Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Going Through the (Pro)motions

Obligatory accompanying image
Many reams have been used up writing about the various conventions this summer, but it was only as I sat at the BFS awards banquet that I felt inspired to write a post. Peter Newman, who will see his debut novel, The Vagrant released next year mentioned that he’d sat in on a panel I took part in. I had placed a copy of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade in front of me, face out to the audience. It’s something I’d heard American authors do, and I’d seen Django Wexler displaying his novel while moderating at LonCon.

It’s not something we really do at UK conventions, and Peter suggested we need to invite authors to do more of this. I suspect there’s a feeling of embarrassment about promoting one’s own work among us Brits that is absent in the majority of US writers. ‘Making art is all well and good, but marketing? Now, that’s just uncalled for,’ seems to be the unspoken rule.

Panels are rare times when an author has an audience staring at them for an hour or more. This is weird enough without factoring in that said author is required to say interesting things. Just about every other platform in the world would have a commercial break – television, cinema, radio, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook and so on. Why not panels? A book with a good cover is an advert all by itself. It doesn’t make you wait thirty seconds before seeing the video you selected. A book does not blare out music you don’t care for. A book won’t repeat and repeat and repeat. A book will simply stand on the table and provide shy authors with something to hide behind. And maybe, just maybe, it will pique the audience’s interest enough to buy a copy.


  1. Pete also mentioned this to me. With my conrunning hat on, I think it's a good thing, but I got the impression that people at UK cons thing it's either frowned on, or that they're not allowed to do it. I've scheduled a post on the BristolCon website to let people know that at BristolCon it's something we'd like to encourage :)

  2. I saw a couple of the panels you were on at FantasyCon, and noticed that you were the only one putting your book on display. Because it was such an unfamiliar thing my first reaction was an instinctive 'that's not right', but by the second panel I was thinking 'they should all do that'. As somebody commented on twitter, it makes it far easier to remember you and find your books afterwards. The cover of The Boy With The Porcelain Blade i now firmly lodged in my mind, as is the intriguing title.

  3. The problem is, not all panellists are authors, and not all authors on panels have a new book out. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, but I'm also not sure how effective it is.

    Interestingly, I have just received panellist guidelines for a con I'm doing in the US in November and we're being specifically asked not to to display our books in front of us, so there may be something of a swing towards the British way of doing things.

    I prefer the way things are done at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate (and possibly others, but I've not been to many). There you do your panel and at the end are immediately whisked off to a signing session, right next to the festival bookshop. If you don't have a book, you don't have to go. It works there because there is a fifteen minute or half hour gap between panels and none run concurrently.

    Another thought - sticking your book up in front of you works fine in a relatively small room and with a nice big hardback with a distinctive cover, but it's less successful in a larger room with a paperback.

  4. I have just had this image of various authors wandering around cons, all wearing top hats with the cover of their latest book attached to it. Instant identification and marketing all in one :)

  5. Here in the U.S. I've found it standard practice for authors with a book to put one in from of themselves. I've never heard a cross word for the practice, and it fits in with our standard panelist intro, in which in introducing themselves, the panelists will mention recent publications if they have them. Then again at my first con I watched an author run around the floor postering his ads everywhere, including both elevators, and at my first WorldCon I watched a panelist build a wall of his own book covers in front of himself. These are atypical folks who came across as gross shills.

    But I guess it's also worth noting that I have never sought out or bought a book whose cover was on display. If a panelist is interesting, I will write down their name and look their work up independently, particularly to see which book in their catalog is most appealing to me. Does that make me more like a U.K. reader than a U.S. one?