Hit the Road, Jack, and Don’t You Come Back, No More No More No More No More (well, until you’ve sold at least five books, anyway)

 As I may have mentioned, on 1st January this year I took a leap into the abyss and became a Full Time Writer. This was at once terrifying and thrilling. Yes, I had my well-established freelance writing career, but just as I laid down my other source of income for good, one of my biggest clients changed things around and I haven’t had any work from them since. I got writer’s block for the first time ever while trying to write my third novel. My elderly parents needed even more care and attention which sapped my mental strength and even though I’m a fairly brave and optimistic person, I sat in my Palace of Creativity in the cold, dark days of January thinking to myself, “Ruth, how on earth are you going to make any money?” 

A fellow writer, the magnificent Sheila Robinson, had mentioned years before that she booked herself a space on local craft and book fairs and sold her books directly to the public. This seemed like a splendid idea. Having spent twenty years running my own company and walking into rooms full of strangers and having to network, I have lost the fear of meeting those I do not know and am awash with loquacity. 

I duly found a Facebook group which listed craft fairs in Suffolk and booked myself on to just about every one of them. It was a risk. A small one, but a risk. Pitch fees ranged from £15-£45, some required you to bring your own table, some called for a raffle prize. Having spent years organising such events myself, being a stallholder was an exciting novelty. 

In March, Mr Leigh and I sallied forth with our carefully packed stacker box and set up shop at the first event. The room was jammed with other eager sellers. Candles, silver jewellery and wax melts abounded. (Note to self. When did the melting of fragrant wax become such a thing?) The stallholder opposite us shared the thrilling news that she already owned both my books. Hooray. 

People wandered past and seemed surprised when I told them I had written the books on display. Our opposite neighbour gave us several excellent pieces of advice. We enjoyed a delicious lunch for a very low price and sold 3 books. At our next event, our set up sported a fine light box with, “Meet the Author”, a heart and a smiley face leaving no doubt in potential readers’ minds as to what they were getting. We set up in record time and I buzzed round taking pictures and tagging everyone on Instagram. This second event was at Eye Town Hall and was utterly brilliant. Well organised and advertised (vital) and with enough home-made cake to start a shop, it was a delight to be part of. 

Proceedings were considerably enlivened by the arrival of our two oldest friends. You may remember my March Blog, “Eye Eye” in which I amused myself by making many a joke about the kind of shops found on Eye High Street. We spent most of the afternoon selling books (loads of them) and laughing hysterically at our imaginary High Street. Events continued apace and at each one we learned something and made a new friend. My social media following rose steadily, I got loads of excellent content and as of yesterday, we had sold 68 books. 

Now here’s the thing. Every time we spend out our hard-earned cash on an event, it’s a risk. What if no-one comes? What if when they do they don’t like the look of me or my books? What if it rains and everyone stays at home? 

I prefer to look at it this way. I am so fortunate to have a collaborative book deal which means I can sell my books directly. How wonderful to have the opportunity to go out and about, eating cake and drinking tea and meeting my readers and potential Smugge fans. If I’d stayed at home, there would be 68 less copies of Isabella M Smugge on bookshelves and bedside tables in Suffolk and Essex. That’s a lot of books. If they bought book one, they’re bound to buy the second one (cliff-hanger you see) and then it’s an easy step to buying book three (out in September, since you ask). 

I’ve learned so much since that first event, I’ve made new friends and I’ve garnered new readers. Plus, with my new policy of putting the name of the first purchaser into a book, I’ve been provided with any number of excellent character names. 

For me, it’s a win-win and I’m so happy to be out on the road with Isabella M Smugge. How about you? Do you meet your readers? Do you sell your books directly? Let me know in the comments.


Peter Leyland said…
Great advice Ruth and shows the value of perseverance. I used to sell my detective books to my students but only in the end broke even. Luckily I didn't depend on writing to make a living like you do.

For your interest. I'm thinking of what you said to me about your auntie Pepi. There was an Eyewitness report in my paper today: 'No pasaran - Images from Spain's civil war on show for first time'. Evocative

PS. The book display looks fantastic
Ruth Leigh said…
thank you, Jan
Ruth Leigh said…
Thank you Peter. Slow and steady wins the race. And it is a fun day out! That sounds interesting - which paper? I forgot we chatted about Pepi
Peter Leyland said…
The Guardian, my liberal/independent paper of choice in these challenging times.
Ruth Leigh said…
Splendid! I've been a Guardian reader since I was 16
SC Skillman said…
Fantastic achievement Ruth! Yes I think you have to go out with a positive attitude, smile a lot, chat with your fellow stall holders and your public and enjoy the day as well as sell books. I tend to go out to fairs with my son. It is fascinating how they all vary but you get your name known, new sign ups on your mailing list and your marketing materials into many more hands.
Fran Hill said…
I haven't braved this yet, mainly because I think that without a car I'm not flexible/mobile enough to get to locations and I wouldn't be able to fit all the books and accessories into a rucksack! But it's something I'd like to do and I'll look out for more local fairs, I think.
Ruth Leigh said…
Exactly Sheila. We always go with a positive attitude, and we learn lots and stay open-minded. We've met some lovely people and it's good to see them again as you go to different events.
Ruth Leigh said…
You need a big old cardboard box, Fran, and a willing driver to ferry you around the place. I wish I lived closer. Imagine you and I on neighbouring stalls. It would be a hoot!
Brendan Conboy said…
Such an inspirational Blog. Most of my readers are in the USA, but I am now searching for craft fairs in Gloucestershire.
Ruth Leigh said…
I bet there are loads there, Brendan. Thing is, once you've done a couple, you get to know which the good ones are. I asked other stallholders for their recommendations and that way you find out about so many others. It's great discipline for a writer and leads to many other opportunities
Reb MacRath said…
That is the spirit! Years ago I wrote a nonfiction novel about writing with one poor fellow forced to hit the road. After a string of almost empty signings, he stumbles onto salvation, blurting out these incredible words to the 3 people before him--

But no. No, on second thought, I'll save those for my next post.
Ruth Leigh said…
That's the way to do it! Look forward to reading about it later, Reb
Joy Margetts said…
I am in awe! But soon I think I might venture out, when I actually have TWO books to display and sell :)
Ruth Leigh said…
Go for it! I am thinking of doing a little workshop on this kind of thing.

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