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African Writing No. 11
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Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Sarah Ladipo Manyika teaches English literature at San Francisco State University. She is author of In Dependence.






  Author for Sale

The man in the bookshop says, just do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. So I reflect on his words thinking that had this been a more traditional book tour, I would know what to do. I would read passages from my novel, answer questions and then sign books. But this is something different and because I no longer live in England, I do not know if this is now the norm or merely unique to the Birmingham bookshop in which I stand. It is certainly not as glamorous as book readings, but given the dismal state of the economy, perhaps it’s more sensible.

‘Excuse me sir, excuse me madam, could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘A what?”

‘Can I interest you in a new novel? I’m the author and I’m signing …”

‘No thanks.”

‘Excuse me madam, could I interest you in …”

And so it goes. Over and over again my sentences dangle in the air as the public flees. Eventually I stop and turn to face my table with its stack of books. I count them, wondering if one might have sold without my noticing. And then I contemplate creating several piles, rather than one. I stand a few books up, make a little semi-circle, fan them out, layer them this way and that way … but what do I know about selling books? I know a little about selling to agents and publishers – namely that the process is difficult, but selling to complete strangers is surely worse. Tall, short, fat, skinny, black, white, male, female … each could be a potential reader. Or not.

‘Could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘No sorry, not interested.”

‘Could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘Just interested in thrillers really. Football maybe.”

‘Could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘Do you sell tippex?”

And even if I had some magical way of guessing those who might genuinely be interested, what if my presence puts them off? The way I am dressed, for example, or the way I speak? And if they ask about the book, how do I know which themes will appeal? Is it merely luck? Or bad luck as in the case of the person who flips to the blurb on the back of the book, alights on the word ‘sexual,” and refuses to accept my attempts at explaining that this is only in reference to the sexual revolution (not ‘sexual stuff”).

‘Could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘Do you sell what’s-his-name? Stephen King.”

‘Could I interest you in a new novel?”

‘No I’ve got one already and it’s signed by P.D. James.”

Perhaps it is simply that people do not wish to be disturbed. I probably wouldn’t like it either, if someone interrupted me with a, could I interest you in a new novel, while I browsed for books. I would feel sorry for the author, of course, and buy the book out of empathy, but that wouldn’t mean I would like it – the experience that is.

‘Go on then,” someone finally says. ‘What’s the story about?”

‘Well it’s sort of …it’s kind of … It’s a story about, well it’s set in the early sixties and …”

And all I want to do is tell this woman that the very reason I write is because I find it so difficult to articulate things on the spot. If it took me five years to write the novel, then it shouldn’t be surprising that I now struggle to summarize it in a matter of seconds.

‘You know, love,” the woman interrupts, ‘I got married in the early sixties.” And then whispers, ‘To a Middle Easterner. So you can imagine what that was like.”

I have no intention of imagining whatever it is she is alluding to and am further baffled when she says she will not read my book in case it reminds her of those times. Did she hear anything I said? To the next person, I insist that my story is a heart-warming tale. ‘Good for the present economic situation and good for the cold weather too.” The words sound dreadful and I’m not even sure they are true, but perhaps that’s how it is with authors. If one story doesn’t work, we try another. Constantly making up stories and yet if it sells …

My pile has diminished and I’m feeling mildly pleased with myself until the manager brings me another copy. I do wish she wouldn’t do that.

‘Someone left this behind,” she whispers. ‘You might want to just sign your name next time.”

‘Yes, of course,” I nod, looking at the inscription:

To Samantha,
With best wishes,
Sarah L. Manyika.



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