Saturday 25 January 2014

Book Post: Meeting The Great Unwashed

Olives for Sale! Who IS this Andy McNab,
anyway? (Photo credit: Bibi)
I'll start off with a huge thanks to the team, who were kind enough to suggest I came to their 'Big Day Out' event at the Arabian Ranches Polo Club and flog my books. I confess at some considerable trepidation about the whole stunt and last night was - something I don't often experience - genuinely nervous.

I've never before sat behind a table full of my books and attempted to sell them. It was a very odd feeling indeed to begin with. I mean, what do you do with yourself? Do you stand to attention and appear keen and approachable? Do you take a seat and finish rereading John Le Carré's excellent and vastly underrated 'The Night Manager'? Do you ignore people and let them select what they want or leap on them and punch them until they buy the damn books?

It felt like a reality show challenge. What a great idea. Take a bunch of people who've written books and then hone their authorial talents until one of them wins through. Like Authonomy with a real prize at the end sort of thing. One of the challenges would surely be to man a stall selling your books for a day.

I got mistaken for Andy McNab twice. The first one was the funniest. He was clearly someone's dad out for a winter break.

"You were on the radio the other day, weren't you?"
"Yes, I was."
"Funny that, you not being able to read until you were twenty."
"What radio station were you listening to?"
"No, I'm on Dubai Eye. You're thinking of Andy McNab, aren't you? The SAS bloke?"
"That's not me."
"Who are you then?"
"Move on before I punch you."

I watched people passing all day, the way they scanned the books. Brits in particular are scared to catch your attention, eye contact makes them nervous and defensive until they've decided they might be interested. Once I'd finished my Le Carré and actually started talking to people I was feeling better about the whole thing and making sales, but every single sale of the day's 25-odd was a 'sale' rather than a 'this looks interesting, I think I'd like to buy it' approach. I worked hard for every man Jack of 'em. Imagine in a bookshop where I'm NOT there to bug them!!!

I'd do my POS differently next time and have a big sign saying I AM THE AUTHOR OF THESE BOOKS AND WILL SIGN THEM IF YOU BUY THEM. I might even have to wear it instead of my 'Doesn't Mary have a lovely bottom' Father Ted T-shirt which did, however, attract great attention. It's amazing how people don't make such small cognitive leaps.

People scan across the covers of books as they walk by, a clear 'I'm not in the market for a book today' decision going on. The vast majority of people simply walked by without a glance or darted a cursory gaze of absolute disinterest. Maybe if I'd coated the bloody things in chocolate.

I had a single copy of Shemlan, which the vice-consul from the British embassy in Abu Dhabi bought early on. They were, incidentally, doing a great job of outreach - the idea being to inform expats of the legal 'issues' here before they fall foul of the law. "Excuse me, are you a Brit? Do you have a liquor license?" We chatted a bit about dips and the scandalous Tom Fletcher, Our Man In Beirut. (whose mission I have so mischaracterised in my books!)

Most of those who stopped ended up buying and most of those bought both Olives and Beirut. A few preferred Kindle, but most were paperback addicts. All of the Lebanese required some sort of assurance that I lived in Lebanon or knew it. Magda Abu-Fadil's Huffpo review to hand, I was able to quell their unease quickly enough.
"The author has an uncanny understanding of the country's dynamics and power plays between the belligerent factions, post-civil war of 1975-1990.... Beirut is a gripping, fast-paced exciting book that may well jar Lebanese and others familiar with the city and its heavy legacy. But it's a must read.
Magda Abu-Fadil writing in The Huffington Post 
See what I mean? It's a neat answer to 'but how can you write about Beirut if you're not Lebanese or haven't lived there?' Glad I had that printed out along with some other choice reviews.

Nobody haggled. It was a binary decision. I want to buy a book or I don't. Everyone wanted them signed. Everyone was kind, interested and genuinely surprised to meet an author together with his books.

Beirut attracted the most attention, the body language the same every time there was a double take and a move towards the book - everyone picks and flips, the blurb is SO important once your cover image and title have done their job. But that high impact cover image, the lipstick bullet, together with the strong all-caps title. You could see it was clearly hitting people in a way Olives doesn't.

As they flip, so I start talking. They're on the hook and need to be landed. I was amazed at the flip - something I have catered for in my covers and blurbs (since Olives, which was self indulgent of me but I still love the art of it, while recognising it's not a 'commercial' cover - I'm actually on the hunt for a new cover image that'll fall in line with the 'look and feel' of Beirut and Shemlan), practised and evangelised in workshops but never actually observed in large crowds.

Recounting a summay of the story of Olives gave people more pause for thought than Beirut - Beirut was an easier book to characterise and 'get across' to people. But a few were more than taken with the idea of a 'violent romance' which was nice.

I would suggest this to every and any author - traditionally published or self published alike. Do this. Spend a day in a market selling your books. Initially daunting, it's an amazing way to meet people and see how they react to books and the idea of books, how they approach buying books and what makes them tick in that process. And what it is about YOUR books they like!

Weary, sunburned and clutching a Martini (natch), looking back on the day, the wealth wasn't in the little wad of money in my wallet. It was learning about those annoying carbon based lifeforms we depend upon to buy our books - the Great Unwashed. And bless 'em, one and all!

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Catalin said...

Cool experience, very similar to the first time I ever sat in front of my prints trying to sell them. It was tough to know what to say.

DaddyBird said...

Good job, Andy! ;-)>

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