Friday, 18 December 2020

How Amazon can rule your life. Or mine at least




The publishing business is full of kind people. As least that is the way I see it. Nobody ever tells you your writing is diabolically c**p. Nobody ever says no to an idea you might propose. Yes, they obfuscate. Delay. Say nothing. But they never say no. Ideas just wither until a new one comes along. And as for sales figures don’t even ask. Really, don’t ever ask. I’m not joking.


There are two touchstones to gauge the success of a book: how many your publisher prints for the first edition and how many it actually sells. The former is a pretty good guide as to how your publisher rates you and your book; after all printing books costs money and no publishing house wants a warehouse full of remaindered books as they call the unsolds. But will anyone tell you how many are being printed? Not a chance. There is more chance of discovering the secret sauce recipe for Coca Cola.


Come publication day, you’ll really have no idea as to the prospects for your book. But that is fine as you might assume, in this age of real time point-of-sale technology there will be a weekly, or at worst monthly, update on sales from publishing HQ. Not a bit of it. There is nothing by way of data and any direct enquiries will be met with gnomic utterances that are both incomprehensible yet seemingly upbeat. It sometimes feels a bit like the old mushroom farming adage: keep them in the dark and feed them manure. 




I have no idea why publishers are so secretive. After all, the truth will out by way of the twice-yearly Royalty Statement that states each print run, analyses sales and tells you how much you are being paid in the minutest detail. However, this statement is what economists like to call a lagging statistic – the writer will not see the data, or the money, for a book sold in July until March of the following year.


So, who can tell you, the well shaded author, what is going on out there in book land in the interim? Step forward, Jeff Bezos. Amazon, once loathed by publishers and writers, is not just the Covid lifeline but the source of instant sales data for every author for every book ever published that is on sale via Amazon. That is something like 8 million publications by the way, so pretty well anything that has ever had a spine and cover in the history of man.


If you are wondering where this data might be found having never seen it you are considerably lucky. Only us poor writing saps obsessively observe the smallest movements up and down the charts which I’d estimate are updated every 6 hours or so. Of course, you don’t just have the global chart. You have three charts picked out for your particular niche by the Amazon algorithm. These are great for the ego as you have the potential for a orange No.1 Best Seller badge though sometimes the award is baffling. As I write this I am considerably annoyed that I have been denied another No.1 badge for Frankel in the Horse/Jockey Biographies section due to the inclusion of Rugby’s Greatest Matches and Golf’s Strangest Rounds respectively at number one and two. Great books I am sure, but anything to do with horses? Nah.


And when you’ve finished reading the sales runes and charts courtesy of Jeff there are always the reviews over which to agonise. Now, these are more important than just ego. Good reviews are like crack cocaine to the Amazon recommendation algorithm; the higher your review rating the higher it shoves your book up the ‘you might like to buy’ totem. The ratings run from 1-star to 5-stars. Books with a perfect five are essentially impossible, books solely reviewed by the author’s Mum, agent and best friend. As with all things Amazon the calculation of your overall star rating is opaque; it is far from a simple average. I confess to not being completely obsessive so I haven’t read all 52 reviews for Frankel which is, for the most part, hovering between an impressive (though I say it myself) 4.8/4.9 out of 5. However, one day in November the rating plunged to somewhere around 3 as a single 1-star review was posted. A nasty dent to the aforementioned ego so I braced myself to read the algorithm sapping four-word review.


‘These lights don’t work’, it said. Err? What? I was full of injustice. Now Amazon is famous for its Kremlin like impenetrability when it comes to righting wrongs. There is clearly nobody to call. No obvious way for me to remove the review. So, I did what any slighted author would do: I dialled into Mr Google who took me to the review appeal section on some obscure outpost of Amazon. Actually, once you got there it was all very simple until the question as to why I was complaining about the review. None of the tick boxes offered ticked the box so eventually, more in frustration than hope, I ticked abusive. Well, I rationalised, I felt abused, if only a little. I resigned myself to life as a 3-star author.


But all hail what was almost certainly another Bezos algorithm, as within 24 hours the 1-star review had vanished. Frankly I was dumbfounded. I really never expected it to disappear. But it had and I was back to 4.9. Rejoice, as a certain woman once said. Victory is sweet, so now emboldened I’m pondering on whether to appeal the 3-star review that complained that the book was delivered by Whistl instead of Royal Mail. Or maybe I should just relax.



Call me a fool


Even from an early age I have been keen to share what little information I know. Regularly working with my Uncle Derek on his farm as a child I often imparted knowledge to him I considered essential to life in general to which he would always reply, “You can learn something new every day, even from a fool”. I never felt insulted at the time, but maybe on reflection …..


Anyway, I would not call the BBC Radio 4 play ReincarNathan foolish. A bit silly perhaps but fun as Nathan, who didn't really nail life the first time round, is reincarnated as a mayfly. It is actually a rather good potted life history of the mayfly, from which I learnt, which I never knew, that mayflies have five eyes.



