On Monday I was booked to give a talk to a local Rotary Group. I think you also have these groups in America as it's an international organisation, raising funds for and getting involved in various service projects locally and abroad. A friend of mine is a member of the local group, and she booked me to do the talk.
What she didn't tell me (to start with!) was that the membership of her local branch is mainly men. I think there are about 8 women (usually wives) and about 20 men. So I turned up, and discovered that Monday evening’s attendance at the meeting was 10 men, and only 1 woman! And I was booked to talk about my romance novels! Eek!
Fortunately, my talk (which I’ve given several times) concentrates on my path to being published, both in the past and currently (and the differences between the 1960s and now), and also where I get the ideas for my novels, so it’s not solely about the romance aspect.
However, I had to make some quick adjustments! My previous talks have been mainly to women’s groups (and usually my age group) and I’ve been able to make a connection with them by talking initially about the books I enjoyed as a child, which many of them had also read. Obviously the men on this occasion didn’t read the girls’ school stories I used to like, or the women’s magazines where my first short stories were published, so I skated fairly quickly over those.
Once I started to talk about the publication process of my early novels, it became easier, and I could then move on to how different it is now in the electronic age, for a variety of reasons.
The second part of my talk, about where my ideas come from, concentrated on the background of my novels – London’s West End, the English Lake District, Egypt, and of course, Ireland – as well as some of the triggers that have sparked a story in my mind.
I was very relieved that none of the men fell asleep – and also when they laughed in the right places!
The questions at the end were interesting.
One asked how many books were returned from the book stores. It turned out he used to work for a book distributor, took out van loads of books each week, and some weeks later, collected all those that hadn’t been sold, which were then returned to the printer, presumably (or so he said) to be destroyed. He was quite intrigued when I explained that my books were produced by ‘print-on-demand’ printers, and that it was my responsibility to get them into the shops – if possible!
Another asked whether I thought Amazon was destroying traditional publishing by selling books more cheaply than in the book stores. I had to think on my feet about this one, but I did correct his mistaken impression that Amazon decides on the price of books, and that prices are still set by the publisher (or by the author if they are self-published).
An even trickier question followed from someone who asked what I thought of self-published books. I decided to be totally honest and say yes, there were some good self-published books, but equally there were others that were poor!
And the question that had me almost splurting out the mouthful of diet coke I’d just taken was, “How many thousand downloads do you get in a week?’ LOL, I wish! But that led on to a short discussion about how most writers these days sell far fewer than that and also have to do their own publicity and promotion – which I think proved quite an eye-opener for everyone.
Oh, and one man bought one of my books for himself (and not his wife, as several of the others did), and then asked if he could have a photo taken with me, because he said he’d never met a ‘real author’ ever before!