Tales from a Local Author Christmas Extravaganza

First of all – I am BETTER! I feel incredibly different, I must have had a low-lying infection and been ill for weeks. I can’t believe the difference that the antibiotics have made. Well that and a few decent nights sleep. Which is just as well because it meant that I could fully enjoy last night! Wow! What an amazing time I had! I expected it to be good but not that good. It was more like a social drinks party than an author event. There were several reasons why it was so good; firstly Waterstones had put an awful lot of effort into organising the evening. This was the first time that anything like this had been attempted and they were keen to make it a success. There had been lots of publicity and general drumming up of interest going on. One of the other authors, children’s writer Ali Sparkes, had been on BBC Radio Solent that afternoon to generate interest as well. And the atmosphere was really good, the staff were lovely and all the authors were full of enthusiasm. There were ten of us altogether: Ron Clooney for the thriller genre, Alex Bell in the dark fantasy/sci-fi genre, Ali Sparkes, Andrew Norris and another lady who all write for children, Alex Hibbert who has written a book about his polar exploration exploits (and blimey, it sounds mad but amazing. He ski-ed 100 miles in ten days on NO FOOD. A storm destroyed the food supplies they had left which they didn’t know until they got there so they had no choice. All credit to the guy.) And apart from that there were a couple of local history authors and me of course, alone in the chick-lit genre, for which I quickly became very grateful.

We all met in the staffroom prior to the event for drinks and a chat and to get to know one another briefly. The choices of drinks were: water, tea, coffee, squash, red wine or white wine. I wavered slightly but then eventually went for…..guess what…..yes you are right – a small glass of white wine. Which went straight to my head after having not drunk anything for days. So I quickly had to drink an awful lot of water as being tipsy and signing books is NOT a good thing. And I know because I’ve done it. Not in bookshops I hasten to add, but at dinner parties and that sort of thing for friends. I expect to see them popping up on eBay in the future. I wasn’t the only one who drank wine by the way, at least 50% of the authors did, it’s obviously an integral part of being a writer. So after that we were given our lovely name tags and then all taken onto the shop floor, and as we were going up the escalator Ron said to me “So what do you write then?”

“Chick-lit,” I replied (because it’s just easier). And he responded with “Well the stuff I write is more sex-lit than anything else.” Which meant that I was unattractively snorting with laughter as I took up my position at our stand. Myself, Ron and Alex were grouped together right by the door, we did have the best position in the whole shop; where we were is where they put all their major authors for signings. I don’t know why, just the luck of the draw I guess. The others were grouped together in their various sections further back in the shop, which I gather didn’t really work well for them as they fairly quickly came forward to stand right by the other shop entrance, presumably to garner more interest.

We didn’t have a problem with interest though and that was because we had Ron on our table. The man is an absolute master at his art and incredible to watch. He drew the crowds like you wouldn’t believe and easily sold the most books in the evening. He’s a lovely person, a real raconteur with a fabulous sense of humour and those combined along with his determination give him his success. Or they did last night anyway. He literally grabbed any person that passed by, male or female, and said “Do you fancy a really good thriller?” and whatever their response was he had an answer for it. For example, a few people said “Oh no, I don’t like thrillers,” to which he replied “That’s because you haven’t read a good one yet. Here, look at this,” – hands them a book – “the first print run sold out in twelve weeks….” etc., etc. He wasn’t pushy or overbearing, despite being unashamedly selling his work. It was a real skill and beautiful to watch. Of course it made Alex and I feel quite inadequate as both of us were the more ‘hanging back’ sort, which didn’t matter because Ron would then go on to say “And here also tonight are Sarah Haynes with her chick-lit novel and Alex Bell with her dark fantasy writing,” which effectively did the introductions for us. But after a few minutes of watching Ron I decided there was nothing else for it and became a lot more forward – which paid off. I did something which I’ve never done before and approached a customer who was browsing the shelves. We had a quick chat during which I basically introduced myself and said “Look, even if my book’s not your sort of thing I know the genre pretty well and can probably help you find something.” And about fifteen minutes later she came to look at my book – and bought it! Out of all of Waterstones she chose Things He Never Knew. I was very pleased. It’s such a learning curve and I’m glad to have started to make some sort of impression on it.

Overall, I think I sold 7/8 books, which doesn’t sound like much but we were only there for two hours so it equates to one every fifteen minutes which is what it felt like. And I also didn’t have friends/family turning up so it was a case of relying on the general public to be interested. Which they were! I was glad to be alone in my genre because of the lack of competition. Everyone gets fiercely competitive at these sorts of events, it really is every man for himself, and rightly so – as authors this is our livelihood and reputation that we’re protecting. Which is why it was so decent of Ron to include us in his general spiel, although the only reason he could and did do that was because we were no competition to him.

And the people that I spoke to last night were lovely without exception. One man stands out in my mind because we had the following conversation, as he picked up my book:

“Chick-lit? What’s that?”

“Commercial fiction aimed primarily at women.”

“Why? What sort of stuff do you write about?”

“Generally the plots will involve love, romance, drama, emotions with a female central character.”

“Doesn’t mean men can’t read it.”

“No,” I agreed.

He studied the book for a while before saying suddenly “You could be the next Jilly Cooper.”

“Er, well, no, my writing’s probably less racy than that.”

“So there’s no sex in this?”


“Oh. Shame. You should put some in, it would sell better.”

“I’ll – er – bear it in mind.”

“Give it a bit more oomph.”


And then he said “I’d have bought it if had sex in it,” threw it on the table and walked away. I suppose it didn’t help that I was based right next to the erotica section which might have given him the idea in the first place. By accident or design I couldn’t tell.

So I had a very lovely evening with great company and the only bad thing I can say about it was that I had to miss “I’m A Celebrity…..” which I can watch on catch-up so it isn’t even that bad. The whole experience left me with a lot more confidence about book-signings and gave me a real idea of the best way to do things. And I suppose one of the most important things to take away from the evening is that I should definitely be writing more sex-lit. Watch this space.

my nametag

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