Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Unselling books

Much to the horror of individual booksellers, I seem to have spent a lot of time in the last few months explaining to potential customers why, no, they shouldn't buy Hild for their eight-year old niece, or 10-year old daughter. Not because of the sex and violence—I don't write the kind of thing that would scar anyone for life—but because it would be a waste of money.

I think it very likely that anyone under the age of 14 would not understand enough of Hild to make it a good gift. Of course there may be very smart and well-read 12 year-olds out there for whom it might be just the thing, but they'd be the exception.

Hild is not a children's book. It's for adults. It might be about a child but it was written with and for an adult sensibility. It is not an adventure book for girls. Or boys. It is not about a plucky young thing we defies all odds and fights battles and is miraculously unscathed, physically and emotionally.

The first time I unsold Hild was five or six months before publication, at BEA. A bookseller wanted to get a signed ARC for his daughter. I asked how old she was. "Eight," he said. "No," I said. "I don't think she'd like it." But it turned out he had a niece who was sixteen. "Perfect," I said, and happily signed and personalised it.

Many people think I'm mad turning down a sale, but I'm a big believer in customer satisfaction. Those 1- and 2-star reviews are not good for business, and disgruntled readers—those who pick up the book thinking it's one thing only to find it's another—do not make for good word of mouth. Think of all those potential readers who won't try Donna Tartt whenever her next novel comes out: more than 55% of those who started to read The Goldfinch couldn't finish it.

I want to sell more of Hild II than Hild I. I want the right readers to spend their hard-earned money, the right readers to pick up Hild and give it a go. I will continue to unsell books where I think warranted.

Meanwhile, if you have a story of a young person loving and appreciating Hild, it would be good to hear it before I destroy my own sales...

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