A competition for using your imagination

In 1997 a book was published by an unknown author living in Edinburgh.

It was to become a publishing sensation, but since nobody knew that at the time the first print run consisted of a mere 500 hardback copies, most of which went to libraries.

The book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, by J K Rowling.

harry-potter book jacket

Image from boingboing.net

If you want to buy a first edition, first print run, copy of the book today you’ll need to have several thousand pounds to spend on it, and if it’s a signed copy you’ll need several thousand more. The copy above apparently sold for $29,875 in 2011.

Then again, if you just want to read the book you can get the hardback in a new edition for less than £10 and the paperback for about half that on Amazon. If you’re lucky you might even pick one up in a charity/thrift shop for much less.


A good rummage in a shop like this might just produce a Harry Potter bargain.

When I self-published a little guidebook to tearooms last year I had no idea how many copies to order, but I found out from the printing company I used that the more I ordered the cheaper each book would be.

Taking a complete stab in the dark and lured in by the lower cost price if I had lots made, I plunged in and ordered 2000.


A small sample of my book stock.

Had I known then what I know now about the sort of quantity I was likely to sell, I would have paid more for each copy and ordered far fewer, but such is the benefit of hindsight.

On the plus side, lots of lovely customers have shelled out for this small tome, for which I am most grateful, and who knows I may even sell a few more before they become completely obsolete.


New book by local author in the window of The Bookshop, Blairgowrie, last year.

I was chatting to my sister about this today, and telling her that I felt I’d like to do something with some of the remaining copies.

The only idea I’ve come up with is to make them into some sort of art installation, but beyond piling them up, sticking them to a lamp-post, or arranging them in a sculptural manner, I’ve had little inspiration.

She suggested I ought to have a competition for people to propose things I might do with them, and that made me think about writing this blog post.

This reminds me of a situation my dad was in a few years ago, when he was lumbered with boxes of a book that wasn’t selling (he was running a book stall at the time). I remember leaving a copy on a train once, and on a bus, and I think possibly even on a park bench. I hoped that in each case someone might pick the book up and read it, or give it to a second hand shop or something, but I really don’t know what became of them.

I could do the same with my book, except that I am still selling it online and in a few shops, and I don’t want to upset anyone who’s recently purchased a copy.

The longer I have it, however, the more out of date it becomes, and I’d like to work towards putting it to another use.

If you happen to come up with an interesting idea for what I might do with, say, a box of 100 copies, perhaps you could leave a comment below. There might well be a teatowel for the winning suggestion.

Since I haven’t yet broken even on the cost of producing the book, I’d like whatever I do with spare copies to cost nothing. I have given quite a few to libraries, but I don’t want to offload more onto them when the book is getting a bit dated.

I’ll be putting my own thinking cap on again, and if I come up with anything of interest I’ll post about it anon.

Perhaps I’ll try wearing a pancake like this beautiful rabbit, to see if that proves more inspiring.



46 thoughts on “A competition for using your imagination

  1. Hey Lorna,
    You have done a great job publishing and pat yourself on the back. Mail this book to 10 important people in Scotland tourism and your city council.
    Keep writing, you never know when luck knocks on your door!

    • Thank you, Aparna, that’s very kind. I tried getting the tourist board to take it for their shops but they weren’t interested. I even recruited my local MP to fight my corner, but the Chief Executive of VisitScotland, the country’s tourism body, told me to buzz off with my books. Still, I tried. That’s an idea about the council though, I might send some to them. You’re right, I do need to be patient and persistent when it comes to writing, but unfortunately I’m naturally neither!

  2. Have you thought of using a few copies for book crossing? Sadly, I don’t think this would be a solution for a box of 100 books and judging by the paltry 77 books ‘on the loose’ in Scotland just now, this neck of the woods has not really taken too well to this fun way of borrowing books. But if you should go further afield…http://www.bookcrossing.com/howto

    A lot of hotels and B&Bs around here have stalls of brochures for their guests etc, but depositing them in these kind of places would not exactly help you get your money back.

