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.’
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.
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.