Category Archives: Publicity and selling books


My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a failed entrepreneur who ended up as a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman in the 1930s.  I think of him often these days as I have discovered that a good way to boost sales of my most recent book is by what seems to be called ‘handselling’.

How I handsell my books

cover of Celebrating GrandmothersCelebrating Grandmothers is a narrative book about what it is like being a grandmother.  Who buys it?  Grandmothers, of course, but also many others buy it as a gift.  The pre-Christmas period is great, as people are looking for an original present for a grandmother, and my book is a solution to their problem.  Grandfathers may be looking for a present for their wife, young people for their grandmother, and parents with young children for their mother or mother-in-law.

It takes a lot of courage, but yes, I go up to people in the street and show them my flyer, and while they are looking at it, I pull out the book and say ‘this is what it looks like’.  As the cover has an eye-catching picture, they often say ‘ooh’, take the book and leaf through it.  Many say they will look at my website later (and then don’t), but a fair number buy it then and there.  I always carry change for £10 in my pocket, so the transaction can be completed without a lot of fuss.

How I decide who to approach

The key question is who to approach.  First and foremost, youngish-looking older women, asking if they are a grandmother.  They are invariably so surprised by the question that they ask ‘why’ and then I tell them. Very old women are not so interested, because once grandchildren are grown up they no longer identify with the role. If they aren’t a grandmother, I ask if they have a sister who is.

Another obvious group are pregnant women.  Of course, I approach women pushing prams or pushchairs, although the hazard in London is that they are a nanny and/or foreign and their mother doesn’t speak English or, indeed, they don’t speak English themselves. Men with pushchairs are better as they are invariably polite, unlikely to be a nanny, and more often buy on the spur of the moment.  I avoid older men, because with so much divorce, many lose touch with grandchildren and you don’t want to touch a raw nerve.

I need to aim for relaxed individuals – and a relaxed author

And what have I learned? You need to get people on their own, rather than two or more together.  They shouldn’t be rushing about, on their phone, dealing with troublesome toddlers or looking like their minds are completely elsewhere. I must be in a good mood, as otherwise I can’t muster the necessary enthusiasm.  It helps if it is a nice day as people are more willing to stop and chat. But all in all, people are surprisingly nice, some even complimenting me for selling in this way.  And best of all, every sale feels wonderful.

It’s worth trying quiet shops

Book on shelf in Limone Delicatessen

Finally, shopkeepers are also worth approaching, if they have no customers.  They may well want a copy, but my greatest surprise was a lovely woman who runs the Limone delicatessen in Highgate.  She offered to put a flyer in her window and then added, why didn’t she keep a couple of copies in case people wanted one?  They are placed just behind the counter, so I couldn’t ask for greater visibility.  She has sold five copies in three weeks and refuses to take any payment on the grounds that she likes to help people and ‘what goes round comes round’. I wish her all good things.

This was originally published by the Alliance of Independent Authors:                          

Why book talks aren’t just about selling books

Perhaps it is best to start at the bottom line. We ALLi members are (generally) not celebrities, so we can’t count on large sales. This is also the case with book talks. However good your book – or, indeed, your talk – you simply cannot count on shifting a lot of books. You might sell two, you might sell five or perhaps even ten on a good day. But don’t go into book talks with larger numbers in mind. It will only lead to disappointment.People attend book talks for a little bit of entertainment, for curiosity or simply to pass the time. Sometimes, it feels like they come to get out of the rain. Perhaps it is an occasion where they meet up with friends and the talk is just part of the gig. Few attend because they are dying to buy your book or, perhaps, any book. This might be a little different at a literary festival, but in that case there is a lot of competition.

So Why Give Talks, Anyway?

So, our one strong piece of advice is only give talks if you enjoy doing it. Some of us have a hidden performer streak and if that is you, then go for it. It can be fun to stand up in front of people and talk about your favourite subject – your book – and get treated as a bit of a VIP for an hour or so. When people buy your book, and even ask you to sign it, that is a terrific bonus. But you have to start with a sense that doing the talk is fun in itself.

What Should You Say?

There are lots of different angles you can take and a large part of the enjoyment for you and your audience will depend on getting the angle right. For example, giving a talk based on your background research with a lively Q&A session afterwards can be very enlightening, as well as entertaining. With a specialised audience, it can work really well to get them involved in answering each other’s questions – you learn from them and the discussion can reach a more interesting level than just you on your own.