    Perhaps you are good at making sculptures such as these … http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-25051337

    Sadly, I can’t think of anything more for your lovely guides at the moment, but the minute I do, I shall get back to you. Such a shame that this venture did not work out more profitable for you, after all the work that has gone into it 😦

    • Sonja, you’re a marvel! Thank you so much for your inspired suggestions. Book Crossing is an extension of what I was doing with those books my dad was getting rid of, but so much better. I really like that idea. I also love the paper sculpture, that is truly magnificent work. I don’t think my skills would extend to anything quite on that scale, but perhaps I should have a bash and see what I can do. Putting them into hotels, B&Bs, etc. is another excellent idea. I asked for an idea and you came up with not one, but three, brilliant notions. Superb job, thank you. 🙂

  3. I had a bookstore once and took on author’s books for a minute profit–do you know of any small book stores or stationary stores that would take you on and only take 20%–and what about the tearooms that you mentioned–although you have probably already thought of that

    • Thanks LouAnn, it’s interesting to hear that from someone who has run their own bookstore. I am selling it through several outlets, including a few tearooms, but I’m afraid I’m terrible at the whole business of sales. I find it cringeworthy pitching my book to people and trying to persuade them to buy it or sell it for me. Thankfully, my dad is pretty good at doing it on my behalf. If I was able to do more of that myself, however, I could certainly shift more copies. I’m surprised by how bad I am at it because I thought I’d enjoy the selling bit. Maybe if it wasn’t my own creation it would be easier.

  4. Some good ideas here – wish I had some inspiration for you. Do you have the equivalent of what we call Chamber of Commerce? Most largish cities have one and they promote local businesses. I could see a group like this being interested in your guide as a way to bring business into their town. Keep at it, Lorna!

    • That’s a thing I hadn’t thought of, Annie, thank you. We do have Chambers of Commerce here, and I’ve been looking them up online since reading your comment because I knew nothing about them. There is a regional one for where I live which I could join but the down side is I would need to pay a fairly hefty annual fee. Maybe I should consider it, but I’m not sure if it would translate into enough book sales to cover the fee. Thanks for your encouraging words, too, by the way. 🙂

  5. Hi Lorna, having self-published too, I have immense sympathy for your dilemma, especially the trials of selling your own work. On a very small scale, I recommend and a friend’s book and she does the same for me, but you need something bigger.
    My best outlet was by chance; I said to our local farm shop, I don’t suppose you’d stock a local author? They said, try us. So I gave them a copy and the owners loved it. Over time they sold four dozen (sale or return), recommending it to people. Too many local authors joined in, and so they don’t sell books (or only food books) now, but I bless them for their openness to the idea. Worth a try – since yours is food-related?

    • That’s a good arrangement with your friend, and well done with the farm shop! I do sell my book at a local farm shop (they also happen to have a lovely tearoom, which is featured in the book), which is great, but perhaps there are other farm shops without tearooms that I could try as well, I hadn’t thought of that. It’s a pity that your farm shop had to stop selling books, but I suppose that if they didn’t really want to become booksellers they might have felt overwhelmed by the number of authors approaching them. One of the tearooms in my book said that although they liked the book they didn’t want to sell it because they didn’t want to get into selling books as well as the other gifty things in their shop. I thought that was a shame, since their cafe was in the book, but I can understand that space is at a premium in any small shop and sometimes you have to say no to people.

  6. I am going to be honest here, Lorna, so brace yourself! (It’s not going to be bad, though!) I think the only thing you can do with this book is to use it as a stepping stone for another. It has so much going for it – but there is SO much more you could do. Let’s face it – you visit lots of tea rooms, you are a connoisseur of scones and pastries, you know your teas (and coffee!) and you are interested in local landscape and history. You have lots of lovely photos, and, most importantly, you can write engaging text and entertaining reviews. You have all the makings of a second book, right there, plus the platform to advertise it (your blog) and your business to publish it (Teacups Press). If the cost is an issue, why not look for sponsors? There has got to be a way!

    • I’m very grateful for your faith in me, Jo, thank you! I occasionally think I’d like to do another tearoom book because that was the general idea, and I have put in a fair bit of research, particularly in Fife and Dumfries and Galloway, but then I think of what I’ve lost on the first book and remind myself that I can’t afford to do that again. On the other hand, if I could get funding that would be a different situation altogether. I do know of someone who got funding for a guidebook from the local council, so it is possible if you’re prepared to fill out long forms and cost everything precisely. If only I wasn’t so lazy and could make myself do the things I don’t enjoy so much I would get to it! It’s in the back my mind, certainly, and I do hope that at some point in the future I might do another one. It’s very kind of you to be so encouraging and after reading your comment I did feel I could do it.

  7. Lorna…there are some certainly some good ideas here. All I can say is, “keep trying”…”most people quit just prior to when they would have been successful” (I forget who said this …I think it was either Einstein or Lincoln) You never know what one seemingly insignificant placement can do–Chamber of Commerce for your particular books seems to make great sense. Travel agencies who promote Scotland may want to give it to their Scotland bound clients in their ticket package…Even though I don’t have a trip planned, I enjoy your book and love having it on my shelf of tea books. I wish you all the best. You are also inspiring me to get out there and sell off my books.

