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The Tale of a Ridgeback and The Bookbag
Looking Back at 2006
Member Name: SueMagee
Looking Back at 2006
Advantages: Jill Murphy and I launched www.thebookbag.co.uk
Disadvantages: Rosie O'Hooligan Magee and I have been ill.
By February I'm sick of winter and this year was no exception. "Do you know what I'd like?" I asked my friend Jill Murphy. Before she could reply I said that I'd really love us to have our own website, just for book reviews. "Why not?" said Jill and then added "let's do it!" There were a couple of snags, not least that neither of us had the faintest idea of how to go about it. Fortunately my friend Keith had no idea of the depths of my ignorance when he offered to teach me HTML and show me the basics of how to run a website. He was soon to find out though. He has the patience of a saint even though his thoughts about some of my very basic questions ("What do you mean by 'open a folder'?") must have been less than saintly.
March the first, just over a week after we first had the idea, saw the launch of www.thebookbag.co.uk to mild critical acclaim, but a great deal of excitement on our part because we'd actually managed to do it. It was the doing that mattered, you see; we simply wanted to prove to ourselves that we could have our own book review site. It grew at an amazing rate and we never bothered about how many unique visitors or hits we were getting – all that would come later.
April saw more health problems for Rosie. This time her old tummy problems flared up again and we were back to small, frequent meals and steroids. Having to feed a large dog every hour or so is a wonderful excuse to do little other than read and I must confess that I took full advantage of the situation!
May is my busiest time in the garden as I plant out and tend all the vegetables that are going to feed us through into the winter and Bookbag had to take a little bit of a back seat. Rosie's tummy seemed to have improved though and she was looking better than she had done for quite a while. It's difficult to relax when you have a sick dog, but I did at last manage to breathe out.
June saw the turning point for Bookbag and I still have the crucial email. An author wrote to me: could she send me her book? I was inclined to email back and be very grateful for the honour. It was Keith who told me not to be so gushing – and to ask for two books so that we could use one as a prize. By the end of the month we'd been contacted by a couple more authors and the books began to trickle in.
July was very hot and that was why I wasn't unduly bothered by the fact that I didn't seem to have much energy and felt generally under the weather. It should have been another marvellous excuse to sit and read but I struggled to do all that I had to do in the garden and then fell into uneasy sleep each night. I vowed to lose weight and to get myself fit again.
August brought the cough and even I thought that a visit to the doctor might be in order. The word 'pneumonia' is accompanied by antibiotics, x-rays and blood tests. I felt dreadful and there was no choice but to lie back and read which was as well, because some of the major publishing houses had started to send books and I discovered the statistics for The Bookbag. In August more than a thousand individuals from all over the world visited the site and we had more than 20,000 hits. Jill and I began to invite more reviewers to join us. We couldn't offer any payment as the money we receive in affiliate income provides competition prizes and postage, but we were in a position to offer free books from the publishers and we're eternally grateful to the wonderful people who let us have their reviews in exchange for nothing more than good books before they're published.
By September the trickle became a flood. On occasions Royal Mail sent the van round rather than burdening the postman with all the packages. There was a tremendous satisfaction in what we were doing. Some reviews were getting hundreds of hits from people wanting information rather than someone hoping for a return read. There was satisfaction in other areas too. We forwarded a mildly critical comment about audio CDs to a publisher and our reader had a full response that same evening with offers of help for her dyslexic son. Our unique visitors and hits had both increased by more than 30% on the previous month too.
In October we bit the bullet and told a publisher that we were not prepared to publish a review of a book they'd sent us. It would be ungracious to say which publisher or which book but instead of the huffy 'never darken our doors' response which we half expected the publicists were keen for us to explain our views and keener still to pass them on the editors. We're to let them know if we ever want any of their books to review. September's figures had stunned us and I would have been happy if we'd just maintained them in October. We didn't. We trebled them.
By November most of the books intended for the Christmas market have been published and the flood of books coming to us and being posted on to reviewers continued unabated. At times I was uploading two new reviews every day and just occasionally I saw HTML in my sleep. There were wonderful moments though – several librarians have asked to be put on our mailing list and we've had some interesting discussions with authors. One told us that he'd had more support and encouragement from Bookbag than from the local (big chain) book shop where the book was being launched. I can't think of a downside to it all, unless it's the emails from children who think that we are Daisy Meadows, tell us that they love us and ask for a signed photo. Could we do any better than October's figures? Yes – we just about doubled them again.
In December we had to put a note on the site asking authors not to send us their manuscripts: much as we'd love to, we're really not in a position to help. I'd also like to put a note up saying that we did out own homework when we were young and we're disinclined to write a one page summary of a certain book by tomorrow evening. Our figures improved yet again but I'm afraid that we ended the year much as we'd begun it with Rosie needing emergency surgery in the middle of a Saturday night. A friend was moved to comment that she has a remarkable ability to recover, but an unfortunate ability to be sick in the first place.
So, another year begins with a pile of lovely books waiting to be read or posted out to our reviewers. Hopefully it will be a good one for all of us.
Summary: The year that saw the launch of www.thebookbag.co.uk