Manning a book/pork pie stall: some observations

So anyway. I did the joint book and pie stall with Sarah and Derek from Bray’s Cottage. It was a genuinely lovely day. Let’s face it, chatting about books and signing them for people is a very pleasant occupation for a Saturday morning, but the incorporation of pork pies and sausage rolls elevates things to a new level. And that was before the nice lady from Ethnic Fusion fed me free bhajis.

To help other authors to benefit from my experience, I have put together some observations. So, in the most niche clickbait ever, I present to you:

8 tips for authors considering running a book and pork pie stall at a farmers’ market

  1. Appreciate that you are not in a bookshop. It is an utterly different audience. The books are an unexpected thing for the customers, who generally attend farmers’ markets to buy pork pies. Some humility is in order. You are not Mr. Important Author behind a desk and a stack of books; you are Mr. Novelty Man Trying To Sell Books In A Different Environment. (Or Mrs./Ms., etc)
  2. If it’s important to you, insist that your pitch is referred to as a ‘book and pie stall’ not a ‘pie and book stall’. Puppet show and Spinal Tap, an’ all that. But either way, ‘a book and a pie – what a perfect way to spend a summer’s afternoon’ was a very successful opening gambit.
  3. Giving away a sausage roll with every book will eat into your margins. And it will not sell a single extra book, as book purchases are not price-sensitive (unless yours is vastly overpriced). However, it will delight the buyer and help the pie/sausage roll element of your stall, who will be grateful, and big up your book accordingly.
  4. Appreciate that – far more so than in bookshops – people will pick up and examine your book even if they have no intention of purchasing. It is a curiosity: a book! They are just being polite, in the way that you say nice things about the house that the Estate Agents are showing you round, despite the fact that the bathroom is avocado and the M6 runs through the front garden. Put an already-thumbed book right at the front. This is your sacrificial book.
  5. A subset of these people will do a sort of lightning flick through the inside pages. It is as if they are double-checking that there are actual words inside and that you are not trying to con them. This behaviour is simply weird.
  6. “I would buy one, but I have a big pile of books at home that I haven’t read yet,” is the universal code for a polite knock-back, allowing both parties to part ways amiably and with dignity. Note that this phrase is acceptable in this type of venue only. If heard at a normal signing, you are well within your rights to respond with: “So what are you doing in a fucking bookstore, then?!?”
  7. “I would buy one, but I’ve just had breakfast,” is the associated code for pie non-sales. Whatever the time of day. And, whether book- or pie-related, “I won’t buy one now, but I’ll pop back,” means they won’t. So don’t get your hopes up.
  8. The most important one: unlike in a bookstore, you’re manning the till yourself. So don’t forget to actually keep a proper account whenever you make a sale, as you can’t live on feeling pleased with yourself alone.

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