Thursday, 20 August 2015

That selling thing by Sandra Horn



I grew up in rural East Sussex. I may have mentioned that before. Carnival is something special there. I was thinking about what fun it always was a couple of weeks ago when we came across one in a Hampshire town. It was in broad daylight, as most of them seem to be round here. In midsummer. Sussex carnivals are autumnal and take place in the dark evenings, with processions lit by flaming torches. Local Bonfire Societies each have distinctive costumes; we (Crowborough) were Beefeaters, Uckfield were convicts in a chain gang, Lewes were ‘Zulu warriors’ – they painted themselves black and wore great feathered head-dresses and animal skins. They appeared to have bones through their noses. They didn’t just carry a flaming torch apiece, they had holders that took three each side. They were seriously scarey. The Bonfire Societies all went round to each other’s carnivals, but our family never ventured to Lewes, where they roll flaming tar barrels down the hill and burn effigies of unpopular contemporary figures.
 I’m digressing, or retrogressing, or something. This was meant to be about selling things – books, in fact – but thinking about Carnival reminded me of the time we decided to sell baked potatoes to the crowds. My Nan’s house is right by the road and next-door-but-one to the pub where the procession stopped for refreshments. We’d had a bumper crop of spuds. We got in some thick paper napkins, wooden forks, lots of butter and cheese, and we baked batches in Nan’s big range. When the procession stopped, we lurked in the doorway, holding samples of our wares and muttering politely. We were ignored. Finally, I stepped out into the crowd and shouted ’Get your baked spuds ‘ere! They’re hot! They’re lovely!’ It worked. We sold out. But my Mum was horrified at my performance. ‘Make her come in,’ she was pleading, ‘make her stop. She’s making a show of herself.’ Ah! That’s the thing. Drawing attention to oneself was the big taboo. Shouting in public? No!! But if I hadn’t, we would have been up to our ears in cold, unsold, baked spuds – just as we are up to our ears in cold, unsold books today. I can’t do the shouty thing about them because I wrote them. How rude and common it would be to promote myself like that! Drawing attention...
After my one loud, vulgar (successful, let us not forget) attempt at selling spuds, I’ve regressed. We do our best to sell our books in our polite, reserved way. Niall is a private seller on Amazon. I seek out craft fairs, etc. for our book stall. Mostly, we fail to cover our costs or break even at those, in spite of my lovely bunting and colourful tablecloth. I sell at school visits if invited, and, theoretically at least, through the website. The musicals generate some sales. I’ve taken to Fb adverts of late – thousands of ‘likes’, thousands ‘reached’ – no obvious impact on sales! I am reproached daily by the piles of unopened boxes. ‘You have to tell it to sell it,’ a journalist told me recently. Yes. Fine. Erm...
‘Hello, I’m a nice, polite, well-brought-up person. Sorry to bother you, but would you like to buy my book? You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course.’




11 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

This has to be one of the hardest parts of the writing process. As you point out, talking up ones own products doesn't seem quite British. I have tried thinking outside the box and promoting in different ways. This seems to be working to a certain extent. I will be keeping a close eye on the comments to see if anyone has any good ideas. Thanks for posting this and good luck with the sales.

Andrew Crofts said...

Very interested to see you grew up in Crowborough,Sandra. I too was born there and brought up in Groombridge, just down the road. More to the point, I believe Tim Waterstone also grew up lurking in the bookshop that once stood a few doors from the cinema - now there's a man who knows a few things about selling books!

I don't think we should beat ourselves up too much about being British in this situation. I suspect people are wary of authors of all nationalities flogging their own books - the secret is, and probably always will be, to persuade other people to recommend them for you. How to do that, of course, is a problem which vexes everyone in the trade from Mr Waterstone downwards.

Mari Biella said...

All of this rang a bell, Sandra - I too have a very British aversion to self-promotion. Then again, and as Andrew says, authors who do nothing but attempt to flog their books get on my nerves a bit, and I suspect I'm not the only one, so perhaps a bit of reserve is actually a good thing in the end. Ultimately, I think the best thing we can do is just keep on writing the best books we can, and hope for the best...

AliB said...

Interesting post and responses, complicated by the changes in publishing all of which seem to require the author to do as much shouting as possible. Maybe it's a case of choosing where and when, as constant shouting is tiring for everyone!

Bill Kirton said...

Yes, you're chronicling a very familiar experience, Sandra. I'm reissuing the first of my crime series soon and I'm testing cover ideas with an excellent designer. I briefed her, she sent some mocked up examples and, this morning, I took them along to my regular exercise class, intending to canvass opinions on which worked best. My thinking was that it might nudge some of the people there to investigate my books. In the end, however, the only 2 people I showed it to were friends I know outside the class. This inhibition about blowing one's own trumpet is absurd, very counter-productive and, it seems, impossible to overcome.

Lydia Bennet said...

I suffer from this too, but increasingly, it matters less and less because social media is flooded with shouting spud-sellers who are basically drowning each other out. We need to find some other way to be heard/seen. If anyone thinks of a way, do let us know!

Susan Price said...

We could get a team of us on Eggheads!

Sandra Horn said...

Thank you folks! I wish I knew the answer. Am being irritated by someone sending me a weekly post along the lines of 'you 'like' my book and I'll 'like' yours.' No mention of having read any of my books...That kind of trumpet blowing is definitely out.
Andrew, the cinema in Crowborough had an elaborate plaster ceiling made by my Grandad, flat on his back on the scaffolding! I hope they left it and put a false one in when the cinema closed.

Andrew Crofts said...

I think you should check that out, Sandra. It would make a great story! I remember going there with my mother to see something, (Elvis Presley or James Bond probably). We were the only two in the cinema and still she insisted that we stand for the National Anthem. Such moments haunt you down the ages!

Pat Walsh said...

As a fan of hobs myself, I love the look of your book, The Hob and Miss Minkin. Interesting post, and I really like the sound of the bonfire societies - are any of them still going? Best of luck with the self promotion - it's very hard, isn't it, but perseverance is the key.

Reb MacRath said...

Excellent post, Sandra. Becoming a shameless self-touter has always been on my list of New Year's resolutions. But then, invariably, I get caught up in the writing of the next book...and the invigorating kick of the creative process.