How does one promote a book? This question continued to nag at me as I went about my business in Port Naain. How on earth was I going to live up to my promise to ensure ‘A Bad Penny’ gained more sales than it rightfully deserved?
Now I was in the Silk Merchant’s Repose. This is perhaps one of the better taverns in Port Naain, and to be frank not one I regularly repair to, but on this occasion I was working. The landlord had a daughter who was attending Dame Ralash’s school for ‘young maidens of humble family up to the age of thirteen.’ Shena my lady wife is an ‘old girl’ of this school and so Dame Ralash felt no shame in conscripting me to assist a current pupil. The girl had a love of writing stories and the Dame wanted somebody professional to run an eye over them and offer editorial advice. Hence I was selected to spend an hour with the girl and her mother, sipping infusions, nibbling sugar fancies and working my way through the child’s tales.
It’s comparatively basic stuff, just pointing out how things could be done better, offering suggestions and giving the budding writer some thoughts and ideas that will challenge them. But above all, it’s just encouraging them to write. Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.
Anyway I finished my task, spending far longer than the allotted hour, and looking back I think the girl benefited. I left the family sitting room and crossed the Snug to get out onto the street when I heard a voice shout, “Tallis Steelyard, come here and drink wine with me.”
Now that isn’t something a fellow hears too often so immediately I turned in the direction of the voice to see Wain Drobbet gesturing towards me. Wain is a big man physically but an even bigger man lives inside him. With his pince nez and ridiculous moustache people sometimes refuse to take him seriously, which is their loss, not his.
Wain is that rare beast, a small independent publisher. I have known him for years and indeed he was involved in the publishing of Lambent Dreams, my own small work. I needed no further invitation but sat down and took the glass he passed to me and drank his good health.
“Glad to see you Tallis. I’ve spent too much time working with bluidy novelists; it’s good to meet an honest poet again.”
I’m afraid I poured out my tale to him and he listened sympathetically. Finally he topped up both our glasses.
“That’s the trouble with novelists Tallis, no sense of reality. That’s why it’s good to work with poets. Even the most wayward poet knows deep in the core of his or her being that their work will never sell enough to cover the printing costs, so what do they do? They arrive in my office with a bag of coin given to them by their patron and we can sit down and work out the best way to use it. Novelists on the other hand breeze in, cast their manuscript nonchalantly onto my desk and would breeze out just as casually if I hadn’t fitted a self-locking door to ensure they had to stay long enough to talk to me.”
He sipped his wine. “At least Poets don’t seem to think they’re doing me a favour by bringing their work into my life.”
His words rang true. So I asked, “Well how do you sell novels?”
He took off his pince nez and cleaned them on a handkerchief he kept especially for the process. “It’s hard work Tallis, both for publisher and writer, and in the end it’s generally a wasted effort for the publisher.”
“Absolutely, novelists are tarts, the minute some small publisher helps them to become successful, along comes one of the big boys, drops coin into the novelist’s hand and they immediately transfer their allegiance and abandon me as if I were an embarrassing elderly relation who drooled a lot and smelled like a poorly cleaned jakes.”
Again I could see his point. Although to be fair I’d never heard of a poet being approached by a large publisher so I couldn’t really be sure they were more or less loyal than novelists.
“So what would you hope for from your novelist then?”
“Well firstly I’d expect them to contribute financially to the process of publishing, producing a book should be a partnership and in an ideal world we’d both make money out of it.” Here he sighed. “A least if they put up the cost of printing I wouldn’t lose money on it.”
He drained his wine glass and gestured to the bar with the empty bottle. It was obvious that the topic was a sore one for him. When the next bottle arrived he filled both glasses again.
“Then the beggars can get off their fat backsides and get out there and help sell their blasted book.” He wagged a finger at me, “But no, they all expect me to do everything whilst they claim they have to return to their garrets and write another tome, which of course they’ll expect me to sell for them. At the very least they could turn up at their own book launch without looking as if they were kidnap victims being held for ransom.”
I contemplated his metaphor and was forced to admit that it rang true. I didn’t have time to contemplate it for long; Wain was now in full flow.
“Look at the steps you took to sell your book, why don’t they copy your example.”
I was a little shaken by this, “Well I did make a point of carrying a copy or two around with me wherever I went.”
“And who was it who painted the words ‘Buy your copy of Lambent Dreams now to avoid disappointment’, in letters as tall as a man on the side of the Sinecurists’ building?”
I confess that is one embarrassing episode I was trying to forget, but Wain continued, “And who was it hired two heavies to accompany him and intimidate people into buying?”
I sighed, “That didn’t go well did it. They fell into an argument about the folk metaphysics underlying my most potent similes that ended up in fisticuffs.”
“Yes but you still sold six copies to bystanders who’d stopped to watch the fight.”
Rather weakly I said, “Well I felt I had to try. You’d done so much for me, produced such a beautiful little book.”
“And you were really good at the book launch Tallis. I’ve never launched a book as cheaply.”
Here I admit I blushed. The pair of us had infiltrated the launch of Radsel Oeltang’s memoirs. We’d set up on a separate table, passed round Radsel’s wine and had sold a score of our books before anybody thought to eject us from the premises. Actually it was almost the perfect selling opportunity, as our book was cheaper, lighter and easier reading than the celebrated Oeltang memoirs.
Wain got to his feet and raised his glass in a toast. “So Tallis, grab this fat idle novelist of yours by the scruff of the neck and then thrust him out into the street to sell his own blasted book, using the toe of your boot to motivate him if necessary.”
You know, I’ll drink to that.
As a footnote it struck me that you might not yet have purchased a copy of my own small work, Lambent Dreams.