Tuesday, 20 July 2010

What's it like doing a book-signing?

There are book-signings and well, there are book-signings. You know what I mean. Any famous writer used to sitting at a table simply signing a pile of books, with a smile, will not expect to have to exchange more than a couple of pleasantries. However, I’ve heard various stories about how some naturally reclusive writers avoid them if it involves engaging with customers in a bookshop, hiding, or even delegating a partner to do the talking. Also, I am told that on rare occasions some celebrated authors now turn up expecting a queue and – no one is there.
Well I turn up and sure enough, no one is there! But soon customers enter the bookshop and if they don’t come across to me I bowl across to them and we small-talk. They look at my books, we chat some more, and more often than not they buy one or maybe both of my books. They wave at me as they leave the shop like old friends. I love it.
Often mistaken for a Waterstone’s bookseller (though neither informed nor uniformed) I am asked such questions as ‘where is the self-help section?’ or ‘do you sell maps?’ and some customers offer to pay me direct for my books, thrusting a tempting £20 note my way, but sadly I must direct them to the sales counter. After all, every sale will help to notch up my Nielsen’s stats.
As I am often a stranger to customers, it is a joy when one comes in and says, ‘I’m reading one of your books at the moment, got it from the library,’ or ‘saw you in the paper’; ‘think I’ve heard you on the radio’; or ‘saw your books on Amazon’. I have no wish to be famous or a celebrity (honestly!!!) but it does give me a warm tingle, up to a point, that a few random booklovers know of me and my books.
Booksales are erratic. In some signings I have struggled, it has to be said. There was one where I was placed right next to the entrance and customers just breezed past and had no idea I was there, even less why.
Sometimes customers are focused, blinkered and I am apparently totally invisible. They look above and around me, and walk past, sometimes taking a detour to avoid my table where I wait to meet and greet. People can be intent on finding something specific: parents with children, combing through the Kids’ Section, or men who ‘never read novels’; others who only ever read fantasy/thrillers/crime or travel/historical/biographies and so on. One man last Saturday said he did not want to look at my books. ‘I never read books written by a woman,’ he said, to which I replied, ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that!’ ‘I’ll say it again then,’ was his crisp retort. By sharp contrast another lovely gentleman was gently browsing and I asked him if he read fiction at all. ‘Yes, I certainly do,’ he said and immediately came across to see my display, which he hadn’t noticed. When he saw the titles a broad grin spread across his face like sunshine. ‘I used to be a Gypsy Liaison Officer, as part of my job. I have a lot of sympathy for these people,’ he said. We talked for about half an hour and he was almost reading my books before he had paid for them! It sure does take all sorts.
I spend a couple of hours in Waterstone’s shops most Saturdays, feeling very much at home among the bookshelves by now. The booksellers are lovely – always so welcoming, helpful and supportive. Gypsies Stop tHere I launched in 2008 with a signing in Camberley, then locally at Woking, Farnham and Basingstoke, also venturing to Borders shops in Brighton and Southampton. With the new one, No Gypsies Served, again launched in Camberley, I have been to Epsom, Reading, Windsor, Bracknell, Watford, Basingstoke, Farnham and still have many more lined up – another visit to Windsor where people are so lovely, Brighton, Andover, Woking and Guildford and who knows where?
Next stop Brighton! 31 July Saturday afternoon – apparently they, arguably, get up later than the rest of the country.

Would love to hear of others' experiences of book-signings from either side of the fence ...

Friday, 9 July 2010

More than I expected - meeting Judy Astley!

It was good to go along to a local library the other evening and hear a well-known author, namely Judy Astley, talk about her life as a writer. Her books are undoubtedly in the genre of commercial women’s fiction and very popular – all 16 of them!

What was so curious to me was how much of what she said about her past resonated with me. We are of similar age I would guess but here’s a few more aspects that jumped out:

· Memories of early schooldays: would prefer to be ‘kept in’ writing a ‘composition’ than being in the playground. No good at sport. Absolutely!
· Always had her head in a book. Oh me too! Loved Enid Blyton before moving on to other things. Yes, yes, I used to devour them greedily.
· Favourite Christmas present would be – well, what do you think? Books. I remember requesting a set of 5/- book tokens. It was all I really wanted.
· Going along to the library. That’s me, too. On my bike, saddle-bag stuffed with books.
· A’ levels English and French in common. University days – Judy did English – I was never that good at decisions so I did a mixture of English, French, Sociology and Politics. Both did secretarial courses too and to this day appreciate the skills it gave us, although forever had to fight the maxim ‘once a typist, always a typist’.
· Made clothes – I’d always done this, first for teddies and dolls, then for myself in teenage years. Knitted, sewn from paper patterns or made up, crocheted (oh those holey dresses of the 60s!). Judy went as far as becoming a dress designer and got involved in Liberty’s. I did sell a couple of knitting patterns to magazines but never went any further. And patchwork. Yes we both did that as well! Maybe it’s just our era! And – listen up – we both sold bags to a shop in Oxford!!
· Writing, writing, writing … always there in the background. Judy started at a tender age to send off stories to magazines and learned what rejection meant. I began writing stories when stuck in remote corner of Ireland in my early twenties, did not submit anything until later. Did get published regularly in Romance, True Story and My Story – and Christian Herald!! But in between many were rejected.
· We both went to writing classes. I did The Writing School course by correspondence and went to local classes too (where I met @MarikaCobbold !). Both learned the importance of writing for a defined audience or readership, which underpinned my work in PR and marketing and writing articles freelance.
· At work, freelance freedoms and flexibility suited us both. Judy was sometimes caught out writing at work when employed (love this)! I had a huge number of jobs, variably employed and self-employed. My CV is a nightmare - but I was more inclined to stare out of the window, restless and fidgety, when working for a company or other organisation. (Perhaps if you are a bit creative you cannot bear to be managed? Discuss!)
· Judy won a short story competition and her brilliance clearly shone through! Her first novel was accepted for publication (without an agent – impressive) and the rest … is history. Writing commercially successful books she could earn her living by writing – bliss. Now she has an agent and 16 novels under her belt. I have temporarily given up pursuing the agent-publisher trail and decided to get on with writing novels in my retirement and self-publish. It does not provide me with a living (certainly not, says hubby) but I am writing what I enjoy and other people seem to like reading them.
· Another point on which we differ. I asked Judy which gave her most pleasure - the ‘process’ of writing or the ‘result’! Without hesitation she said ‘finishing the book’! I actually really enjoy the writing bit and feel quite bereft when I reach the end. Yes, it is immensely satisfying to see the final product, of course, but for me, not the main reason for writing. Odd perhaps, but true.

It was so good to meet her – along with two other writer friends and, with much in common, I hope we may meet again some day. Now I must go get her books from the library!!