• www.inkitt.com

How to Sell a Book During a Pandemic by Adam E. Holton

Writing.ie | Resources | Essential Guides | Selling Your Book
Adam E. Holton Profile Photo

Adam E. Holton

From a desk in Austria half way up a mountain, or some ways to sell a book during a pandemic.

I love a bit of mischief. I enjoy shouting in public. Because it is fun. I have always enjoyed listening to other people. Pockets are one of humanity’s best inventions and I grew up watching Only Fools and Horses.

But I digress.

I write narrative philosophy. My debut book, The First Juniper Tree, argues for a shift in our perspective on human nature. To focus on the collaborative, communal aspect of ourselves and to participate in this change on an everyday level. Told through the life experiences and conversations between an ex-care worker and a jack-of-all-trades. Set in contemporary Newcastle upon Tyne. And it is a book with music written by the main character, Hieronymus Peach.

Links to information about the book and for the music can be found here.

I decided early on that I would try out alternative approaches to put the book into the world. This is one of the reasons I self-published it. Another is the disgust I feel towards some aspects of contemporary publishing and the practices of particular organisations. Another reason was to rebuild my faith in people.

In 2019 I retrained to be an English language teacher and moved onto the continent, to live with my best friend. I am now a resident of Austria. In March 2020 all my work disappeared. I began to wander in the forest beside our flat, at four am, in a dressing gown – to stay humourful. I finished writing the book. It was edited. I bought an ISBN. I registered it with Nielsen’s. I found a graphic designer. I was recommended a printer in Czech Republic. Affordable, reliable and helpful. (To print and deliver 1000 books on Eco-print paper it cost €1,833. https://www.protiskcb.cz/kontact/) I called around and raised the money. December 18th 2020 the books arrived.

Two days later international post was shut down, lockdowns intensified and I watched my initial plans become impossible. So began the peculiar and improvised book tour.

Despite the pandemic, The First Juniper Tree is now in 19 countries. Word of mouth helped for a brief while in the beginning. I tried social media for a couple weeks before I found it dull and exhausting. So, I stopped using it. By the middle of January, I found the first method that made me smile.

Selling the book from my coat pocket.

(This coat was hung in the Uncertain Exhibition by Spiegel-Netzwerk throughout April 2021.)

Did I mention I like pockets? During the formatting/printing process, I made sure the book would fit comfortably into most standard pockets. I would always keep 2 copies of the book in my coat. Whenever the “what are you doing…” question would come up, I would pull the book from my pocket. Everyone loves a bit of magic.

The funniest place I sold a book, in this way, was whilst playing ice hockey – on a friend’s self-made ice rink – in a forest on a mountain in the middle of the night. Another time I sold a book to a teacher. A short conversation followed. The school bought 14 more books and I made month-long project with his teenage students.

I learnt how to read people. And accept rejection. I could tell from someone’s reaction if they were interested. Some people sniff books. Some rub their fingers over the paper. They bought it. Others held it politely, delicately, before handing it back. I would never push someone. For me a book will always be about bringing ideas and stories into the world. I sold about 160 books this way up until March.

Spring arrived, I put my winter coat away, and transitioned to what has become my most successful method.

Selling the book from a suitcase. 

My best friend was once a fire juggler. She is now a Waldorf primary school teacher, but she still performs when in the mood. Her poi and fire fans used to live in a small red suitcase. We discussed busking and she lent me the case. It fits 12 books comfortably and a few odd objects that keep me in good spirits whilst I’m out busking.

I made a cardboard sign. I found a good spot in the old town of Innsbruck. Opened my case, arranged the books and began reading out loud. I sold 70 books in 9 days. I got to meet doctors, pensioners, students, families, perfumers, tramps, Latvians, Canadians, Bulgarians… I was invited to perform the music from the book at a Circus festival in Italy… I went.

Each time a person stepped forward, whether they bought the book or not, they rebuilt my faith in humans. Witnessing peoples’ curiosity is a fascinating experience. People would tell me all manner of stories. I listened. There are many things we all need at the moment, but I realised there have to be more people who listen.

Somewhen in May, I met a man who had once been to Romania. It was a while ago, he said, but he remembered seeing people sell books from suitcases in Bucharest. He said they had a name. He couldn’t remember who told him. Nor have I found anyone to clarify the title, nor have I made my way to Romania yet, but I have adopted it.

I am now a Flying Bookseller.

As soon as it became possible to travel to Britain, I packed 140 copies of the book into a big suitcase, 12 in the red one and took the night train North.

Throughout the Summer I had the opportunity to travel in Italy, across Slovakia to the Ukraine, through Hungary to Slovenia and into Croatia; before heading to Britain again. Travelling either by train or in car shares. I sold books in no man’s land between the Ukraine and Hungarian borders. I sold books on the steps of Ljubljana’s city hall. On the streets of Sicily. In the market squares of old Bratislava and Brussels. In the side streets of Norwich. College Green in Bristol. At the foot of Lady Godiva in Coventry. On Villiers Street in central London. On Camden Bridge. On the Southbank… all from a little red suitcase.

Not to mention the opportunities that arose out of these meetings with strangers.

All the money raised goes towards my living and transport costs. It goes towards a new print run of the book. It goes towards printing the second book which will be finished by spring 2022. Perhaps I’ll get a bigger case then, but I’m not sure yet.

At the moment, this is enough to live by. I have no fixed abode. For the start of December, I have been offered a space to live in Naples. I will be the keeper of keys for a library that belongs to l’Asilo, The Asylum. (l’Asilo is a clever play with words. It means both The Asylum and a Nursery School. They are a great culture organisation. https://commonsnapoli.org/en/the-spaces/lasilo)

I do not advocate precarious living, nor the romanticisation of it. This approach does not suit everyone, but it works for me and no matter what you hear; there are always alternatives.

(c) Adam E. Holton

Photos provided by Adam E. Holton. Profile Photo Credit © Natália Zajačiková.

Cover Design Copyright © Roc Domingo Mesón, 2020

About The First Juniper Tree:

Over the course of a single day in Newcastle upon Tyne, two friends decide to entertain and comfort each other after one has had to quit his job. Starting on a doorstep in Fenham, Thomas Oliver chronicles the hardships of being a care worker for the elderly; describing the loneliness and the exhaustion he felt after being bullied by the other staff to his life-long friend – Hieronymus Peach. A crude and eccentric jack-of-all-trades – prone to digressions and playing the piano like a man possessed. But he, too, is nursing a sadness of his own while he listens to Thomas.

As Peach catches a cigarette paper out of the wind the focus of their conversation changes. Drawn into a deeply-rooted thought he has been trying to express for a long time, Peach sets out the reasons why he believes British culture, and its citizens, needs to change from a perspective of Competition to one of Collaboration; from one of Consumerism to one of Community.

Through stories and experiences from his life, Peach delves into the world of Collaboration that is already all around us; if only we were to look at life a little different.  

The First Juniper Tree is a part of the journey from understanding to knowing a different way of living is possible.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Adam E. Holton is an itinerant author, ethicist and piano player. Published work includes narrative philosophy (The First Juniper Tree, 2020), poetry and flash fiction (Streetcake Magazine, Litro), cultural essays and journalism (Und, NARC Magazine) and a series of children’s story-poems (Wood and Wonder). He is working on book two of four in a narrative philosophy series and living as a flying bookseller.

  • www.designforwriters.com
  • allianceindependentauthors.org

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books