Well, The Adventures of Alan Shaw is out there in the universe now. I’ve had my first couple of signings and everything seems to be going well. Lots of folks who read Greaveburn came along to both Waterstones in Doncaster and Leeds Steampunk Market to pick up their copies of the new book, which is very nice of them indeed.
What I noticed, however, is that new readers were leaning toward Greaveburn rather than Alan Shaw. Despite the logic which would suggest that the next book would be better. After all, I’ve had a lot more practice at this thing I do, so I certainly hope I’ve learnt something (Jury’s still out, though). And I think I know why. Greaveburn is shorter!
Why would you start reading a new author, not knowing if you’re going to like it, and pay a pound extra for the larger book? Of course you wouldn’t! You read the shorter, cheaper book and, if you like it, you read more. I also noticed that as the pile of Greaveburn copies went down, people picked it up more. That would suggest readers believe the sales of books to be indicative of quality. So, the sales of Greaveburn perpetuated themselves.
Just when I thought no one would be interested in the older novel, it kicks serious ass at Leeds Steampunk Market.
Of course, for the author, you want people to read and review your new work, so it can feel disappointing. But once Greaveburn had sold out, people headed over to the Alan Shaw pile and they disappeared, too. That pretty much proves my point about reader psychology and the books they buy.
Also, everyone wanted to know if the books were part of a series. People want to read epic stories nowadays. Everyone is looking for their next 50 Shades of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series. For the love of God, if someone asks you if your book is part of a series, even if you’re still working on the other books and it’s just a possibility, tell them about it!
Another thing I noticed, which seems odd but is true, most people, on stepping through a door, will turn right. Don’t ask me why. They just do. Unless there is something staggeringly brilliant to their left that they just can’t pass up, they will go right. So, if you’re at a market, try to shift your stall over that side. You don’t want to be next to the door, though. People browse before they buy. Be the third or fourth stall. By then, readers/buyers will have got a feel for the room and be ready to hang around.
Another thing I’ve observed is how sellers present themselves. Over the course of any event weekend, you can observe people floating on by stalls. Why is that? There seems to be a correlation with how the stall holders were coming across. If you sit behind a phone/tablet/book, and look disinterested, why should the reader/buyer be interested in you? Also, if your stall is surrounded completely, new people won’t come over. If you’re lucky enough to have some lovely person come and have a conversation with you, then ask them politely to move over so that people can still get in. They really won’t mind. Then carry on chatting.
A similar point is to not have too many people behind your stall. On occasions where I’ve had myself, my shop girl (either my wife, or a friend who helps me out) and my publishers all behind the table, people feel overwhelmed. It’s like they’re having a job interview. So they don’t visit. I get more casual visitors when it’s just me, or me and my shop girl, than at any other time.
This post is turning into a thesis! Sorry.
On the subject of shop-girls…and don’t take this the wrong way…but a pretty face next to you is hardly a bad thing. Unless you have pretty face of our own. But I don’t. I’m more of a keep-the-kids-away-from-the-fire kind of face. And so a friendly, pleasant young lady with me helps to even me out. It also helps if that assistant knows their stuff. Make sure they’ve read the book! Let them listen to you sell your own material. My friend, Fran, helps me out regularly, and I’ve noticed that she pretty much directly quotes me when explaining the book to others. And it works! She’s read the book herself so she can comment on whether people will like it or not, and she explains the premise just as well as I do. Perfect!
A tip I got from a very nice fellow author, Sam Smith, was to use The Rule of Three to explain your book to other people. This rule is based on the magic number that makes everyone’s brain go wahoooHOOOO! But also on something I’ve mentioned before; that everyone is looking for the next book to read which they will enjoy just as much as their last one!
So, described your books by comparing them to three other things. Let’s use Greaveburn as an example to make it easier to explain:
“It’s like Frankenstein meets Les Miserables with a hint of The Hunchback of Notre Dame where every character is a villain.”
See the three elements? That gives a really good idea of what the story is about, the feel of it, and then finished off with something unique to the book.
Let’s try to do it with The Adventures of Alan Shaw:
“It’s like Indiana Jones is thrown into an H.G Wells novel and travels the world having Pulp-style adventures, where you get to see how the Steampunk era develops as the character grows up.”
An easy sentence to memorise, and it lays it all out for the potential reader. Then, once they’re hooked, you can tell them a little more.
Try it out, it really helps to explain a complex idea such a novel to someone, and can help maintain your focus when writing a sequel too.
And last but not least… a tip on setting up your table. People seem to think that if they touch a book, they have to buy it. I once jokingly suggested to a potential reader that the cover didn’t have glue on it and I wouldn’t be offended if he put it back down after reading the blurb. He did NOT find this funny. So, now I have two cheap book stands to make my stall look a little more three dimensional and interesting and I always lay one book blurb-up on the table to people can read without having to pick it up. I’ve had more people doing the bent-over-scan than I can remember. It really works!
I hope that’s been helpful.
Embrace the weird, my friends.