BOOK SIGNING BLUES
“Local author Alan Stennett will be signing copies of his new book, Lincolnshire Lads on the Veldt, here today.” Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? The author, satisfied with a job well done, seated at a little table with neat stacks of the new volume, his old faithful Parker to hand, ready to inscribe the carefully casual but still recognizable scrawl of a signature adjacent to the name on the title page. The patient queue of readers, some here for the occasion, enticed by the publisher’s tasteful prepublicity, wait to collect a volume from the pile. Others, pleasantly surprised to find that their visit is in fact an event, clutch a copy plucked from the shelves or the stack piled temptingly close to the store entrance.
A polite word of praise, a comment on how much the new work has been anticipated, a request for a personal dedication are all met with a smile or a word of thanks, and the transaction is completed. The whole takes place in a dedicated shrine to the literary art—warm, with the smell of fresh coffee drifting by and a gentle hum of conversation, plus the happy sound of a new sale being rung up far enough away to allow the author to disregard the slightly sordid aspect of the commercial transaction.
Where are the toilets?
Sadly, the reality of selling a self-published book through the retail outlets of Lincolnshire doesn’t really match up to the dream. The upmarket farm shop started well: the table was there, the fire was bright, the coffee was good and I knew the clientele, having written a couple of books on farming in the past. Unfortunately, the customers turned left into the shop rather than right into the coffee lounge, and by the time they arrived there they had already passed through the tills and had little inclination to queue again. A move to a more public location did generate a question: “Where are the toilets?”
I was also asked for guidance on the amount of frost the shop’s brussels sprouts had been exposed to, its opening times over Christmas and the welfare status of the pigs that provided the shop’s bacon. I could offer little guidance on the latter point, but I could certainly vouch for the quality—a generously filled bacon butty and regular supplies of the coffee ensured that starvation was unlikely.
Excuse me, I’m looking for a magazine
That might have been more of a problem in the small-town bookshop where the table was set up immediately inside an open door on the coldest day of the winter so far. The temperature never rose above freezing, and I can only hope that no one is ever asked to confirm that the signatures on the books are in fact mine. Throw in the fact that the representatives of the local papers who arrived for an interview needed photographs; being bundled up in fleece, woolly hat and gloves did nothing to enhance the image of the store as a warm and welcoming location, so I had to strip. I did at least have the ability to move to keep warm; in fact I had little choice, since no chair was provided and my substantial frame—I win no sympathy sales as the starving author in the garret—was blocking access to the children’s section and the main magazine racks. I noted with regret that both attracted a great deal more attention than my publications. The prepublicity—a handwritten notice on the back of a display board for a jigsaw puzzle company—exacerbated the access problems by tripping up passersby wherever it was placed.
Can you recommend a Spanish dictionary?
The large town branch of a major chain did provide me with a warmer location, coffee and a chair and table, which had to be a good start, although their suggestion that I display all my current titles on said table did leave me feeling more like a market trader than an author. The stacks of the new book had shrunk as over-optimism on sales met the realization of how much a box of books weighs and how far away the car park is; the immediately adjacent cash register served only to remind me of my limited sales success.
My guidance was, however, again regularly sought on topics as diverse as a recommendation for a good Spanish dictionary, the relative benefits of a store voucher versus a generic book token and the level of “goriness” likely to be found in a first aid manual. The section on frostbite might have come in useful.
As at all the other places, the book had to be sold, rather than made available to eager purchasers. The feeling of “Have I got this wrong?” pops up when someone asks “What is the veldt?”; and Christmas Day may have found a few startled fathers and grandfathers whose descendants have been assured that this is just the kind of thing they will enjoy. That is the reality of promoting a book in Lincolnshire!
A warm glow of appreciation
The economics of the whole operation? Let’s not go there—even if you exclude the mileage costs, the rate per hour is probably best calculated in pence rather than pounds, but that has to be beside the point. I met my readers—the elderly farmworker who bought the new one just because he had enjoyed my farming books, the railway enthusiast with the offer of more pictures for my next effort on that subject, and the chap who came up with a new “Linkisheere” dialect phrase that he thought ought to have been in my Nobbut a Yellerbelly!. I supported the local bookshops, which need all the backing that they can get, both directly and through the papers, and I got a nice warm glow of being appreciated, which has to be a pretty good Christmas present.