Nocturnal Ponderings

Photo by Phil Formby

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer and publisher over the last few years it’s that selling books is hard. Really hard.

Both from the side of pitching to agents and publishers and the other side – getting people to part with money in exchange for a bunch of pages into which you poured hours of grueling-exciting-wondrous work. And once they’ve bought that book it may well sit on their shelf for months, nay years, before they tuck into it. I say that as a person who owns more books they haven’t read, than books they have read.

It’s understandable. A book isn’t a throwaway thing. A book is a commitment. A good book that you take your time over is a relationship all in itself. It’s a personal thing and an act of solitude in a world that bombards you with bright shiny distractions every five minutes.

I’m currently trying to sell a book to people. A book that I feel deeply passionate about, in a very personal way. It’s strange to be in the position of editor and and publisher when you’re used to being the writer. It’s a whole different relationship because you’re a reader, but more than a reader, because you were there. You’re the damn midwife helping that beautiful babe get born. You can’t take credit for the genes, but you can still be super proud.

I’m proud of Darren Simpson. He’s a great writer and it’s fascinating the way he pours his personality into it. As I said in this recent interview about the project

“I like Darren’s writing because he’s not afraid to take risks and have fun. There’s a rawness which traditionally published books tend to lack because they’re edited differently and are too self-conscious of their market. It’s like when you get a really good piece of music that’s overproduced. The Dust on the Moth takes an idea and runs away with it in ways that are both incredibly silly yet also still profound. It makes you laugh while also potentially giving you an existential crisis. I think that might be my favourite kind of art when it’s done well.”

I published my novel Dogtooth Chronicals a few years ago now. Someone came into the shop where I work today and bought a copy, not knowing I was the writer until I awkwardly told him. It feels strange and alien to talk about it now, the questions people ask are still the same – ‘Wow, it’s a big book, how long did that take you?’ It made me feel a little strange.

After he left I kicked myself for not mentioning The Dust on the Moth. After all, he was clearly a man of fine taste. And therein lies my issue. I’ve never been a good salesperson. I am zero-sales-patter-fox. From days of bartending, to these new days of funding applications and crowdfunding experiments. I don’t have the elevator pitch down, I can’t sell you a book or a really great social enterprise in one snappy sentence. I don’t lack passion or bloody-minded self-determination. I just lack swagger and effective punchlines that make you feel like the product I’m pushing will make you’re life better.

I do have some sales patter, sure. It just takes seven or eight paragraphs of your time to emerge. I’m all about the super soft sell. I want to empower people to spend their money on products made or designed locally. On stuff that is meaningful, rather than meaningless. On things they feel like they’ve ‘found’ all by themselves. Like wandering up some weird little alleyway into Cobden Chambers and finding a book in a shop you’d never been in before by a writer you’d never heard of. And then you meet the writer and she’s socially awkward, which is how all writers should be.

It’s a nice story. But it happens so rarely. And when you have a book to sell, time is never on your side. Especially when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign with only four days left. But to hell with it. If I was afraid of failure I would never have quit a wage slave job to become a social entrepreneur. As Vin Diesel once said as he pretended to roll out of the back of a plane “I live for this shit!”

So, I watched this video again tonight, despite it containing both my face and my voice. And I felt that even though we might not quite make it. I’m still pretty flippin proud of what we’ve achieved.

Someday I hope that man who bought Dogtooth Chronicals today will accidentally happen upon The Dust on the Moth, and get that nice feeling you get when you find hidden treasure.



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