Lane of dreams or direct route to queer street?

NORMAN GILLER’s self-publishing adventure The Lane of Dreams is challenging his creativity, cunning, charisma and cash flow in equal measure. His latest progress report should not be read by anybody of a nervous disposition

I had thought that by charting my experiences, it might encourage redundant reporters and sub-editors to explore the possibilities of self-publishing, print-on-demand schemes, and to learn to turn the internet to a profitable advantage. But so far, I fear I may be frightening them away rather than risk following me over the cliff.

First the good news: I have virtually finished writing the book, which is the story of White Hart Lane before the ground is bulldozed into history. It’s a book of two halves ¬ first the facts by me, the second half the feelings of the fans.

I shall write the last words when the final shots of the season have been fired, so that it’s bang up to date. When I started writing, Spurs were at the bottom of the Premier League table. They are now ninth, with an outside chance of stealing a Uefa Cup place.

Now the bad news: a sponsor who was going to share the printing costs has pulled out because of the credit crunch. So now I am on my own, with a printer who wants half the money before the presses roll and the balance within seven days of the first print run.

On top of that, I have a tax demand burning a hole in my desk. More of that later.

The Giller pockets are thimble deep, and I am having to learn tricks as I go along to keep my project afloat. Many of my hoped-for sales will be by mail, and I have this week taken the decision to make the book soft cover rather than hardback.

That saves money on two fronts: 30p less postage, and a cost “per unit” of around £2.50 instead of £3.00. I am aiming for an initial run of 5,000 copies, an outlay of £12,500 for the 256-page near-A4 size book. That’s not counting a £1,000 photographic bill, nor the non-earning hours in which I have slaved while writing and assembling the lay-out for the .PDF files from which the printer will work.

I am convinced that few authors have worked harder than me to reach their readers before publication. I have set up a website for Spurs supporters to pass on their memories, and have attracted more than a thousand Tottenham followers to an If You Worship at White Hart Lane Facebook group that a knowledgeable friend helped me form.

I have communicated personally with hundreds of Facebook visitors. My early motives were purely mercenary, but I have been made so welcome on the social network that I have found many friends through shared interests and absorbing on-line chat.

You need to take on board that I am a dyslexic dol frat, who started out in the sports journalism business with a typewriter and carbon paper more than 50 years ago. It’s been a long journey, and I am trying hard to prove that you can teach an old dog, or even an old hack, new tricks. Don’t forget it was only in the 1990s that my former Dorset neighbour Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. It has been a perpendicular rather than angled learning curve.

Just as we have yet to discover 96 per cent of the universe, so the internet is untapped. We have just scratched the surface of what can be achieved, and I hope the younger generation of journalists are encouraged to set off on a voyage of discovery. We are all like Columbuses exploring uncharted oceans, and for anybody with a mix of imagination and industry there is an exciting and profit-making new world out there.

A word of caution to anybody thinking of using the Facebook facility for commercial reasons: don’t go in banging the drum for business. You will quickly get blocked. I had three warnings about my “inappropriate behaviour” before I learned to move around quietly and draw friends into my net by casual communication. Softly, softly catchee monkey.

Another unforeseen problem came in the shape of a book on a similar theme to mine by Harry “Scoop” Harris, who knows more about the ins and outs of Tottenham than anybody on the planet. But having now read Harry’s fascinating Down Memory Lane, I am relieved to discover that our books are poles apart. He concentrates on the politics and personalities of the club, while I have tried to tap into the passion and the pulse of the supporters.

His is a solo journey, while I have a small army of Tottenham fans helping me tell the story of The Lane. I now have to try to get from their hearts and into their pockets.

Here’s advice for sports editors: make a much bigger effort to reach women readers. I am astonished at the high percentage of female followers that are sharing knowledgeable memories of The Lane with me. They don’t want to be talked down to or patronised, but they do want their participation to be recognised.

A reminder about other extras when self-publishing: don’t forget to take into account costs of receiving, storing, dispatching and handling (and often pulping) stock; all rates that you have to agree with Gardners or whichever wholesalers/distributors with whom you work. You can reckon on 53 per cent of your RRP being eaten up.

Oh yes, and there’s also extras like the barcode and four-colour jacket, and your PayPal percentages if you are selling via the internet. And dare you fly without a legal check? Remember that when you do bookshop deals, the likelihood is that it will be on a “sale or return” basis; so don’t consider those books sold until you have received the money for them.

These are all negative points, but necessary for you to note. However, please think positively. For me, I see 60,000 potential customers among the Tottenham fans. If I can get 5 per cent of them to buy my book, I will be in profit. The writing is the easy part. It’s the marketing and selling that can mean the difference between banking money or bankruptcy.

My book is unique in that much of it has been written on the internet, with Tottenham fans pouring out their memories and comments. I have been so protected and cosseted in passionless neutral press boxes that I have forgotten just how much clubs mean to fans. White Hart Lane is not just a football ground. For thousands of people it is their spiritual place of worship, their Valhalla, their second home.

I have a thick file of names of Tottenham supporters who have told me they want the book. The test will come when I ask them to put money where their mouths are. I am hoping to pull in as much pre-publication money as possible by offering the £18.95 book at a discounted £10 plus p&p.

I have a “book the book” campaign on the internet, am preparing flyers to be given away at The Lane, and have a provisional order from the Spurs store (on sale or return). My sales blitz will start the moment I send the final .PDF file to the printer after Tottenham’s last home game on May 24.

It’s all very taxing, which brings me back to the topic of the tax demand. I have received a notice for payment from the Inland Revenue for an underpaid sum of, wait for it, 0.01p. Yes, a penny.

It came along with a return-reply envelope, and the warning in small print that “you may be charged interest if your payment is late.”

I revealed the demand on Facebook, and said I was going to refuse to pay it. There was lots of support for me, and they set up a Save the Dorset 1 campaign.

I telephoned the tax office to ask the procedure for an appeal, but the person I spoke to had as much humour as a ruptured robot. I was coldly informed that it was all computerised and that I should add the “outstanding amount” to my next payment.

Perhaps I can write it off against any book losses?

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