Successful Book Presentations and One that Bombed

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As the self-published author of two novels [Every Street in Manchester, Manchester Kiss] and a non-fiction title [Write It Self-Publish It Sell It], with another non-fiction title [Four Years to Life] with my publisher at the time of writing, I am perfectly happy doing book launches and book presentations. To tell the truth, I would be happier still if book presentations would only come along at a faster rate of knots than they are wont to do.

With this in mind, I recently mailed every public library in the Greater Manchester conurbation (a total of 147 libraries, as it happens), offering my services as a speaker, free-of-charge, to readers’ or writers’ groups connected with each library. Since that time (7 weeks ago at the time of writing) I have received just one (albeit, admittedly, an immediate and enthusiastic) e-mailed invitation to speak, to which I made sure to respond with similar alacrity. Whereupon a second e-mail then came limping in from this same source, enquiring: ‘How long do you go on for?’

Readers may depend upon it that I will certainly be making humorous reference to this query when I visit these wonderful people later on in the month.

But what about the other 146 public libraries? As writer Tim Keogh [Nothing But Blue Skies] observes: ‘It is not as if you can’t move for local author reading sessions. Especially if they are free of charge. I must be mistaken in my belief that libraries are in the business of encouraging reading. I was emailed recently by a chap named Gary James who is the official ManchesterCity (football team) historian. He has written three huge sellers on The Blues over the years but he told me that he has never been able to get into a library to do a reading or even a question and answer session.’

Despite this, I have consistently contrived to field a book launch for each of my self-published book titles, with wine thrown in. That is to say, with vino served up in a genteel fashion. Because wine is the best salesman known to man, being a positively expert loosener of tongues, inhibitions, purse-strings and wallets.

I always go easy on the eats. Because I don’t want any sticky little fingers handling my books, if you don’t mind, please! That is to say, I never serve up anything more tacky than cocktail stick-speared cheese, pineapple, olives, and/or silverskin onions. But you may bet your boots there is never any popcorn or Monster Munch in evidence!

I’ve done numerous book presentations, too – and once upon a time I would serve wine at book presentations, too. (The 3 litre boxes are handy.) Until, that is, there came a day when three score and ten well-heeled Mancunian matrons shifted 6 litres of the stuff, buying nary a book between them – and this (would you credit it?) in the same week in which a totally abstemious church group in Cheshire forbade me to set the demon drink before them.

So ye’ll no longer get to gargle plonk at any book presentation of mine, ye ken!

With or without wine, though, book launches and book presentations are usually good for a few sales. Furthermore, book launches will see sales at full cover price. So if I shift a box of books at a book launch – 25 to 30 copies maybe – I reckon I’ve done pretty well.

Why?

Because guests have a tendency to attend book launches in company, as opposed to turning up on their own. So, to my mind, 25-30 books sold is 50 to 60 punters catered for.

Meanwhile, on only three separate occasions in my experience have sales of books been unforthcoming at book presentations. But in each instance, be it noted, a small fee was offered instead – £20, £25, say. (Obviously, the organisers in each instance had their unforthcoming club members well-sussed!) But, in general, book presentations will be as successful as the book launches I describe above, if only for the very simple reason that, at book presentations, I offer my books for sale at a significant saving on the cover price. For example, three books for the price of two (as some book shops do), or even a BOGOF offer (Buy One, Get One Free) if my costings (considering I won’t be paying commission to a book shop on this occasion) will support this.

Yet despite what I say here, one evening of late I simply bombed at a local book presentation, making no positive impression whatsoever upon the assembled company. True, I was presented with a very generous fee of £35 – but I sold not a sausage! And old trouper though I be, I don’t mind telling you the experience left me tired, frustrated – and to speak truly, a bit under the weather, with a distinct feeling (in view of the aforementioned generous fee) of having given short change to my customers.

(Gadzooks! I’d rather give the money away than gain it under false pretences!)

So what exactly occurred to make me make such a mess of things?

Well, to begin with, there had been a well-attended meeting in the assembly room immediately prior to my scheduled appearance. Consequently, the room temperature was of that radiated, centrally-heated kind I know only too well, and which only the female of the species (that is to say, UK Womankind Bereft of Tog 3 Cagoule, 2010 Vintage) would appear to be ready, willing and able to cope with. For myself, offered a cup of tea on arrival, I refused point blank, fearful of spraying perspiration like a 30-litre watering-can on mein host – or, rather, hostesses.

There were somewhere in the region of 70 or 80 of them present. Not my favourite quorum, which just so happens to be a cosy 30-40 people. Because numbers in excess of this tend to necessitate the use of a microphone – and, as a former class teacher, microphones are alien to me – a bit Nuremburg rally-ish at best, ergo quite unsuitable to discussing literature that isn’t due to be piled up and burned in the village square.

But that’s meand (a microphone being unceremoniously plonked in my left-hand before I began) vocal amplification was obviously de rigeur for my audience. . . which now proceeded to advise me (individually, intermittently, and repeatedly during the next thirty minutes or so) how I had best hold that microphone, where I had best hold that microphone, and how best I should to speak into it. Quite naturally, such syncopated vocal helpfulness led to my constantly losing the thread of what I was trying to say – and, quite unnaturally, necessitated my having to open, find my place, hold and read from my books one-handed as and when this might be required of me, too.

I was not a happy bunny, I can tell you. Then things took a turn for the worse.

I had been booked to speak for one hour about “Bill Keeth and his Books”, and taking this invitation on trust, I proceeded to do so. But, come the forty minute mark, a disembodied voice berated me from somewhere front-right:

‘Tell us about self-publishing!’ demanded the voice.

And when I proceeded to do so, the owner of that voice then passed a handwritten message to the Chair (seated at my side), the gist of its being:

‘We must vacate this room in 5 minutes time!’

I bombed, I tell you: bombed utterly and absolute. I was left feeling limp, ragged, dissatisfied, and in no mood to talk to anybody – not even my pals down the pub, whither I’d arranged to retire thereafter.

For two days and nights this book presentation affected my waking hours. But sleeping on it (ever a categorical imperative when it comes to problem-solving, I find) did the trick. ’T would be churlish to return the £35 fee, I decided, instead of which I fired off via the Royal Mail three complimentary copies of Write It Self-Publish It Sell It in order that my erstwhile hostesses might raffle £35 back into their funds. God knows (me, too), they won’t be reading the books, knowing as they do everything about everything, apart from how to behave themselves in a polite manner in the event of their having an invited guest on board.

Readers may care to note that the written entry in my account book at home makes no mention of a book presentation on the date in question. “Books sold,” reads the entry in my account book, “ 3 of, £35.”

Look on the bright side, I always say. If I sell 3 books an hour for the rest of my self-publishing life – heck! I’ll be a million-seller in just 38 years.

June 2010


Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.

Click here to return to the index of stories for W I S P


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