Sunday 4 June 2017

The UK Games Expo that was and the Book Launch that wasn't

I got up at 5:00am on Friday to head to the NEC Birmingham, to get set up for the UK Games Expo. Having negotiated the increased security there, I finally got into Hall 1 at around 8:00am. Having unloaded the stuff from my car, I went in search of my delivery of books, the publisher Snowbooks having paid over the odds to get a consignment of The Wicked Wizard of Oz to the venue in time for the weekend. And that was where it all began to go wrong.

No one knew where my books were, although they were supposed to have been delivered before noon on the Thursday. I was sent to another hall, but they weren't there. I spoke to the trade liaison who confirmed he had not signed for a delivery. In the end, I contact Emma Barnes at Snowbooks to ask if she could help from her end, which she promptly did.

I turned out that the books hadn't been delivered at all. Despite having been collected from the printer in Denmark on Tuesday, and having been in the UK since Thursday, they were still sitting in some TNT depot in Dartford. I was then informed that they had been put in a van and were on their way.

It wasn't ideal, not having the books there for the start of the Expo, but it didn't feel like an unsalvageable situation at the time. Sure, I would lose the sales from the Friday-only crowd, but I would simply launch The Wicked Wizard of Oz on the Saturday, which is the busiest day of the UK Games Expo after all. I still didn't actually know when my books would arrive, so spent the rest of the day constantly updating the TNT tracking website on my phone, but all I got was that they were still in transit.

Come 6:00pm, Hall 1 closed, and - my books still not having arrived - I went to Ian Livingstone's talk (which you can read more about on the official Fighting Fantasy blog). At the end of the talk, at 7:00pm, I went back to Hall 1 to ask if my books had arrived in the interim, which they had not. I had little choice but to head to my hotel and hope that my stock would be waiting for me the next morning at the NEC.

I awoke uncharacteristically early on Saturday morning, just after 5:00am, anxiously wondering where my books were and, updating the TNT website again, discovered they had been logged as being at the Birmingham depot at 1:43am. (The books had been dispatched at 3:00pm on Friday, when they were allegedly racing to the NEC. Taking over 10 hours to transport the books is not 'racing' in my book. It's a 3 hour journey from Dartford to the NEC.)

At least, I thought naively, the books were be on the first van out of the depot and will be delivered soon after I arrive at the NEC, if not actually already waiting for me at my stand.

I arrived, there were no books. Emma Barnes was on the case again and, after being kept on hold for a long time, spoke to a lady at TNT who told her that they only do deliveries up to lunchtime on Saturday, and now the books would likely be delivered on Monday - after the UK Games Expo was over and I was back in London. Not only would I not have stock to sell at the event, the consignment included the books I need to send to backers of the original The Wicked Wizard of Oz Kickstarter.

In a last ditch effort to get hold of the books, Emma emailed photo ID of me to the Birmingham depot (as I did not have my photo ID with me, as last time I checked you don't actually need a passport to visit the Midlands), I took what documentation I had to prove that I was at the NEC (as you would need to have proof of your address if you were picking up a missed delivery to your home), and I set off on the 30 mile round trip into Birmingham to the TNT depot. I was told that if I got there before 2:00pm I would be able to collect my books. Emma was confident that since they knew I was coming, and since TNT had messed up so badly, that they would wait for me.

I arrived at 1:55pm to finds the gates to the depot closed. Having spoken to a security guard, he said he would talk to the contact I had been given at the depot. AT 2:01pm, the gates opened and a car drove out. The man in the passenger seat first tried to tell me that I should have arrived before 1:00pm. As I argued my case, he informed me I should have been there before 2:00pm and now the warehouse was locked up and I would not be able to collect my books. So not only did I not have my books, I also missed two of the busiest hours of trading of the whole UK Games Expo.

Emma tried the TNT call centre again, only to find that it had closed, and despite numerous tweets by myself to @TNTUKOfficial I received no response whatsoever.

Having, quite frankly, lost the will, I returned to the Expo and, having sold out of Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland, with nothing to sell on the Sunday, I packed up and went home.

