Confession. I have spent a lot of last week in book promotion. Yes, I want it to sell -- and yes I want people to like it too, which may not be quite as closely connected to sales as one would like to think. There are, sadly, loads of wonderful books, brilliantly reviewed which actually sell in trivial numbers, and other which sell in their thousands but no one ever reads. How many people actually finished even the first chapter of A Brief History of Time?
So I started the week with Start the Week. It gets 2 million listeners so is probably the biggest audience who’ll ever get to hear abut the book. For that reason, it’s also pretty terrifying – and seems more so when you’ve left Cambridge at 6.00 in the morning to make absolutely sure you can get there for 8.30. I thought we were a motley crew of guests honestly, talking on some not entirely sexy subjects. Climate change in China and the role of the Commonwealth can usually be guaranteed to make even a worthy Radio 4 audience glaze over, I fear. The Roman Triumph I suppose seemed quite jolly in comparison. But what is more, everyone had a ghastly cold . . . so it felt a bit as if it was being broadcast from a sanatorium.
Did it sell the book? To judge from Amazon’s rating – yes, a bit.
Then there were the launch parties: one in a really great location in Greek St (perfect place to have a Triumph party…geddit?) and the other in our friendly neighbourhood bookshop in Cambridge. Memory of these is predictably a bit fuzzy. It felt rather like being the birthday girl at a kid’s party: hostess behaviour started off pretty well…but after an hour or so decorum lapsed and the rest is history. The best bit in Cambridge was that some undergraduates had got to hear of it and just turned up. I don’t think they realised how flattering that felt.
Then of course there were the reviews . . .
More than anyone, I should be pretty calm about this. After all, I spend a big part of my life commissioning, editing and publishing reviews, and I know that they are simultaneously very important and of little significance in the great order of books’ success.
That said, I can’t read a new review of my own stuff without the prop of a stiff drink (so this has been a very bad week for “units” as we now call them). And even then, I can’t read them straight through. I take a look at the start, then at the end—and on that basis I try to work out what has gone on in between. If the last paragraph starts ‘despite’ (as in ‘despite all these faults, not a bad book), my heart goes to my boots.
So far, I’ve done pretty well, and pretty luckily. There was a great piece in the Sunday Times. I was particularly taken by Allan Massie’s review in the Literary Review (sorry not on the internet). I am a great admirer of Massie’s prose, but I honestly don’t much like his novels about the Roman empire, and indeed said so pretty publicly on one occasion. So I was especially taken when he said he liked what I’d written. It’s a generous man who gives the thumbs up to someone who has given him the thumbs down.
But, don’t worry, it hasn’t gone to my head! Partly because of the little torrent of bile poured over me by Freddy Raphael in the Spectator. If you are heartily fed up of this blog, and Beard’s obsession with her book, then I am confident you will enjoy this one. Quite what I did to deserve it, I’m not sure.