Sometimes, after selling books at a craft fair, I am dying to tell you about some of the people who I’ve met—sometimes because they were very odd, sometimes just because our conversation was interesting. But I try to hold back, and not say too much, because it feels like an invasion of privacy to tell you too much about people who do not expect to be written about.
However, as I have attended more and more fairs, there is a general pattern of types of shoppers emerging, and so, in general terms, I feel I am safe to tell you about them. (If you have ever spoken to me at a fair, then you might recognise yourself, but I am writing in very generic terms, so my descriptions will apply to several people rather than a single individual.)
First of all, there are the Rebuffers. These are the people who really do not want to buy a book, they are generally in a hurry, and will rebuff my initial approach briskly. Sometimes they manage to do this nicely, with a smile and shake of the head whilst not breaking step.
Sometimes they are rather rude, and will reply to my: “Hello, do you like reading?” with a curt: “No!”
I have even known people say: “Not those kinds of books” or, “Not books by a woman!”
Secondly, there are the Chatterers. These people consider that as I have approached them, I must be lonely and want to chat. They will talk, for a very long time, about the kind of book that they would write, if so inclined. It is sometimes difficult to move these people on, and I have watched with despair as several potential customers pass by while a non-buying woman launches into the year after her second child was born when they went on holiday to Paris and there was a man on the ferry who. . .
Thirdly there are the Predators. These people will ask lots of questions, they will examine my books in detail, asking who published them, how I sell them, how many I have sold. By the time they have asked their 57th question, I am beginning to realise that they have no intention of buying, they are simply checking out the opposition! Invariably they turn out to be authors themselves, who have never considered asking bookshops if they can do a book-signing, or taken a table at a craft fair, and they are trying to decided whether they should copy me. I will link these people with the authors who think that as I have told them about my books, I will now be interested to hear about their own. They tell me at length about the plot of their book, and who published it, and how I can buy it—without considering that I have paid £40 for my stall, and really I need to SELL enough books to cover my costs, not look around for other books to BUY!
Next, we have the Investigators. Some of my books are about psychopaths, and they were written after months of research: I read papers by neuroscientists, bought books by neurologists, listened for hours to convicted psychopaths, and found two mothers who would talk to me about raising a psychopathic child. So, although I am a lay-person, I felt sufficiently qualified to write novels about psychopaths. However, I find that some people—often but not always, health professionals—are deeply suspicious. They will start to ask questions about my research, and the questions turn into an aural examination/inquisition as to my understanding of the subject. Generally, I manage to answer satisfactorily, and they often go on to buy a book (one even asked me to write an article for a mental health magazine) but it is uncomfortable. Actually, it is often most uncomfortable when the person has no scientific knowledge themselves, but considers themselves to be an expert because they have read an article or watched a television programme, and often their own understanding is somewhat flawed, which makes it difficult when being ‘tested’ by them.
These people contrast well with the Defensives. These people ask questions about my novels set in a school (Hidden Faces) or a farm (Ploughing Through Rainbows) and then go on to explain that they too could have written a book about their past employment. Perhaps they are a nurse with a lot of funny stories, or a teacher with more experience than me, or a prison warder. They inform me, fairly grumpily, that their lives are just as interesting as mine, and that their book, if they had found time to write it, would be much better than mine. I’m sure that in some cases this is true. However, they haven’t written a book and I have, so it is bit of a non-conversation in my mind. Nor am I quite sure why they are telling me this—am I meant to agree with them and pack up and go home?
Finally, there are the Lovely people. These people show a genuine interest in my books, whether they buy a copy or not. They are polite, and interesting, and it is always nice to meet them and have a conversation.
I will leave it for you to decide which category you fit into—I’m sure it’s the last one!
I hope you meet some lovely people today. Thank you for reading.
Love, Anne xx
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A very factual write up about selling books. . .
This is fascinating. As an author who also goes out to craft fairs selling books, I too have experienced a variety of responses. You don’t mention those who say, ‘That sounds good. I’ll come back later for that.’ They never do. Why can’t they say, ‘That sounds good. I enjoyed chatting to you. Good luck’ and just move on. I think many people are very insecure and full of regrets and doubts and fears and that does underlie their responses to an author who has had the courage to create something and take a risk and put themselves forward and risk failure and not give up.
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Thank you. You are right — people who leave saying they will come back later to buy a copy never do, even if I am completely sure that they intend to at the time. I feel we are very ‘out there’ when we sell our books, and I have never yet met an author who enjoys the selling part.