During Emma's phone call with the lady at TNT she was told that the company had opened a new hub in the UK this week, that the picking line didn't work, that their IT systems had crashed, that there were 10,000 parcels stuck and undelivered, and that they were not going to offer compensation. It is this last part that infuriates me most of all.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I probably lost somewhere in the region of £1,000 in sales because of not having The Wicked Wizard of Oz to launch at the UK Games Expo. I was also out of pocket because I had four banners made for the event (and shipped at a premium level to get them on time), I had a T-shirt made for the event (and shipped special delivery), and I was out of pocket for a night's stay at my hotel. And it is wasn't just me - Snowbooks are out of pocket now too.

But most of all, my professional reputation has been affected, and I don't know what price I would put on that. Advertising, months in advance, that I would be launching a new book at the event, and then not having the book and having to actually turn potential customers away was galling. (At a con as big as the UK Games Expo, someone may only walk past your stand once, so if you miss a sale then, you've missed it for the whole weekend.)

Looking back, I wonder, if I'd checked my emails sooner, maybe I could have got to the depot on time, except that I was at a con, selling my books, not at home on my laptop being pinged by hotmail. And at the end of the day, the trip to the depot was a trip I should never have had to make. It was TNT's responsibility to get my books to me. They failed to deliver them on Thursday, they then failed to deliver them on Friday, and made absolutely no effort to deliver them on the Saturday.

Everyone else involved busted a proverbial gut to make sure everything was ready for the The Wicked Wizard of Oz launch at the UK Games Expo, including Kev Abbotts, who designed the bookmarks and banners, Ivory Graphics, who printed the playing cards, Route1Print, who printed the banners and had them delivered to my hotel so that I would have them in time, Awesome Merchandise, who printed the bookmarks and art prints, and, of course, Norhaven, the book printers in Denmark, and Snowbooks, both MD Emma Barnes and publisher Tik Dalton, who went above and beyond to make sure the launch was a success. But we were all let down by TNT couriers.

Somebody asked on Facebook whether it was the venue's fault, due to increased security in the wake of the terror attack in Manchester, but it categorically was not. Yes, there was increased security, but the staff at the NEC were never anything less than polite, helpful and accommodating, as were the UK Games Expo staff and volunteers.

Thanks must also go to Sheila, Gareth, Simon, and Ian Livingstone, who helped keep an eye on my stuff when I was racing around Birmingham. And I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to chat to people like Fil and Paul of All Rolled Up, Joe of Osprey Games, and the guys at Cubicle 7, but after the two days I'd had, I just wanted to get home and draw a line under the whole debacle.

The banners made for the UK Games Expo (but which didn't get a showing there), designed by Kevin Abbotts and featuring the awesome artwork of Kev Crossley.

I have to say that the UK Games Expo remains one of my favourite cons, and I fully intend to be back next year, with The Wicked Wizard of Oz in tow this time. Thank you to everyone who stopped by my stand to say hello, to ask me to sign stuff (including, in one case, some very rare copies of Spellbreaker, Knights of Doom and Curse of the Mummy) and to buy my books, and it was a pleasure to meet so many of my Kickstarter backers - and Kev Abbotts especially - I'm only sorry if I wasn't in the best of spirits when we met,

You can see some of the photos I took while I was at the event here, and here's to UK Games Expo 2018!


Wiggy said...

That totally sucks, mate. Hopefully your reputation won' take a knock - you're a good bloke and this is one of those circumstances utterly beyond your control.

Hervé said...

Sorry for that.

Did WW of Oz was published recently in UK? I pre-order the book in one month ago &
I never received it. Why?

Jonathan Green said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Wiggy.

Hervé, the books were only shipped from the printer last week, so I expect your order will arrive soon. If it doesn't, you will need to take it up with Amazon.

Jam said...

That sucks so bad. I guess it's of little consolation to remind you all your previous kickstarters have been out on time and even now we look forward to receiving our copies after a short delay (unlike the two year late controversial Trolltooth Wars graphic novel).

We live and learn from these disappointing falls, it's how we get back up again that's important.

Jonathan Green said...

Thanks, Jam.

(We'll ignore the fact that my first Kickstarter, YOU ARE THE HERO Part 1, was nine months late, shall we?)

Jam said...