Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Launching QUANTUM SHEEP in a nightclub
I do a lot of live gigs. I cut my gigging teeth as a poet, so I'm used to all kinds of audiences, ambiences, ambulances... We've blogged and boggled here about promoting our work as indie/hybrid authors, using social media to spread the word about our words, and the same task is part of being a live performer too (and also when you're ON the media). Because this is a 'double booked' year for me, i.e. two books published, I'm still touring doing 'CRIME NIGHT' gigs with my thriller THE OPERATOR, and from early November through next year I'll also be touring with my new poetry collection THE FACEBOOK OF THE DEAD (out November 4th).

I've had all sorts of experiences as a gigging writer. Rowdy pubs, with obscene requests shouted out (but they told me to stop doing that...). Silent libraries, with the traditional one man and his dog in the audience, except the dog stayed home to watch Emmerdale. Arriving for what I thought was a small group round a table, being taken through a door and finding myself on stage in front of 300 people.

Royal Festival Hall beach ball poetry
Performing at the Royal Festival Hall in London, on the same bill as Carol Ann Duffy and Roger McGough, with hundreds of people joining in throwing beach balls with my quantum haiku words on them around the place like happy harmless missiles. Performing on Lindisfarne with Tony Harrison, having to dash as the tide came in.

Performing in art galleries, museums, bars, schools, book shops, hardware shops, cafes, scientific institutes and conferences, care homes and out in the street. New York City, New York North Tyneside (so good they named it once), London, Egypt, Cornwall, Limerick, Edinburgh... And I love it. I admit, I like that I get affirmation and strokes - people tell me how much my work means to them, they cry at my dementia installation SLICING THE BRAIN, they laugh at my filthy post-divorce dating poems, they recall seeing my plays, they want to know when the next crime novel is coming out because they want more of Erica Bruce and Will Bennett. I like meeting people.

'Just one more thing...'
It can also be pretty challenging. There are recurrent characters that all live performers will recognise. The one who asks a LOT of 'questions' except they are all speeches about themselves and anecdotes about their lives while we all sit there listening. The one who hopes to catch you out like some kind of Columbo, thinking they've found a hole in your plot: even when they are wrong, you have to be nice about it. The intense bloke who gazes at you the whole time and afterwards, when everyone else has gone, wants to know where you live... the bloke who asks about your sex life because you have some erotic content in your work. The one who lectures you because one of your characters swears. I know none of you would ever do these things of course!

Anyway I don't care, I still love doing it. I take my performances/talks/readings seriously, I prepare, I put in a lot of energy and commitment, I entertain, I always ask the host organisation to supply refreshments to the kind people who get off their bums and come out to hear/see a writer making themselves available (not too available, intense bloke, back off please!) and vulnerable. It's nice being on TV or radio too. But for live gigs, call me Ms Fussy, I do like a visible audience, even though I try to give the same whether there are three or three hundred.

'Folks hereabouts don't have no call to go out at night'
To this end, I try to publicise the events in advance just as we do for either indie, or just as much these days, conventionally published books. As events are mostly not where I live, I would like to rely on the local organisations to do this but strange problems can arise. While very friendly and welcoming, sometimes the people 'on the ground' assert that 'people round here don't come out at night', 'people don't come here much', 'this place is totally dead on Saturdays' etc which of course can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 'Oh they should have told you the buses/ferries/donkeys/rickshaws stop at 7pm.'

I send them lively customised posters, and fliers to print out and hand to people, or put in places where lots of people go, some of which may be next door to the venue or even in the same building, but they tell me their printer doesn't work, and it still doesn't work the next week but then it's a 'new one'.  If I point out my event's not on their online 'events page', it turns out the 'IT people' ignored their requests to put it there.

It's all about the biccies. 
So I create Facebook events, and invite people who live near that particular event. I share the event onto the walls of groups like some crazed graffiti artist, being careful not to post on individuals' walls - bad form.

I join Facebook groups local to each event, groups for knitters, historians, Heavy Metal, gay classic car fans, anything, and share my event there. But I feel guilty about going all spammy on my friends as each event gives way to another somewhere else. I tweet the event, or retweet it if the hosts do - I get retweeted all over the world to gazillions of people, which isn't much help if you're performing in a tiny village on the Roman Wall.

I agonise over the Ticket Question. You see, if you make an event free, it doesn't necessarily mean people will flock in droves, delighted at a buckshee evening's entertainment in a recession-hit world with perhaps a glass of wine or cup of tea or even a biscuit with chocolate on. It means that if they intend coming but get home from work on the night, and it's raining and cold and foggy and their team is playing on BT Sport, they think, sod it, let's stay in. If you charge for tickets, even if it's £2, they feel that extra push to turn up to get their money's worth. But some venues, before you can stop them, put things like 'must book in advance' because they like to know how many chairs to put out, which means people who find out late on or don't like to be tied down but fancy turning up on spec, don't. Don't get me wrong, sometimes a small gig is great fun, you get to talk more with the people.

