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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Delights of huckstering

Last weekend VR's group showed off its paintings at an exhibition in a village hall off the Abergavenny Road. Since VR had volunteered to man the stand alone on Sunday I kept her company throughout a longish day.

My involvement with the group is normally limited to driving VR to and from the hall on Friday afternoons and attending the Christmas lunch. But since literature is also an art I was encouraged to display my published novels, Gorgon Times and Out Of Arizona. Didn't sell a single copy despite marking them down attractively and letting everyone know they were even cheaper through my blog.

But I did learn something about human behaviour.

I sat distant from my books so I wasn't actually hovering. I could watch  without menace. I'd listed myself as Ewyas Harold Art Group, Chauffeur-Novelist, and that - for a moment - caught their eye, before they passed on, intent unsurprisingly on paintings.

Both books have a plot summary on the back page but that was nearly always ignored. The least-engaged merely stared at the front covers for five or six seconds, trying to work out how the books fitted in with an art exhibition. A small percentage picked up one of the books, flicked pages without stopping, trying to guess the contents through the process of osmosis, then put the book down. A tiny percentage (let’s be honest: three) picked up the book, read the summary, spent between ten and twenty seconds reading. Then put the book down.

I blame myself. Novel writing is a lonely business and this sort of thing makes it even lonelier. But then if I’d wanted company I’d have taken up square-dancing. Or pole squatting.

6 comments:

Avus said...

At least you weren't involved in a "signing tour" around various provincial bookshops, with no avid queues waiting to buy and shake your hand, RR.

Blonde Two said...

Sounds like an interesting exercise. I wonder if you would have sold more if you had 'hovered'. Personally I would find buying a book much less scary than buying a piece of art. I have always wondered where the cover images came from for your books.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: What's wrong with that to an egotist like me?

Blonde Two: A friend of mine published Gorgon Times; one of his sons designed the cover. The son had a free hand other than the incorporation of the bent con-rod which has symbolic importance for Andrew Hatch, co-central-character along with Claire Kepler.

I tried to commission a line-drawing front cover for Out Of Arizona, based on the central character Jana. Although the artist is professional and has done other work for us (notably a magnificent sculpture of two of our grandchildren) I suspect I was too prescriptive and the commission came to nought. The present front cover was designed and executed by yours truly.

Had I "hovered" and/or actively sold my books I think I'd have been over-stepping the mark regarding my participation in this event. It was generally agreed that all selling would be passive. I have sold at exhibitions in my time, in particular the magazines I've worked on.

Stella said...

Maybe you could have offered A Good Dressing Down or Free Advice with every copy? c'mon, an old caustic curmudgeon like you could right a lot of wrongs in this modern landscape. A wink and a nudge......

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, having attended many book fairs both as exhibitor (of books) and visitor, may I venture an opinion: it was not the relevant place to sell your books but you might have made a virtue of it by playing on the reason you were there (chauffeur/spouse of exhibitor/novelist) and not hiding. You could have talked to those who stopped by,told them about the book etc. I found that people who would otherwise move on can often become more interested (even buying!)if they are engaged in conversation and treated as individuals. Having said all this, I must confess that I hate the role of salesperson and much prefer to sit back and observe, as you did. I think you probably have much greater selling skills than I have and you don't need advice from me.

But one thing I do know about selling self-publishing is that unless one makes quite strenuous and imaginative efforts at salesmanship, the books tend to sink into limbo. Sad but true. Surprisingly, some people actually enjoy the selling process. I knew a guy who loaded up his car with as many copies of his book as it would hold, then drove up and down the UK stopping at as many bookstores as he could fit into each day and persuading them to take a few copies, or at least one. He managed in this way to
cover his costs and more. Think of a campaign!

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella/Natalie: I have sold magazine subscriptions off exhibition stands and found it helped that I worked on the magazines concerned. I always imagined if I had to sell for a living I'd starve but I turned out to be quite good at it, in one case in the US outselling a professional salesman. The gift of the gab and I was handsomer then. Also my accent went down well in Indiana.

I could have sold my novels last weekend but the aim was mainly to publicise the art group. Since everyone else was only selling passively, I felt I must too.

Over the last year I've got up to various tricks selling GT and OoA as different ideas have come along. But if I was put on earth for anything at all it was to write not sell; for that I'm running out of time.