First, let me apologise. This is late on a Thursday night after signing a lot of books, and I am, in short, exhausted.
We - that is Richard, the excellent Simon & Schuster sales manager and me - set off this morning before nine o'clock and stormed up the road towards Exeter, where we met the fabulous Claire in Waterstone’s Roman Gate, and signed a pile of books. After that, it was over to Terry's store in the High Street, and more books to sign, before wandering the streets aimlessly to find a coffee store to wake us up.
It wasn't easy, but the lengthy discussion about mobile phones helped break the ice and woke us both up - a bit. Now I need to rethink whether I need a Sony, or whether I ought to return to a Blackberry phone again ...
Piling into the car and heading off down to Newton Abbot was good, especially seeing the new Newton Abbot shop with the extensive refurbishment. A marvellous signing session there.
A bit to eat, and then we were off again to Plymouth. Which would have been easier, had Richard not made the tactical error of trying to use me as a map-reader. Twenty minutes later, having turned around and headed in the correct direction, we set off on the correct road to Plymouth, to see the folks at New George Street and then Drake's Circus, in the huge new shopping centre. And then, a talk to a load of interested and enthusiastic readers, and home.
And here I am, sitting with an apple ready and waiting to be consumed, and a large glass of whisky, while I muse on the day.
It's been a good one. The number of books sold has justified my day away from the desk; the pleasure of getting out and meeting a load of new readers was great, and the morrow has the potential of being as good again.
But it does give reason for a pause and thought about the market. Especially since I've had three aspiring authors accost me to ask about the best way to get into print.
There is no easy answer. Should new authors get an agent before seeing a publisher? Yes, if possible - but if a publisher meets a stunning new concept down a darkened alley, they'll still wrestle it to the ground, with or without a ruddy agent in the background pinching fifteen percent.
Should an author go straight to self-publishing if the first publishers refuse their work? Well, yes, possibly, but if the author decides to go the self-publishing route, there are two unbreakable rules: one, always, always pay for a copy editor to read it through first (it'll cost less than £500 and will be worth every penny) and, second, do not even consider the vanity press. These are the companies who, invariably, advertise.If a publisher needs to advertise, it is generally not worth paying for their services. Good publishers work on word-of-mouth or their sales in Waterstone's. They don't ever advertise.
Going out and signing books is a privilege. Once, many years ago, I was sitting in Waterstone's and found myself accosted by a member of the public. "Where," she demanded, "is the archeological section?"
I stared at her blankly. I was there to sign copies of my books. She thought I was a shop salesman. God knows why. They were all far better dressed than me.
Another time, I was told of an occasion when Lord Archer had been unimpressed by the number of people at the signing table. Rather than sit back looking embarrassed, as I would, he lifted the table out from the shop and into the street. There, he proceeded to harangue members of the public until he had sold all the shop's stock. Someone today told me of Brian Blessed. When stuck in a shop with too few buyers, he stood in the street and bellowed at people passing by until, at last, enough people had entered the store to buy, intrigued to learn what was the reason for the shouting!
For me, I don't think such approaches would work. I am a typical writer. I get embarrassed easily. However, I am keen to sell as many books as I can. That means I will go all over the country to try to talk to people. I'm covering the west country in two days this week; later I will be visiting London and the north, covering Leeds, Birmingham and all stations to Carlisle and Edinburgh. It'll be good to meet with people who have interests in Baldwin's early life.
And that is the point. I've written thirty-two books about a series of characters, about their trials and successes, and now I've gone right back to their early lives, telling how they first became motivated to join the Templars, how other men lived and fought, and how their enemies grew to hate them so much that only the eradication of their city and religion would give them peace.
It was a fascinating, terrible, brutal and uplifting time. A period in which people fought in the most barbaric manner, and in which the most glorious examples were set before a cynical population. Some men and women behaved in an exemplary manner, while others were baffled by the politics of the time, and some few were determined to take advantage of their innocence.
And above all, it was the time when a man called Baldwin was exposed to his own worst fears and learned that he could overcome them. It was the time of his own coming of age. And that, really, is the story I was searching for, and which I wanted to portray.
I have had a wonderful few days, and now there's one more West Country signing at Truro (which will be complete before you read this). And then, with my books all sold, and my pen set aside, I will be able to enjoy a weekend at Padstow, Morris dancing with Tinner's Morris, before going to the Royal Cornwall Show and dancing up there with my friends all day Saturday.
And for those who want a last opportunity to grab a free copy of TEMPLAR'S ACRE, go to the Cult Pens website. **This offer has now ended**
As well as collaborating with fellow members of The Medieval Murderers, Dartmoor-based Michael Jecks is the author of thirty three novels in his best-selling Templar series. His latest, Fields of Glory will be published in June 2014 in hardback and Kindle from Simon & Schuster. Expplore more of Michaels' work at: www.michaeljecks.co.uk