My sixth book was out in the spring and so, as restrictions have relaxed, I’ve become reacquainted with the rigmarole of arranging and attending book signings.
When I was a novice to writing, I was encouraged by my first publisher to attend as many signings as humanly possible.
“It’s great for sales!” the publicists shouted.
At least, it is if people come to buy the books. It’s not great for sales if you only sell four books.
On many occasions, the meagre royalties would not even have covered the cost of the fuel in my car. Having subtracted the huge discounts, which the large book retailing chains demand, plus all the other stoppages, one feels great sympathy for proper authors who rely on their book sales to pay the mortgage.
On one occasion, I travelled to the Wirral, enthusiastically following the M62 to a bookshop that was considered to be a mecca for authors. I gave a talk, chatted with the owners, ogled over the signed pictures on the walls of Michael Palin, Rick Stein and Jeffery Archer and then made my way home.
As bad chance would have it, the M62 was closed that evening, apparently for essential maintenance, at three points on my return journey. The diversion signs were haphazard and my satnav, seemingly unfamiliar with the wrong side of the Pennines, did not help. I arrived home at half past three in the morning, more exhausted than if I’d been up all night at a calving. I’d sold about 20 books.
Nowadays, I try to keep my travels more local.
It can be hard to find the time, but it’s really nice to meet people, lined up and clutching a book with my grinning face on it (I keep asking publishers to use a different type of front cover, but this never happens).
Luckily, people who make the effort to travel to a bookshop at a specific time are pleased to see me, which doesn’t always happen in real life. An anxious, cash-strapped farmer, preferably doesn’t want to see me – his life is better if he doesn’t need to meet a vet.
My first signing of the afternoon at a bookshop in Harrogate was for a lady who had come from almost as far away as the Wirral.
She excitedly emptied the contents of her bag onto the small table where I was sitting. It quickly became apparent that she had no intention of buying my new book, but wanted me to sign her hard-backed copies of my first two books. “I don’t think I can sign this,” I said, as I inspected the second one.
“It’s a library book!”
“No, it isn’t!” She exclaimed with indignation. “I bought it. From the internet.”
I pointed out the obvious barcode on the spine, and the conspicuous plastic wrapper to protect it from wear and tear from (what should have been) borrowers, hungry to read veterinary stories.
The library stamp on the title page made it unequivocally true. The book had clearly been stolen from a library and subsequently sold via an internet site!
The lady did not seem unduly perturbed by the dubious provenance of her book and so I felt obliged to add my signature to the contraband.
After all, I knew what it was like to make a lengthy journey across the Pennines and I didn’t want her journey to be totally in vain.
Admittedly, this was not the crime of the decade, but I felt sad because it had involved my book.
I put my head down, added my signature along with ‘Best Wishes’, we chatted for a while and off she went, happy with her two signed copies.