smaller publishers that [sic] have sent me material and books, but which I really don't believe will deliver the sales to take them into the higher sales echelon."

Alongside this was a photo of Paul "who has worked in the book trade in a variety of roles since 1983. He was marketing director of Ottaker's from 1999 to 2005, and is now m.d. of Leading Edge UK. He was World Book Day chair in 2003 and has served on the BA Council. He lives in Wiltshire with Fiona."

The books he has chosen are arranged in four categories.
Giants 100,000+ sales
Bestsellers 50,000+ sales
Bubbling Under 30,000+ sales

A name which caught my eye was Elizabeth Buchan whose novel, The Second Wife, Mr Henderson places first on his list of August Giants.

His comment on it is – "Although not a prolific writer, Buchan's last two books, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The Good Wife, both sold extremely well. Penguin will therefore be working hard to remind readers who she is with a targeted campaign.

Having read a couple of Mrs Buchan's books, I don't need reminding who she is, and I'm puzzled by his reference to her as "not a prolific writer."

Since 2000 she has published eight books which seems a more than satisfactory output for a quality novelist.

But Mr Henderson is a marketing person and, in my observation, they go for quantity rather than quality. Maybe it was "Fiona" who influenced him to give Elizabeth Buchan precedence over the other authors – including the super-prolific Danielle Steel – he includes in his August list.

A Seventies passion that died

Four annual reports of the Jane Austen Society [1972-1975] and 35 books by or about Jane Austen, housed on the top shelf of a former-cupboard-now-a-bookcase in our bedroom, are evidence of my once passionate enthusiasm for JA.

But it's possible to overdose on favourite authors. I did with Jane Austen. Now I watch the attempts to package her for the chick-lit market with cynical disdain.

Marina Lewycka, see photo, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, was writing about JA in The Times on Monday.

Extract : "So what is it that comic woman writers such as Jane Austen and Sue Townsend have, which their contemporaries such as William Thackeray and Douglas Adams don’t have? I was tempted to say that the special characteristic of female humour is kindness – we smile with Austen and Townsend, we don’t sneer. Then again, Nick Hornby is unfailingly kind to his hapless characters, while that famous female wit, Dorothy Parker, is very sneery."

Monday, June 04, 2007

In praise of a book about gouache

Also in today's blog

Being driven mad by the comment situation
Past Forgetting : a reply to Lorna's comment

Being driven mad by the comment situation

This morning Blogger informed me that
"Adrian Weston has left a new comment on your post "Is there a market for novels about older women?"

The text of his comment was -
"really age should be no barrier on all sorts of books: I loved Mary Stewart as a teenage boy (having got into her via her more teenage-friendly Arthurian books, but then working my way through my mother's stash of the rest of her fiction) plus all sorts of books by men and women of all ages and eras. It deeply depresses me that there is the expectation that people should only want to read books by people of the same gender and age as themselves. If you think about it it's a ludicrous proposition ("Oh, no Mike, I haven't read The Kite Runner because, y'know, I'm not like from Afghanistan") - I mean, really, isn't fiction supposed to be about getting into places, thoughts, feelings that are not necessarily our own. It's actually something I get quite heated about, given too much rumination. My eldest child is currently doing GCSEs and looking at how lame the curriculum is nowadays ("why, when I were a lad...&c &c") and I think it's largely from the belief that people can't relate to experiences that diverge from their own.

Oh, I despair.


I despair.

Shuffle off.

At the moment this does not appear where it should and I can't find a way to make it do so. The cache where, recently, I found about ten comments waiting to be released is proving elusive.

My apologies, Adrian. Will keep trying. Meanwhile thanks for your input.

In praise of a book about gouache

As he was returning some videos to Guernsey's public library, I asked Mr Bookworm to bring back a couple of books I had checked in the online catalogue.

One was Pamela Kay - A Personal View - Gouache [David & Charles 1995 £17.99] and the other Fathers and Sons, The Autobiography of a Family by Alexander Waugh [Headline 2004 £20].