'Well I hoped more than two people would turn up...'
And now we get to the selling and signing books bit, which is the potential reward apart from the validation of nice remarks. Some gigs are fairly well paid, e.g. funded festivals, which are becoming rarer - often, gigs are unpaid so the book sales are all that stand between me and my next tank of petrol to reach the next gig. I wheel my little trolley with boxes of books into the venue, but you can't predict how many will buy them. The size of the audience and the affluence thereof aren't necessarily crucial factors. A small group of poetry enthusiasts in a poor area of Tyneside may buy more books than an audience of wealthy businesspeople. When I'm touring a long way from home, I have to somehow get the books there, as I'm selling them myself - do I take 20 and struggle to manage, only to find I have to lug the damn things home with only two sold? Do I take 20 poetry books to what turns out to be an amazing event down south and 40 people want to buy them? (Gah!) Do I take a casefull of books on the plane and wear the same outfit for a week?

Because here's another interesting peep at human behaviour. People get involved in the gig and want the book, signed, but if it's not RIGHT THERE RIGHT THEN, they drift away. Some may buy it later from Amazon, but they often don't. I've had bad experiences with events where they want to control the sale of books. A fantastic festival abroad had me headlining with what is now the President of the country, on the last night, which was a Sunday. People wanted to buy the books, which were locked safely behind glass in the book sale area, because, well, Sunday. Another festival had book tables personned by book shop staff who put my boxes under the table and denied their existence. By the time I got there and retrieved them, the queue had almost melted away. This kind of thing happens all the time. In the meantime, a question for you - how to promote Kindle books with live events! Apart from telling the audience the books exist also as Kindle books, and giving out slips of paper with the link on them, I'm stumped. My LYDIA BENNET'S BLOG is only on Kindle.

I'm driving south tonight for another gig. Two next week, one the week after, two the week after that, a lot more coming up. And I still love it, so if you want a writer to talk/perform/read, let me know!

Vist my website for details of my gigs, my crime fiction, my poetry and my science themed art installations. I may be performing near you!


madwippitt said...

South! I shall keep an eye out then!

Lydia Bennet said...

How south are you Madwippitt? I'm in Oxford 19th oct, London 8th nov.

Susan Price said...

'...audiences, ambiences, ambulances...' Valerie, ever since our first on-line encounter, when you told me you were descended from rievers and, as a result, couldn't prevent yourself from running off the neighbour's cattle on the way home from a night out, you've always made me laugh.
Great post - interesting, informative, funny.

Kathleen Jones said...

Made me laugh Val and brought back some bad and good memories! The things we have to do for a living ......

Chris Longmuir said...

I admire your stamina, Valerie, and loved the post. I do hope, however, that after you launched your quantum sheep, they had a safe landing. And I find postcards featuring the book cover work well for Kindle books. I used to use small paper flyers but find the postcards better.

Alice said...

I admire your stamina and your sense of humour. Made me feel re-energised (and believe me, I needed that).

julia jones said...

Brave and brilliant, I think. But couldn't it be worth just the teensiest paper edition of Lydia? Createspace, even?

Lydia Bennet said...

thanks all! and it goes on... just checked a link to an events page for a gig and they've called me Val Laws about a gazillion times throughout, and I'm always Valerie Laws... every single thing I've sent them has my full name on!

Lydia Bennet said...

Lydia will achieve hard copy at some point Julia!

Reb MacRath said...

What a performer and hustler you are, Val. Bravo.

Lydia Bennet said...

such lovely comments thank you so much! Chris the Quantum Sheep were launched so effectively they are still in orbit... at least it saved them becoming lamb chops!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Lovely, funny post! I'm full of admiration for your energy! I've had the person asking sexy questions too although it was some years ago. Unfortunately (for him) he didn't know that my 6ft 4 teenage son was sitting at the back of the room, glowering at him. To promote the Kindle editions, I make nice postcards on and give them out at gigs. I do see sales from them - not massive, but the odd small spike in sales after an event. I think people are more inclined to keep a postcard than a leaflet.

Sandra Horn said...

Respect! What a marvellous post!

Lydia Bennet said...

thanks Catherine and Sandra! postcards seem popular but I'd never thought of using them to promote kindle books - the awkward bit is putting a link so long and weird nobody would copy it out onto their pc. Suppose could use the ones.