    • Thank you Linda, I like that quote whoever it’s from. 🙂 The thought has crossed my mind that the people who do succeed in becoming published authors are invariably those who’ve been determined not to give up. As is always the case with me, I was hoping it’d all drop into my lap without too much effort. I think your book is wonderful and it’s so much more than a recipe book with all the tales you’ve included in it. I’d like to do a review of it at some point, and I hope you do sell lots more copies.

  8. Lorna, your guidebooks could be very handy for new mothers and young families looking for somewhere to go; equally for people with disabilities, because you give such helpfully detailed information about access. Would there be any mothers and toddlers groups in the area who would like some copies? Or Carer’s Trust offices in the area?

    I think the B&B suggestion is an excellent one too.

    • Thank you Christine, that’s an interesting point about target markets. I wonder if there are mums and toddlers groups or carer’s offices I could give it to. You’ve just made me think of our local cottage hospital and doctor’s surgery, I could give them copies for a start. I agree about the B&B idea, the only problem is distribution but I’ll have a think about that.

  9. Hi Lorna, sorry to be a little later to the conversation. I whole heartedly agree with many of the suggestions here. You have an amazing product, it’s only a little while until it comes to the attention of others. I do like the idea of your book being in B & b’s as a potential calling card for those businesses. I think the information is of so much value to travelers in Scotland.

    Such a shame to hear of the tourism chief having a poor attitude to your book on tearooms. If anything, it’s really about the local industry and supporting business, something I would assume many governing boards should be more interested in.

    Stay strong and have faith in your abilities and purpose, I’ve no doubt it’ll come right in the end.

    • Thank you Alice, you remind me that I am perhaps being rather impatient. The book’s only been out for 18 months after all, but the trouble is things go out of date so quickly. However, I’m sure it could still be of use to people, particularly tourists or others who don’t know the area well enough to know where to find nice little tearooms. Some of those in my book are quite out of the way on small country roads that you might or might not stumble across by accident. I was very disappointed by the tourist board’s attitude because, as you so rightly point out, you’d think they’d want to work with other people who are encouraging tourism. I couldn’t understand their reasons for not stocking it in their shops, but if the top man in the company turns you down then that’s that really.

  10. LornaI’m sure you will get lots of responses from this post. As an artist, I am always looking at new material’s, new ideas. Book art has been around for a very long time and there are some stunning examples.Check out all these links from Google. I have also selected some that I find particularly breathtaking:http://www.google.com/search?q=art+made+from+books&nord=1&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=km-SUoiCMcGmkQeS04HIDg&sqi=2&ved=0CEoQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=858#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=9Rjh9FqON1x4PM%3A%3BQKbKVl9FFqvCHM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fcache.gawker.com%252Fassets%252Fimages%252Fgizmodo%252F2008%252F09%252Fendofbooks.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.sameerhalai.com%252Fblog%252Fbook-art%252F%3B600%3B400http://www.sameerhalai.com/blog/book-art/http://www.unfinishedman.com/the-works-of-brian-dettmer-books-transformed/http://www.neatorama.com/2011/04/27/cool-non-literary-uses-for-books/this link offers non-literary ways to use books-such as really, really cool room dividers!And this is a book that showcases art made form books-it’s just beautiful to look athttp://www.jacquelinerushlee.com/press/art-made-from-books/There are also scads of ways to recycle, upcyle, repurpose your books- here are some resources for that.https://www.google.com/search?q=recycled+books&rlz=1C1LENP_enUS521US521&espv=210&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=LHGSUovqLpKvkAf_wYDwCw&ved=0CG4QsAQ&biw=1280&bih=858http://keetsa.com/blog/eco-friendly/central-ohio-residents-recycle-your-old-phone-books-at-swaco/I have a cubbyhole like this on my computer desk for all the pens, scissors and stuff I invariably find that I need..mine is made form an old math text  book I found at a library sale for free.This is especially for you-tea cups made from books!http://blog.gessato.com/2012/01/28/bookworm-teacups-by-cecilia-levy/finally, one of my favorites because I never have enough shelves:http://dornob.com/recycled-books-turned-into-creative-bookcase-designs/#axzz2lbMlxGRhGood luck sorting through all the wonderful suggestions you will get. This should help the long winter evenings pass more quickly!Kathleen Troutmanblog: http://katiewritesagain.wordpress.com

    • My jaw is on the floor after looking at those links. Thank you, Kathleen! You’ve opened my eyes to the astonishing number of ways books can be recycled and made into art forms or furniture. I now wish my book was a hardback, but even with the paperback there are so many possibilities. I love the idea of shelves made of books, and I feel my head is fit to burst after looking at the amazing images on the Google search pages. Wow! The Brian Dettmer books are quite unbelievable, I’m flabbegasted by those. I’m going to show the shelves to my dad and see if he feels inspired by them as he loves making a shelving unit. Thank you again for all those links, I feel blown away!

