For a writer, book signings can range between a confirmation that somebody out there likes you, to a deeply traumatic realisation that not only have most readers have never heard of you – they’re not interested in finding out either.
I once uncovered a rich seam of readers in, of all places, Huddersfield, in the north of England, where I had a long line of book buyers. It turned out that a local politician, who was especially well known and popular, was also called John Harman. Apparently, I was riding in the slip-stream of his popularity as the local press gave me a great write-up.
But at another book signing, in Cambridge, close to where I lived at the time, the other book signer was Jeffrey Archer. While Archer’ line stretched from Cambridge to somewhere deep in Eastern Europe, I had just two people at my table: a little old lady telling me about the book she had written – and a bloke looking for the lavatory.
An experience like that can leave scars.
Yet, the book signings I undertook for the launch of ARTHUR’S WAR were some of the best I have ever experienced.
Firstly, it’s very unusual for a commissioned writer to be involved in either a book signing or book launch. As a ghostwriter I am about as welcome at a book launch as a mistress at a wedding – to quote Robert Harris in his book ‘The Ghost.’
But in this case, Penguin, the publishers were anxious that I was present at the book launches and also at book signings along with Arthur Bancroft, the subject of the book.
Of course, being one of the big, mainstream publishers Penguin were very clever with their marketing and published the book just before Father’s Day. At a book signing we did in a huge shopping mall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, the line for signing was almost out of the door. Interestingly, at least half those buying the book were (comparatively) young and were buying for grandfathers, uncles etc. Clever, eh?
One young man, who said he was twenty-two, was buying the book for his grandfather and told us he was about to enter the Royal Australian Navy as a submariner. He shook Arthur’s hand and thanked him for all that he had done and suffered during the war. The young of this country are amazingly appreciative of the sacrifices made by men and women in the war
However, what was unique and a great experience for me was to be present at the signing with the man whose heroism is the core story of the book. We did a few book signings together, which I’m sure helped sales.
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