So you want to sell books!
It has to be said that the novelist faces a dilemma that the poet neatly
sidesteps. After all, I do not have to sell many books of poetry, people are
happy to give me money purely because I am a poet.
Still I’ve had friends who are novelists ask my advice and I can merely
repeat here what I’ve said to them.
One scheme that occurred to me was that the novelist could do ‘readings’.
Just as if they were a proper writer like a poet. Indeed I know some who
tried it. One problem is that a poem is a poem. I can read it without
gentlemen in the audience wondering if they’d better nip out for a shave, so
long have I taken. Novels are just so damned protracted.
The second problem is the reading of it. I have practiced my craft for many
years, and each poem I’ve written, I’ve declaimed to an audience. I’ve been
doing it for years. Novelists seem to lurk in garrets, surviving on stale
bread and hard cheese, before emerging blinking into the daylight. It’s not
they cannot declaim, it’s that they can barely string a dozen words together
in civilised conversation.
A possible solution is to hire someone to read it for you. Get a great
thespian and give them their head. Hear your words read as they should be
read. Unfortunately the hire of a thespian is likely to cost more than the
book sales will generate. Even so, I know one writer who was owed a favour
by an actor. The actor agreed to read the seduction scene from the author’s
new novel at a soiree to which the author had been invited. The actor gave
of his all; it was a truly memorable occasion. Then the author approached
one of the guests with a copy of his book, “Would you care to read the whole
With a glazed expression and far-away voice she merely answered, “Nothing
could match what I’ve just heard.”
On the other hand, why not just get out there and promote your book; I hold
up the example of Dilert Flyn as an exemplar of this. Normally the cost of
posters can be a drawback, but Dilert broke into the Storb’s printing works
one night and ran of a thousand posters which he proceeded to paste all over
A gripping tale of murder and revenge.
The book that everybody’s reading.
I overheard several groups of people discussing the posters. They were split
equally between those who were discussing the grammar, and those who had
never heard of the book and couldn’t find anybody else who’d ever heard of
Added to this, almost by definition, Mucker Storb now knows who broke into
his printing press and is seeking Dilert for a frank and open exchange of
Finally there is word of mouth. Here one friend or acquaintance recommends
your book to another friend or acquaintance. This is the perfect way to
sell. So perfect that some feel the need to hasten the process a little.
Thus it was Dilert who took to sneaking into soirees wearing a false beard
and falling into conversation with other guests.
The problem is that guests became nervous of discussing literature with
unfeasibly hirsute strangers, especially when the same stranger proves, by
chance, to have about his person a spare copy of the book he was touting,
available for purchase then and there. Eventually footmen and housekeepers
learned to look out for him and he was regularly being escorted,
ignominiously, off the premises.
Note, having read the above, you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has
just produced his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book,
‘Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the
first of June.
Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for
the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like
Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff
down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and
jumbled musings available for a grateful public.
Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It
is available at
Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen
at Jim Webster’s Amazon page