The hard pavement sell: Ali Bacon goes knocking on doors in Edinburgh

Real book, real author!
We writers spend so much of our time chatting and promoting ourselves online, it's easy to forget there is a real world out there, one of real people and real bookshops. This was very much in my mind a couple of weekends ago when I was up in Scotland for a festival in my home town which was great fun and a marvellous opportunity to connect with friends old and new. 

Since I had a few hours 'spare' between checking out of my friendly air bnb and catching my flight home from Edinburgh airport, I thought I should build on my face-to-face experiences with a bit of salesmanship of the door-to-door kind. 

In good company in the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey
My latest book, In the Blink of an Eye, is set mainly in Fife and Edinburgh, by the way,so  a call to B&M bookshops was on the cards; especially niche outlets where I thought the book would sit well and some of whom I, or publishers Linen Press, had already contacted by email. 

However with the weather looking very iffy and with a degree of post-event tiredness setting in, I didn't expect too much of myself and had a back-up plan of sitting on my suitcase and reading a book.

So here's my salespersons dairy!

DCLG: A reference library and a half
10 am:  Before tackling Edinburgh, I called at the fabulous Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries where my spirits immediately lifted when the lady on the desk greeted me like an old friend, 'I've just been looking at your books.' she said. 'We don't seem to have a copy of the new one.' Needless to say I was happy to provide details, picking up contact info for the Local History librarian along the way. I also spoke to the manager of the gift shop and promised to email her more details. Refreshed by a visit to the in-house cafe, I still had time to trot down to the station for the eleven o'clock train - two potential sales and I hadn't really started!

Edinburgh City Art Centre- worth a detour!
11.45: (Train delayed by signal problem!) In Edinburgh the weather was looking up and although my plan was to start with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery my eye was caught by a striking poster on the other side of Waverley Bridge for a photography exhibition in the Edinburgh City Art Centre, somewhere I hadn't visited in quite a while. Since then they have extended their shop where they were happy to pass on the email address of their book buyer. The exhibition was interesting too and yielded a chat to a US photo-historian - yes, cards were exchanged!

12.30: Since Google maps informed me I was only a short distance from South Bridge, it seemed only sensible to cal in to Blackwells Bookshop and have a chat with one of the organisers of my October event who offered some practical hints and tips. Just one small snag, it wasn't far to walk but most of it was vertically -  up one of Edinburgh's steepest closes - and with a suitcase in tow! I tried to think of the benefits to my heart.

A new view of Calton Hill
1 pm: The National Museum of Scotland was  not only close by but on the same level and very much on my radar.  Again the staff were happy to supply direct contact details for the book buyer. I only wished I had left a copy with them -  a request for an inspection copy arrived almost as soon as I got home.

1.30: Lunch was not so much in order as an absolute necessity. With energy levels suddenly through the floor I grabbed a supermarket sandwich and collapsed on the corner of the Royal Mile. With tourists from all over the world jostling past, I hoped I was contributing to local colour. Somewhere on North Bridge my phone fitness app registered my daily step target. I should think so too!

2 pm - The Portrait Gallery (home to last year's Perfect Chemistry exhibition) was in my sights but I was suddenly shy of making a pitch in what felt like the most important place. Instead  I lingered in the photography exhibition  and wondered if I would head straight for the airport.  But while loitering in the entrance hall I caught an air of friendliness from the reception lady and reminded myself I had a 'guid Scots tongue in my hied'.  Could I leave a book for the photography curator? was my tentative enquiry.  The receptionist thought yes and went one better - would I like to speak to her in person? After that conversation I definitely deserved a Portrait Cafe scone. And very nice it was too.

My whistle-stop tour had gone better than expected. Did I learn anything from my pounding of the pavements?
  • in face to face situations people are nearly always helpful. I was  touched by the kind reception I had from everyone I met, especially the lady at the Portrait Gallery but also the assistant in Superdrug who asked me all about my journey and my Dunfermline landlady whom I barely saw but who downloaded In the Blink of an Eye. and has messaged me to say how much she is enjoying it. 
  • a personal visit bears more fruit than an email.  Of course not all of my marketing chickens will come home to roost but I came back armed with personal email contacts rather than generic ones of the 'shop@' variety - this feels like progress. 
  • fortune favours the brave! Doorstepping isn't the easiest thing to do, but what's the worst that can happen? I was lucky to find a couple of useful people were happy to talk to me, but if they hadn't been, at least I had tried.
 So, a big thank you to everyone who was nice to me in all of these places. And here are two more things you most definitely need if you decide to embark on a similar venture in a large city far from home.
  • my newly updated Smartphone was a lifesaver, telling me everything I needed to know (especially where I was!) and keeping me in touch with online life during the whole weekend. Who needs social media? Me!  
  • Thanks to my new M&S nubuck trainers - not the trendiest but indubitably the comfiest - I took all those steps without feeling a thing.

And for my next trip?

In October I'll be back in Scotland and in Edinburgh. Here's your invitation to my Edinburgh launch for anyone in the vicinity. 

Do please register here if you can make it. 
Hope to see you there!

In the Blink of an Eye is available in paperback and e-book from Linen Press.
You can read an excerpt here. If you like it please vote for it in The People's Book Prize 2018.


Griselda Heppel said…
What a lovely collection of experiences. You are right, one often dreads the face to face meetings, fearing a brush-off, but people are nearly always nice and often genuinely interested. And a book about a fascinating Edinburgh figure should certainly grab the locals! Sympathy by the way for your lugging your suitcase up those Edinburgh stairs... I remember that only too well from when my daughter was at University there. Good luck with PBP!
AliB said…
Thank you Griselda. I may not have walked far in the scheme of things but I did walk quickly - ended up with a hop problem later that week! But yes, people are sometimes so much more helpful than you expect. And it's good to get away from the desk from time to time. Ali

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