Thursday, 16 April 2009

Reading events - the good, the bad and the mildy embarrassing..

I’ve been doing talks and slide shows since The Blue Cabin was first published, over thirty of them now, and you never know what to expect. Last night was the Ards Area Women’s Institute, a delightful group of 120 women (obviously) who were very kind to me and I think enjoyed the evening. There were various announcements, awards etc first and then the Area President Christine Rankin gave me a thoughtful and well-researched introduction, which I have to say, doesn’t always happen (I did a reading once where the organiser said, ‘And now, someone who needs no introduction..’ to a group of people who hadn’t a clue who I was.)
There didn’t seem to be too much fidgeting or chatting, no-one fell asleep or slipped out the back door of the hall, and there were lots of questions afterwards, the most notable of which was, ‘Can I ask you about sewage at the cabin?’, my reply, ‘No, you can’t ask me about sewage on the island’ raising a laugh; but in fact I explained that there is a working septic tank of the old style: we never use bleach or non-biodegradable cleaners and have managed to maintain the bacteriological action in the tank so that the outflow is clear and clean. We managed the same in our farmhouse in Scotland in fact.

My worst experience at one of my own readings was at a bookshop which will remain nameless. It was in a shopping mall, and the reading was arranged for 8pm, two hours after the mall had closed. When I arrived, I dodged the tumbleweed blowing across the car park and left the car in one of the 3,500 spaces still available in a car park capable of holding 3,500 cars. Inside, the mall was not, can I say, humming. I found the bookshop, which was locked, and rattled on the steel security grille, which was three-quarters down. To cut a painfully long story mercifully short, I found myself reading to my mother, the bookshop manager, his assistant, my faithful editor at Blackstaff Press and her mother-in-law – and my two-strong legion of fans, a delightful couple who had read the book, seen the in-store poster, and actually taken the trouble to come along and meet me, bless them. It was no-one’s fault, and the manager couldn’t have been nicer of more helpful – I felt more embarrassed for him than for myself.

The moral of the story, funnily enough, is not to forego bookshop readings – I’ve done lots which were well attended and at which I sold a good many books – but to make sure there is at least a small posse of friends who have promised to be there: not to swell numbers for the sake of it, but to keep the all-important bookshop manager interested in your title. Marketing books is a two-way street. Shortly after this particular event, the manager moved on and the assistant manager, on promotion, promptly returned my books to the wholesaler, every author’s fear and something from which, in this store at least, sales never recovered. Good experience though.
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