Yesterday I had a nice little trip outside of London to Basingstoke. Why there I hear you all ask – well, I went to visit a warehouse, the warehouse that my book will be distributed from. MacMillian Distribution to be precise – the people that handle the Harry Potter books.
I went along with two of the editors from The Friday Project, Clare and Heather who are as lovely as they look.
To be honest, a lot of what was talked about went over my head, MIDAS and Vista are apparently some electronic way to order books, although that is just a guess on my part.
The real fun for me however started when we saw the server room – I’m enough of a geek that I had a small ‘nerdgasm’ over seeing two miniframes running in a heavily air-conditioned room and hearing about their off-site backup and disaster recovery procedures.
We were then shown the warehouse floor, where there are absolute tonnes of books all being moved around by forklift trucks. It is here that the books are stored until they are sorted out into the orders that are shipped out to various shops.
Did you know that if you ship a wooden pallet of books abroad it has to have been impregnated with an insecticide?
And did you know that China won’t accept any wooden pallets at all – they all have to be made of plastic.
I also discovered that prison labour is used to process any returned books, and that recycled books are used to build motorways. Yes – motorways are partly made of paper (which might explain a lot about the state of the UK’s roads).
We saw the system that they use to make sure that every book reaches it’s right destination (they weigh every book in their catalogue, then weigh the boxes as they go out – if there is a discrepancy then the box is re-checked).
Luckily we avoided the busiest time to tour the warehouse, all the forklift drivers were having lunch – otherwise we would have been dodging between these pallets being moved around at high speed.
I learnt about the way that Weatherstones orders books, and why they might not have a book you want in stock (apparently it’s called ‘C’ stock, which means that they only have one copy in stock at a time – and it takes three days to order a new copy).
It was great – it felt like a school trip.
Here is the thing though – at some point in July, one of those pallets is going to be full of my books – with my book title on the pallet sheet, and with my words written on bits of paper inside the shrink wrapped container. Then they will travel down the conveyer belt where they will get sealed into boxes and sent on their way to bookshops around the country (where I shall be obsessive-compulsively rearranging the shelves to make sure my book is at the front…)
It makes me feel weird in my tummy.
(Oh – and when they are due to be released they don’t keep the new Harry Potter books in Basingstoke – it’s in a top secret location and they have security guards sitting on top of them…)
Back to the real world of ambulance work tonight.
All pictures can be seen in Hi-res on my Flickr Page.