How did this fact ever pass me by? It is even true? Well, yes and no. Mayflies do indeed have multiple eyes but seven not five consisting of simple, compound and turbinate eyes. The simple eyes discern light, compound eyes which are essentially a cluster of simple eyes discern images but the unique adaptation of mayflies are the turbinate eyes on raised stalks on top of its head.


It is thought the development of these eyes is correlated to the mayflies habit of aerial mating. The male approaches the female from below and with the eyes pointed vertically upwards he is able to spot the female immediately.


Listen to the 28 minute show here ……



Final resting places of Kite & Sawyer


Last time I wrote that Oliver Kite and Frank Sawyer were both buried at Netheravon Church. In this I am completely wrong!


A kindly correspondent from the Avon valley has put me right, writing,


“Just to let you know, Ollie Kite's grave is in Fittleton Churchyard, Frank Sawyer's ashes were scattered at Corfe End Lakes just upstream of Netheravon in Fittleton. There is a real irony here, that no one has ever noticed. In life they lived opposite each other in Netheravon High Street. In death, they reside directly opposite each other, with the Avon between them. There for all eternity.”


If you are in need of a jaunt for the holidays you could do worse than visit both villages and churches. Netheravon is probably the more impressive church of the two with the Avon running along the edge of the graveyard with the bench on the bank of the river marking the spot where Sawyer died. If you fancy the house that overlooks all this it is on sale for £2.3m with Strutt & Parker.


On your way from Netheravon to Fittleton you will pass through Haxton where Sawyer spent his retirement years and where there is (another!) bench to his memory, this one erected by his wife on what they call Haxton Pound, a small triangle of grass at the intersection of the roads. Fittleton is lovely and you’ll find Kite’s gravestone easily enough though the inscription beneath his name is hard to read.



Fittleton Church with Kite's gravestone in the foreground



That was 2020


We were lucky. My three words to sum up 2020 in relation to the fishing business. The group in which we sit, hospitality and leisure, has, quite obviously, been eviscerated but recreational angling, against all the odds has not only survived, but often thrived as we were released early from the first lockdown and completely avoided the second. Fishing soon became the socially distanced, socially acceptable thing to do. Heavens, even a leader in The Times newspaper back in August trumpeted our virtues.


Of course, you and I have known that forever, but it is still good to be validated. However, I will temper my comments by acknowledging that my colleagues in Wales, Scotland and the self-employed guides have had it a great deal harder. In Wales travel restrictions effectively closed down fishing until the summer and in Scotland the lack of visitors has been crippling.


However, in England with more people within an easy day trip distance of the rivers, we’ve often been booked to capacity as people rediscovered the delights of not only fishing but simply being in the countryside. I was amazed at how many people arriving at The Mill simply sat down to suck in the air after months confined to tiny flats and urban lockdown. Kids. Dogs. Parents even. They all went bonkers in delight. It is a salutary reminder of how lucky I am to live where I do.


When the ink is dry on the financial accounts of 2020, I suspect this will turn out to be a fairly average year, the figures in the round hiding huge oscillations. For the truth is that in losing all advance sales in March and real sales in April (the former was negative and the latter was zero) the rest of the year was about playing catch up with one arm tied behind our back with no overseas visitors, a good portion of you shielding, no places to stay in the UK until July and no corporate clients.


But I’m not complaining as it could so easily been a total wipe out of a year. So, thank you to all of you for standing by us in those darkest days of March and returning to the rivers with such full force the moment lockdown ended.


I have never been a fan of rollercoaster rides and this particular one has gone on for too long. Hopefully the vaccine will allow us to step off sometime soon and if the timings turn out as predicted, we’ll be free to fish where we want, with whoever we want in time for the first flutter of Mayfly wings. That’s my toast for the New Year.



Christmas office hours


We will be closed December 24th-28th inclusive. Otherwise, we will be open as usual 9am-5pm, barring Bank Holidays. However, feel free to email, book online or redeem gift vouchers online anytime.


There are plenty of grayling options most days, though all beats are closed December 24/25/26.





The final quiz of the year which is, as ever, here to entertain or confound as you wish. Answers at the bottom of the page. Good luck!


1)     When was Amazon founded?


2)     What was the print run for the first edition of J K Rowling’s first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?


3)     "Russian Mountains", specially constructed hills of ice were the forerunner of which fairground attraction?



So it just remains for me, and all of us here at Fishing Breaks, to wish you a Happy Christmas and successful 2021.


Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Time is precious. Use it fishing



The Mill, Heathman Street, Nether Wallop,

Stockbridge, England SO20 8EW United Kingdom

01264 781988




Quiz answers:


1)     1994. Extra point for 5/July

2)     500 copies

3) The rollercoaster

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