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Frank's Wild Years: Back on the Road

This Saturday sees a return to the northern leg of the book tour. The Frank’s Wild Years flag will be planted in Doncaster Waterstones from 11am (Leeds likewise on Saturday 19th May).

As authors, increasingly aware in a crowded market that writing, publishing and promoting a book are only half the story, the need to project a ‘brand’ has become something of a pre-occupation. In many ways this flies against creative instincts: focus should be on the work; art is art and marketing and sales are someone else’s job. Not so, you’re involved. And when it takes you into the high street, you’re on your own.

Herein lies a contradiction: if you’re brand is anti-brand and your image is an honest one, the thought of selling yourself brings to mind bullshit merchants like Stuart Baggs – ‘The Brand’  (Apprentice, Season 6): "I’m not a one-trickpony, I’m not a 10-trick pony, I have a whole field of ponies – and they’re literally all running towards this job." As if Alan Partridge had been hired as script editor and the brand in question is needy, Thatcherite lunkhead.

So how do you place yourself? You think you’ve got a good book, and so do most of the people who’ve read it. How do you translate that into selling to strangers on Saturday mornings? I don’t have all the answers by a long stretch, but in anticipation of one day achieving ‘the perfect signing’, here are some observations from the story so far:

1.       Leave your expectations at the door. You can do all the local press and radio you like; the shop may even print out a sheet of A4 with your name on it and sellotape it to the window half an hour before you get there – with all this advance publicity, surely people will come. This is no baseball movie. Chances are you’ll need to sniff out potential buyers in-store like a truffle pig on caffeine swill. The reading public want your book, they just don’t know it yet. So …

2.       Prepare your pitch. This doesn’t mean take a tent and hide in it for three hours, emerging like an angry badger to sign a book once in a while. It means having a pretty good idea what you’re going to say. Script it if necessary. After all, this is a performance. For me, selling a book whose soul is in a few square miles of South East London was not a great opener in Yorkshire. Kicking off with ‘What kind of (in my case crime) fiction do you like?’ works better. Just chat. You know they’ll love the book if they read it.

3.       Some people just want to browse. It’s Saturday morning, your free time is for shopping and meeting friends and that other stuff non-freelancers do on weekends. You’ve nipped into Waterstones for a quiet twenty-minutes noodling around the shelves. Then some sales-hungry tart of an author catches your eye and asks for a minute of your time. Answer: ‘Go away I’m browsing.’  It’s going to happen, sometimes rudely. Get used to it. Not every punter is Clarence Beeks.

Clarence Beeks - not a very nice man

4.       Try to ensure you’re not signing in competition – tricky one this, having the author of a BBC Radio 4 book of the week sitting across the other side of a very small store at the same time as you’re trying to hustle punters into buying your book is, in contemporary management speak, a pain in the arse. Truth is, this kind of setback is going to happen. How do you handle it? Smile like you mean it, work it and sell more!

5.       And finally, this is your book, your opportunity. If it’s a slow day, if you’ve worked your arse off, if your jaw positively aches from smiling (like you mean it), if your pitch sounds like it’s wearing thinner than a Primark vest, none of this should be allowed to reflect on you or your book. Stay positive, defiantly positive if needs be. And if all else fails, just ask yourself, what would Mark E Smith do?

What would Mark E Smith do?

Okay, maybe not.


  1. "And if all else fails, just ask yourself, what would Mark E Smith do?" A sound philosophy.


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