Outreach

Writing a book and getting it published seems the least of it these days. Selling is the difficult thing.

We were very disappointed that The Parliamentary Bookshop took our book off its shelves but we have discovered that democracy and free speech is carefully controlled around Westminster Village. When our book came out Shirley Williams was the only female writer featured on their web-site, (80th birthday this summer, national treasure) last week there were no women at all.

Undaunted we undertook signings and knocked on doors and persuaded booksellers to stock our book. What was very shocking was the fact the most booksellers didn’t seem to have a love of books or even of writing, let alone ideas of any kind, books were just another commodity.

Small publishers have huge disadvantage against the big beasts, they can’t pay for books to be reviewed or displayed flat out or for big posters in the windows. When our book came out it was up against Martin Amis’s “The Pregnant Widow” which monopolised the Waterstone’s windows in many branches.

Anyway we drove the length of Kent & Sussex tapping on booksellers’ doors and leaving our product. The worse reception we got was from the booksellers in Rye who could not have been less enthusiastic and clearly regarded Rye literary festival as a damn nuisance and anyway we were too late for it. “The brochure has gone to print”, they said triumphantly.

We did a signing at Hayward’s Heath on a Saturday. On this occasion we encountered a number of people who were clearly being cared for in the community, or not, or should be. Bookshops, those that are left that is, are clearly taking the place of libraries when people need somewhere warm to go. And in bookshops you can chat too. As soon as the customers realised what our book was about they sounded off with total inhibition about the NHS, schools, modern life in general but once they were shriven they didn’t see the need to buy.

Anyway on this one morning we saw that our fears about the country, its shape, its size and general lack of education were more than confirmed. (We have noticed that many women in Sussex who we thought would fall on our book have been astonishingly sniffy about it. They prefer the status quo (while their husbands are in work that is) and are terrified, or perhaps unable, of thinking for themselves or rocking the boat. What cheers their week up is a new scarf or a game of bridge. The politics of self interest is alive and well down here. It is not just men who have failed to take up the challenge of feminism. Women are suspicious too, frightened of what we do and what we are saying. “Would my husband like your book?” said one suspiciously. Sussex Life, their magazine of choice, would give us coverage if only we’d stuck to jam.

There were glimmers of hope though…..a lovely Canadian man, who had inexplicably fetched up in Hayward’s Heath, bought a copy and went away for a coffee. Half an hour later he came back to tell us how much he was enjoying it. And a lady from Battle had driven fifty miles to meet us.

Disappointed and furious about the stance of the Parliamentary Bookshop we decided to sell our book in Westminster ourselves. We set off with deckchairs, books and leaflets. Our day was both cheering and disappointing.

The cheering thing was that in spite of Al Qaida and safety concerns we were allowed to pitch our chairs right outside The House of Commons, in fact we had pole position on the pavement. We were dead opposite a couple of policeman who didn’t even ask to see our trading licence or ask us what we were doing. We weren’t apprehended at all, which was a pity as we were going to tell the authorities that we were part of Cameron’s Big Society and feature on TV news being dragged away. London is more laisse faire than under Labour’s leadership it was beginning to seem.

We had intended to sit in Parliament Square, defiantly opposite The Parliamentary Bookshop but Boris had just cleared the grassy area from protesters and boarded it up. It looked even worse as the protestors were now camped outside the pale more or less on the road so what will happen when they are pushed from there we do not know, except it is bound to be ugly.

Anyway there we were, considered completely normal, so normal that a large Indian family asked to be photographed with us and surrounded our deckchairs with beautiful saris and beaming smiles. Then lots of other tourists asked us to take their photos. Almost everyone that passed wanted to know where the loos were. We didn’t really know the answer to this but waved them in the general direction.

The main trouble was we didn’t sell many books. Certainly not enough to cover our train fare and taxis, (and no, it would have been impossible to cart our sales kit and picnic basket that doubled as a table on the bus).

What was noticeably absent was any interest in ideas or democracy. Almost everyone was at Westminster just to say they had been there. The only punters who were genuinely interested were backpackers who apologetically said they couldn’t buy books as they had no space. Anyway they took our leaflets, although we have no way of knowing whether they stuffed them in the nearest bin…..we weren’t so masochistic as to go and check.

At least we were able to direct them to Amazon. It seems to be flourishing as so many independent bookshops close; although we still love and recommend Daunts in the Fulham Road…..they still have our book in stock!!

Comments Off on Outreach

What Are They Doing In There? book cover
£10 + free p&p (within UK) UK ONLY – see our terms and conditions