Pamela Kay's book was not to be found so Mr B consulted a librarian who fetched it down from the library's reserves. The loan stamps showed it was borrowed for the first time in August 1997 from which I conclude it was bought at the request of a library member.

It was borrowed seven times in 1997, four times in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and twice in 2001. Then it was transferred to the "stack" or reserves.

At the New English Art Club site, I learned that there is also a monograph on Pamela Kay, written by Michael Spender and published two years before her book. [By mistake, I showed the jacket of the Spender book in last Wednesday's blog.] There are five used and new copies for sale, the prices ranging from £44.55 to £167.99. No reviews.

On the Amazon page about Pamela Kay's book, two reviewers praise it, one of them writing, "There aren't many books around on the art of gouache painting and a great many misconceptions surround this medium. As someone relatively new to gouache I was interested in Pamela Kay's book, which seeks to inform and enlighten its readers. Her art is very beautiful and her descriptions evocative and detailed. A wonderfully insightful book, highly recommended."

In her acknowledgements at the front of the book, Pamela Kay writes, "My grateful thanks must also go to John Ward, in whose atelier I learned so much."

Past Forgetting : a reply to Lorna's comment

It was afternoon tea time in Guernsey when I read your comment on Thursday, Lorna.

I'm replying here so that I can show the jacket of another book called Past Forgetting. [A number of books with this title are listed at Amazon UK]

The one I bought when I spotted it in a bookshop is Past Forgetting: A Memoir of Heroes, Adventure, Love and Life with Fitzroy Maclean by Lady Veronica Maclean, published by Headline in 2003.

"Veronica MacLean was born in the 1920s in the Scottish Highlands to the illustrious Fraser family and married the diplomat and politician Sir Fitzroy Maclean. "Past Forgetting" is the story of her life played out against the dramatic social, political and diplomatic history of the 20th century. From her acquaintance with the Kennedys, Bushes and the Astors to her friendships with Belloc, John Singer Sargent and Freya Stark, the autobiography also charts her journeys overland to China, Persia and Yugoslavia, her lecture tours in America and her medical mission to the Balkans in the late 1990s."

You ask what happened to the book about Longwarden I was going to call Past Forgetting from the song I'll See You Again written by Noel Coward for his 1929 operetta Bitter Sweet.

I'll see you again,
Whenever spring breaks through again.
Time may lie heavy between,
But what has been
Is past forgetting.
This sweet memory
Across the years will come to me;
Tho' my world may go awry,
In my heart will ever lie
Just the echo of a sigh,

Unhappy first experience of mainstream publishing

What happened was that I wasn't happy with my first experience of mainstream publishing. Having started writing in my twenties, by the late Eighties I had been published by the legendary Boon brothers for 30 years and imagined that other publishers would be like them. Which, ten or fifteen years earlier, some still were.

But by 1987, publishing was starting to change into the "industry" as we see it today; a world of giant corporations heavily influenced by marketing people rather than experienced editors.

Also I had begun to realise that I couldn't write 250,000 words of mainstream fiction a year plus two romances for Mills & Boon totalling around 110,000 words. I was going to have to make a choice.

At that time, M&B were enjoying what are now seen as the "golden years" for romance authors, still relatively few in number and, if they had a good track record, encouraged to write as they pleased rather than obeying the diktats of marketing people with regards to themes and titles.

Before I had made up my mind, a mainsteam editor I had met and liked made a good offer for next Longwarden novel. Less experienced writers would have jumped at the opportunity, but I read the book trade press and was uneasy about future of the company. While I was hesitating, the editor was moved to another imprint and her successor didn't like the Longwarden proposal. So I put Longwarden on hold for a while, a situation which has continued for a long time.

Now I think the best thing to do is to publish the book myself. I really couldn't bear another jacket like the one on the paperback of All My Worldly Goods which shows six of the main characters looking nothing like my idea of them, particularly Nick Dean.

He, as Lorna knows, returned to Longwarden after two years as a caballero legionario in the Spanish Foreign Legion but is shown on the cover looking pasty-faced instead of bronzed and wearing a French Foreign Legion kepi instead of the scarlet-tasselled cap he should have.