It makes me feel so vulnerable. Last Friday I took the plunge and went into The Kilkenny Book Centre with my backpack full of hopes and fears. In line with the best advice from great indie authors such as David Gaughran and Paul O'Brien, I had smartened up a little; I wore my best jacket with the slightly too long sleeves and let the wind on the trip downtown smooth back that mountain man hair. Ruby took his love to town.
Three sample paperbacks burned through my backpack, self-published print-on-demand fare from CreateSpace in the USA. Contraband. Genre-bending pickled eggs in a world of mainstream. They had no place in a high street bookshop, surely? A nice lady told me the buyer wasn't available; she was on her break in the café upstairs. So I said I'd come back in a quarter of an hour. Rejection postponed. Merciful fate, I could go home and forget it. But that would be cowardly and Ninja Ruby is many things but not that.
In true dithering Ruby Barnes fashion I went off to browse in Essaness Music and bought a Zoom H2n digital recorder to indulge a Soundcloud habit recently developed by me and my 11 year-old daughter (and now we need to sell another couple of hundred books to pay for the thing!)
With ten minutes still to kill I considered going to the Pennyfeather Café above the bookshop and eyeballing the other patrons over my cup of tea, trying to psyche my way onto the bookshelves. Instead I went into the new Fig Tree cafe further down High Street, installed myself at a window overlooking the street and waited to be served.
Fifteen minutes later I gave up on the Fig Tree waitress (maybe she was on her teabreak?) and headed back to the bookshop in a nervous and sweaty state. The buyer, a very nice lady named Yvonne, was working away behind the query desk and I coughed nervously to introduce myself.
Now, let me slip into something more comfortable (present tense) to relate what went on.
I launch into my spiel. 'Well, I was one of the twenty-two authors of the Original Sins anthology, and I've completed The Baptist which was my novel excerpt in that anthology. Here!'
I thrust a paperback copy of The Baptist at Yvonne.
'Of course that was my real name and this is under my pen name. And I have this one as well!'
I thrust a copy of Peril at the overwhelmed Yvonne.
'The cover's a bit Wallander but it's not a Nordic crime thriller. It's based in Dublin, Bagenalstown and Kilkenny. It is crime fiction, though, with a touch of romance and naughty bits. The Baptist is local, too. With serial murder, romance, insanity and naughty bits.'
'Oh, local interest, very good,' Yvonne manages to interject. Helpful as I need oxygen, my face is red and things are feeling like one of those tough karate sparring sessions where I nearly pass out.
'Then I have this one, The New Author, which isn't set anywhere because it's about e-publishing. Ha, ha , ha, not set anywhere. Not sure how you feel about epublishing though? Maybe you don't approve?'
I thrust The New Author at Yvonne. She reaches for it and I pull it back. Tug of war.
'Well, if you can't beat them?'
'Join them? Quite. So they're all on Goodreads and Amazon. My books, I mean. Not my friends, although I have over a thousand friends on there. Anyhow, listen to me going on! I've had around 18,000 downloads of Peril and it has twenty-nine reviews on Amazon dot com! Have you heard of Goodreads? I have a blog as well, you know. Suzanne is recommending The New Author to the NUI Maynooth writing course.'
Breathe, Ruby, breathe. Stop talking and let the poor woman say more than six words.
'And you're probably wondering about the MCP. Well, that's Marble City Publishing. Okay, it's just me and Mrs Ruby (except that's not my real name, as I did mention when I first came in) but it is a registered company. We don't have any other authors on the books yet but we could, you know. Maybe we will in time, but people don't realise just how much work is involved in writing, editing, proofing, publishing and marketing your own book. Do they? Do you? I didn't. And price, what about price? You'll probably want to sell for a tenner and take one third discount, which means you'll pay me €6.66 per book, and that's the number of the beast!'
Poor Yvonne shakes her head. It's a complex compound head shake of exasperation, confusion and annoyance. The word 'goodbye' is forming on her lovely lips.
How to dig my way out of this hole? I have an idea.
'Look into my eyes, Yvonne.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Look into my eyes, look into my eyes. You're feeling very relaxed, lying in your bikini on a lilo, floating in a swimming pool in Tenerife. One, two, three and you're under.'
Her face relaxes.
'Forget everything I just said to you about these books. The words that now follow are my real message. You have a unique and exclusive opportunity to represent a future best-selling author with three titles from an exciting new Irish independent imprint. Ruby Barnes's books from Marble City Publishing. Three, two, one, and you're back in the room.'
'Yes, we'll take your books. We'll put them in Irish Fiction and Crime Thrillers. Except for the writing book.'
'We'll put that in our Writing section, obviously.'
'Obviously. Ha, ha, ha. Thanks. Thanks very much. Thanks very much indeed.'
'Okay, Ruby, go get my stock from the boot of your car.'
So, get yourselves down to Kilkenny Book Centre. Not a local? Take a holiday to the medieval city of Kilkenny. Fly in from Oklahoma, or Wexford, and include Ruby's books on your tourist itinerary. Send your aunties, sisters, brothers, grannies, sons, daughters (relatives is probably the word I'm looking for), spouses and friends. Ruby's books are on the top shelf so, if you send short people, they'll have to bring their own box to stand on; or ask a long-armed assistant. Crime thrillers with murder, sex, romance and suspense. Ruby's hair is fifty shades of grey and he does have racy bits in his novels, except for The New Author. But that's not a novel. So it's on a different shelf, with the other writing books. At the back, on the right, near the Angel stuff.
Look into my eyes, look into my eyes...
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