  11. first of all, the rabbit with the pancakes gave me quite a laugh. the bed and breakfast option seems like a very good idea. would it be okay for you to post a picture of what the books look like inside? I think I’ve only seen the cover. also, I’m thinking that this book could be invaluable for tourists coming from overseas. Could you maybe offer it to some travel agents (either within Scotland or abroad) who are putting together packages for people coming to Scotland? I wish you all the best, Lorna.

    • I’m glad you liked the rabbit, Alison. When my mum saw this post she thought it was animal cruelty, but when I saw that picture I thought ‘lucky rabbit, a quick tilt of the head and down comes a tasty treat’. It didn’t occur to me to include pictures of the inside of the book, although there is one on the ‘book’ page if you click on that at the top of the blog. There are also photos of all the featured tearooms on my teacups press blog: http://teacupspress.com/tearoom-gallery/ I like the idea of travel agents giving it to people coming here but I don’t know how I’d get it to them. One of the things I’m trying to avoid is spending any more money on the whole thing, so that puts me off posting it anywhere for free. It might sound a bit mean, but I really want to recoup my costs before spending any more on it.

      • I checked out the photos on the tearoom gallery. Absolutely lovely places. I think if I was wanting to get out for the day and go for a walk and drop in a tearoom, I would love to have your book handy. I think it would probably influence where I decided to visit. I will keep my ears open for opportunities for you. I totally get the not-wanting-to-put-out-more-money; I would feel the same. You could probably sell them to the agents though. You aren’t sounding mean at all, just sensible. 🙂

  12. I agree with all the ideas put to you, especially the B&Bs. What about craft or trade fairs? Are there any Christmas craft shows that you might be able to participate in? I know you don’t want to spend any more money but some of them may be reasonable. And you would be able to answer questions and give information as well. I think a lot of people would love to meet you, in person!

    • Thanks very much, Doodling Gal. I am attending craft fairs, it’s the time of year for them and a very good suggestion. As you say, it’s usually a small outlay for a table at such events and you never know what might sell. I did one last weekend with my sister but unfortunately didn’t sell any books. I did sell my cards, however, and she sold her jewellery, bags and Christmas decorations. Unfortunately it wasn’t very busy so there weren’t that many customers, but it’s always a bit hit and miss with these things. I’m doing another one this coming weekend so fingers crossed for a better turnout!

    • I’m so pleased you’ve got my book, Meg, thank you. 🙂 I did wonder about an information sheet but in the end I opted to put updates on my teacups press blog because of the difficulty of sheets slipping out of the book. Also, because the book is sold in several shops, I might supply a bunch of update sheets and then need to update the updates, if you see what I mean. It’s a tricky business, which is why a lot of guidebooks have a new edition every year, but that wouldn’t be worth it in my case. It might also be why there aren’t other guidebooks to tearooms, as I think they tend to go out of business or change hands more frequently than other businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

  13. A great blog post Lorna – this book has been such a inspiration for me _ hope to follow your lead in some way in the future. Seeing the book in your local shops must have given such a buzz and sense of achievement. I must get a copy for me and Mandy to wander around Fife and Perth – tucking in. I think JO Woolf has hit on the head – seek a sponsor and lets see book 2

  14. Lorna, I’m glad my post gave you some new ideas. After reading other responses I feel I must add that I also think you should keep enough of your books to sell, when the opportunity arises. Perhaps a floor to ceiling shelf of your books that you can use as a room divider? And as already been pointed out, this book is the stepping stone to the next one. I love mine, and hope you will continue to write and take such lovely photographs. Your posts and tea room book have convinced me I must go to Scotland before I die. Thank you!

    • The room divider is a great idea, although just at the moment I don’t have a room I need to divide! One of the links you provided took me to a checkout desk in a bookshop that was itself made of books and I thought that was marvellous. I’m delighted that you like my book, thank you. I do hope you can make it to Scotland one day, but in the meantime I’m more than happy to keep posting pictures on my blog for you. 🙂

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