The other day I went out on a little marketing expedition for A Matter of Honour. It’s not something I enjoy or which comes naturally to me, but these days it has to be done I suppose. When I was first published I never did anything to promote my books. I hoped people would spot them on the shelves – but I also assumed the publisher’s marketing department would leap into action. I gradually learned that it doesn’t work like that. In fact my impression of the publishing business is that if they think a book is going to sell well, especially if it’s a new book by a big selling author, they’ll spend a lot of money marketing it. But if they aren’t sure or if it’s a new author, they won’t really put any money into marketing it at all. I’ve always thought it should be the other way round, but what do I know?
Anyway, things started well. The manager of WH Smiths seemed quite keen, and when I collared the first member of staff I could find in Waterstones he turned out to be their buyer. He was friendly and positive too. Then I went to the main library in Nottingham. I told them I was a local author with a general historical non-fiction book, and they directed me to the local studies department. I tried to explain that I was local but the book wasn’t set locally, but they insisted that should be my starting point. In the local studies department I was approached by a rather dour woman, and when I went through my “local author” spiel, she immediately jumped in, “But are you local?” No smile, no explanation, just a sort of challenge. When I queried this she explained that some authors come in claiming to be local but aren’t (presumably they hadn’t lived in Nottingham long enough – but how long is long enough? Five years? Ten?) Anyway, I told her I was born here and had lived her all my life, and she seemed content with that. But although she took the publisher’s press release from me, she seemed rather indifferent about actually stocking the book compared to the staff in the shops, and I got the impression that it was 50/50 at best. For a time I felt as though I was in a sketch from the League of Gentleman!