How to Choose and Book a Venue

What venues should you seek? That depends highly on the audience for your book. Ann’s current book, primarily for grandmothers, suits any group involving older people and she has spoken to a wide range – from a working class community centre to the London Ladies Club in highly elegant surroundings. Stephen writes fiction designed to spark debate and has given talks, inter alia, to a festival of ideas and activism and a curated audience of futurists. General venues include libraries, local writing groups, book clubs or, indeed, any other group you can think of who might take an interest.

You will need to approach these groups yourself – it’s the rare organisation that will come to you. Many organisations have problems filling in their programme and will be delighted at your offer. Some will have no slots available and may well refuse. You need to expect that and not take it as a personal insult. And do not expect to be paid. Your recompense is the pleasure of the activity and the few book sales you manage to achieve. This may not seem ‘fair’, but it is the way things are.

It’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for opportunities – it’s surprising what comes along. If you’re involved in any interest groups related to your writing, let them know you’re keen to give talks. Although it might not create a stampede to your virtual door, let people know via your website that you’re keen, willing and able.

When you’re finalising the arrangement, whether they’re a big mainstream festival or a small local interest group, don’t forget they’ll be constrained in some way or other – their budget, how far ahead they plan, providing a balanced programme and so forth, so make it as easy for them as possible.

Prepare the Audience

And make sure that your audience knows what to expect. This should be made clear in both your advance discussions with the organisers and any formal publicity about the event. You may want to talk about why you wrote the book and then read passages that illustrate key themes. Or you might want to facilitate a discussion around themes arising in your book. Both can make for an excellent event, but it’s important for those coming to know what to expect.

Finally, remember it’s no different to your book – you want to draw people in with the blurb, please them with the content and maybe even turn them into fans!

Written jointly with Stephen Oram, this was originally published by the Alliance of Independent Authors:                                                      

Bublish and me

I really like Bublish. I like its concept, its style, its format and the very great help it provides. And no, no one paid me to write this. Moreover, I do have some problems, which I will come to later.

Lets start with the concept. It allows a writer to set out excerpts from a book (the ‘bubbles’), to allow potential readers to get a ‘feel’ for what they will get if they buy it. A comment page is joined to the excerpt, allowing the writer to note its significance or why they wrote it or anything else they want to say. There are also pictures of the book cover, the author and links to the author’s website.

I took to this concept like a duck to water, because it suits so well the format of my own book. This is a non-fiction book about what it is like to be a grandmother, organised around quotations from interviews with grandmothers. (Celebrating Grandmothers, see Two months ago, I had been wondering how I could put excerpts from my book onto Twitter and, being an amateur, was defeated by the task. Bublish suited my needs perfectly.

Secondly, these bubbles and comments are set out with genuine style. You really have to see it to appreciate it, but there is a pleasing aesthetic to the site that I can only compliment by saying it is Italian in feel. Someone there has a genuine sense of colour and design.

Third, there is what might be called format. In addition to the bubbles and commentary, there is an author profile, allowing readers to see if they like the feel of the writer as well as the writing. And then, most importantly, there are direct buttons to marketing sites, such as Amazon and others. So, you, the reader have seen something you might like, can read a few excerpts, look at the author’s profile and – bingo – you can buy right away. Meanwhile, you the author can look at the ‘dashboard’ and see up-to-date information on the numbers of views of your bubbles, your profile and, yes, ‘conversions’, whereby readers have gone directly to a buying site (Bublish doesn’t know who actually buys, but can know who pressed the ‘buy’ buttons).

But my biggest bouquet goes to the help offered. There are lots of sites that invite you to ask for help. And they tend to respond grudgingly, or worse – by a technically savvy person with no ability to understand amateurs like me. Not Bublish. I started out with one problem, got a genuinely warm and friendly (and extremely helpful) email in return. And later went back for more help. A lady named Kathy who I wouldn’t recognise if I passed her in the street has been giving me social media lessons, which I badly need, and even other advice about how to improve sales. She looked over my Twitter site as well as my Bublish site and gave advice on both. I keep thinking she must have other things to do with her time, but by golly, she is a terrific help.

I have had a free month’s trial of Bublish – anyone can – and am currently in the last week. And here is the downside. Despite some effort on my part (could have been more, could have been less), I have managed to accrue over 2200 views of my bubbles, nearly 60 views of my profile – but only 16 conversions. I am told that the more normal ratio (views-conversions) is 3% – mine is well under 1%. So, there’s the rub – great concept, great site but not many sales at least for my book. It may be to do with my target demographic group and I will be working on it in the next month.

PS One last niggle. I don’t mind the word ‘bublish’. It has a happy sound. But the word ‘authorpreneur’ is an abomination. We are writers and we may be entrepreneurs, but I do not think many of us want to be called authorpreneurs.

To see my Bublish pages, go to