Ruth’s Pick of the Pops 2022 -- by Ruth Leigh

Picture the scene. A middle aged woman sits in her brand new garden studio gazing at a blank laptop screen. It’s 1st January 2022 and she has just become a full time writer. No more safety nets of extra income, no boss, no pension, no certainties. She is working on her third novel and is in the grip of writer’s block. One of her largest freelance clients has had an internal restructure and has stopped sending her work.

 Gentle reader, that woman was me. I am still in said garden studio but I am now surrounded with the trappings of a travelling wordsmith. A new trolley sits under the window with two boxes atop it. I am the proud owner of two large glass bowls full of sweeties, three boxes of assorted merch, a light box, a pile of business cards, an illuminated sign giving potential purchasers payment options, three miniature Christmas trees, several strings of fairy lights and some book stands. 

I hadn’t been a full time writer for very long before the chill wind of reality began to blow. It’s no good sitting around waiting for people to find out about you. You have to graft. This year, I’ve been to thirty events (a mixture of craft fairs, talks at schools, bookshop events and Christmas fairs) and have, to date, sold 380 books. I say this not to make you slam your laptop shut in disgust, muttering, “Who does she think she is?” but to share some of the lessons I’ve learned. It’s been fun travelling around, setting up my stall, honing my patter and finding out what works and what doesn’t. 

Here then are Ruth’s Top Tips for the selling of books to the general public. 

1.    Do your research. Before you walk into the venue and start wrestling with your Go-Pak and shaking out your tablecloth, try to find out who else is attending the event and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Look into the community you are in. Can you slip some interesting local facts into your patter? If you write historical fiction, search for ruined castles and monasteries in the locale. If crime is your genre, find out if there was a famous murder back in the nineteenth century. People love to feel that you know a bit about them.

2.   Make friends with the other stallholders. This is vitally important. If the event is a complete dud (and they do exist), your polished and well-delivered pitch to potential readers will be heard by your neighbours. After an hour or so has passed and several cups of tea have been consumed, you will be on friendly terms. Even if very few people walk through the door and even fewer buy your book, it’s entirely possible that your fellow sellers will want to buy a copy. I can think of two events this year where I sold 6 books, 1 to a walk-in and 5 to other exhibitors.

3.    Smile. Like, all the time. Don’t be that moany stallholder who goes on and on about the weather or the parking or the way the organiser has laid out the raffle prizes. You are out, in a public place, and each person at that event, be they the organiser, fellow stallholder or potential reader will be affected by your radiant positivity. With two exceptions, I’ve been the only person selling books at all my events this year. I stand out. Also, it doesn’t take long to put a tablecloth on a table and lay out some books and merch. It gives me ample time to go and introduce myself to everyone else and take lots of pictures and post and tag all over the socials.

4.     Give people a get-out clause. I’ve been at events where a miserable handful of people slouched around and a mantle of gloom descended upon us all and also at ones where ten thousand people came over three days and I sold out of book one. However, the same rules apply however many people you get to talk to. Entice them with your pitch, make them laugh and feel at ease if possible, but give them a get-out. Not everyone is going to buy your book, but if you offer them a business card, it gives them an excuse to walk away without feeling awkward. I’ve sold so many books to people who kept the card and then got in touch to buy a book for a friend or family member.

5.    Make it easy for them to buy. Get yourself a card machine (I use Sum Up, very good) and have a cash float too. Point out that your book makes an excellent gift, is gluten-free, easy to wrap and entirely sustainable. 

At the end of this first year, I’ve sold lots of books, I’ve made new friends and I’ve increased my Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook following exponentially. It all took a lot of work, but I’m heading into 2023 with a lot of new knowledge and a big smile.

How about you?

Ruth is a novelist and freelance writer, the author of “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, “The Trials of Isabella M Smugge” and “The Continued Times of Isabella M Smugge”. She writes for a number of businesses and charities and blogs at ruthleighwrites.co.uk. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter at ruthleighwrites and at her website, www.ruthleighwrites.co.uk.

Comments

Lovely,Ruth. I just wish I had the energy of the me 10 years ago... All your ideas a super relevant and it sounds like you have had fun doing it...
Lovely tips! Will remember the bit about ' keep smiling' all through!
Blessings.
Gillian Poucher said…
Such great advice. I've just started going out and about more and it is a steep learning curve, but lots of fun! However, I've yet to get to grips with the SumUp card reader which was less than co-operative when I tried to set it up...
Joy Margetts said…
you are an inspiration!
Ruth Leigh said…
Thank you Clare. I find that I am a bit like a rechargeable battery now - I do an event and it fills me up with encouragement. Just being out and chatting to people is so much fun when you spend lots of time by yourself.
Ruth Leigh said…
I had exactly the same problem Gillian. Maressa sorted me out!
Peter Leyland said…
That's a good story Ruth from a practised 'teller of tales'. You are clearly 'on a roll', as they say.
Ruth Leigh said…
Thank you Peter. I've spent this year honing my story telling skills so that is most encouraging. We all have those 4am moments of thinking "should I give up and get a proper job?" so thank you for your kind words

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