Sunday, 9 October 2011

BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS – The Essence of the Process, by John Newman of the Newham Bookshop


My Dad always said I should open a bookshop and although we disagreed a good deal about what I should do with my “education” he was absolutely right about me and books. I have been very lucky to have had a relationship with the Newham Bookshop since 1983 after we had set up home in East Ham. It was also around this time that I met Vivian Archer who then ran the Paperback Centre in nearby Green Street and who in 1987 moved over to the shop in the Barking Road where she has presided ever since. I initially worked part-time in the shop but when our second child came along I returned to social work.

It was Vivian who encouraged and supported me to return to bookselling when John and Jean, stalwarts of the children’s shop, began to plan for their retirements. I have never regretted the move for one moment and despite the almost ceaseless changes within the publishing industry I never ever wake up reluctant to go to work! I love living and working in a vibrant and diverse part of London where I spend most of my day enthusing and sharing information about books and reading. My mission has always been to try to bring the best books to the community and to endeavour to ensure children see themselves in the stories and pictures. I value the conversations I have with customers of all ages and the feedback I receive on what worked and what did not! We have been privileged to have been supported by our local community as we look ahead to our 34th year of trading in 2012.

There is a process which I have been involved in on countless occasions. It begins with the arrival of a manuscript or proof copy which I usually open with all the excitement of a child anticipating a long awaited birthday present. It can then lead to attending a launch event where it might be possible to congratulate the new author and wish them and their book well. An event might follow which wherever possible is carefully planned and executed in an effort to ensure everyone benefits from the experience. If all goes well there may be other events with a successive title or even a new series. The venue may need to change to accommodate a bigger audience. The quality and quantity of questions may then encompass matters relating to plot or characters rather then simply the usual round of probing for details of earnings accrued or how long it takes to write a book.

We have been supported by many authors over the years who have regularly returned for events and signings. One of our earliest and most important supporters was the writer and compiler of oral histories Gilda O’Neill who very sadly passed away last year. Gilda was always generous with her time and never missed an opportunity to point people in our direction. Benjamin Zephaniah and Michael Rosen have also been hugely supportive of what we do and our work with them was inspirational in giving us the confidence to develop the events work which is now integral to our business. It is a must for bookshops to cultivate relationships with authors and illustrators and develop mutually supportive ways of working together. It is also vital to have contact with sales reps and it is sad to witness them becoming a diminishing part of the trade. I always look forward to being shown new titles and love the fact that this will often spark off ideas for promotions and activities both within and outside the shop!


Some years ago now Bali Rai was being his usual entertaining self in an event at the central library here in Newham. A young and dedicated teacher had managed to persuade three teenagers who were not keen readers to come along to the after school session. As Bali wrapped up the question element of the evening the lads made there way to the exit and disappeared into the night. “Oh well”, said the teacher, “at least they nearly stuck it out to the end” As the signing queue began to lessen the same three boys were suddenly very much back in the room. “Sorry sir”, one of them said, “but we had to go and get the money to buy the books” This is perhaps one of my favourite stories from many years of organising events and I never tire of telling it because it validates all the efforts of the author, publisher, bookseller, librarian and teacher to organise community based events.

Things do not always run smoothly or go according to plan. I must admit to anxiety about getting it right and when I don’t I am pretty hard on myself because whatever happens on the day is ultimately down to me especially if I have instigated the process and identified the venue. I recognise that for an author to give up a day of their time is a big commitment especially if they are in the middle of a writing or editing phase. But over the years I have met some wonderful people and have been regularly delighted in the way children and young people have responded to having an author in their midst. Long may this continue!

The Newham Bookshop website

20 comments:

Caroline Lawrence said...

What an inspiring post! Long may booksellers like YOU continue!

Penny Dolan said...

What a lovely and positive post to read on a gloomy Sunday morning, John! Especially now I've discovered that Newham bookshop isn't too far from occasional visits to Wanstead. Thank you for your continuing optimism about school and library visits, as well as authors & books. (Enjoyed the Bali Rai story too.)

Linda B-A said...

John, it's people like you who keep the book trade so vibrant, and the energy you have put into the Newham Bookshop has reaped huge rewards for your community. I've seen you in action, and all I can say is long live your independent bookshop and the relations you forge with the book trade, schools and authors.

Joan Lennon said...

A bookshop like yours is a gem - I wish I lived closer!

H.M. Castor said...

Hear, hear to the previous comments! And what a joy it is to read this piece, John. As a writer, reader, parent and bookshop-customer... it's inspiring on all fronts. The photo is wonderful: an Aladdin's cave & magical glade in one! May the Newham Bookshop go from strength to strength. I just wish I lived round the corner...

Sue Purkiss said...

Your bookshop sounds such fun, and your enthusiasm for books and readers really shines through. Thanks for taking the trouble to tell us about yourself and the shop, and I hope you go from strength to strength!

Malaika said...

More power to your elbow, John!

mary hooper said...

Oh, can you please open a branch in Henley, John?

Katherine Roberts said...

Nice post, John - great photo! I can still remember the lovely review you gave "I am the Great Horse" so it's good to have this chance to thank you (very, very much!) I know it's been a while since that one, but I have now found a lovely new publisher in Templar, so more books are on their way...

Catherine Johnson said...

Great stuff John, keep up the excellent work!

Leila Rasheed said...

Fantastic, your dedication and enthusiasm really comes through, and how cool is that photo?! Love the vibrancy of the colours on the wall. This was a real joy to read.

michelle lovric said...

Great portrait, verbal and visual, of a Man At Work.

We writers complain a lot - but perhaps sometimes we have the less complicated end of the deal? All we have to do is write the stuff. Getting it to the right readers is a far more complicated process, and definitely no more a nine-to-five job than writing is.

Anyway, thank you for the fantastic reminder of what it is privilege to work with dedicated and professional booksellers.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

What a wonderful 'grotto' of books and a place to lose oneself in! As Michelle says it's good for writers to be reminded of what goes into enthusing readers once the book is out there. I'm going to definitely pop across to experience that wonderful space, John. Thank you for a lovely blog.

JO said...

What a wonderful place. Just wish I didn't live do far away!

Ian Glasby said...

Great article John. Welcome to the world of online publishing.

Josh Lacey said...

One other thing that John doesn't mention here - he has fantastic taste in books. If you chat to him for a few minutes, you'll come away with a list of titles and authors that you feel inspired and determined to read.

Barbara Mitchelhill said...

What a shop! You are such a little squirrel, John, with all those wonderful books around you. We writers just have our bookshelves but you have rooms full of books. I know it's hard work but what joy! Thanks for being such an inspiration.

Julia Golding said...

I'm so pleased to read you still enjoy opening up those proofs, John! I'm sure your enthusiasm passes on to your customers. May you weather the economic storms splendidly!

Emma Barnes said...

Just looking at that photo makes me want to step inside your shop! Maybe I will manage it on my next trip South.

I'm working with a local independent bookshop tomorrow on a children's event - and it's lovely to be able to focus on my side of things, interacting with the childre, knowing that the book-selling is looked after by somebody else. It's great to think that events can work, and can be a way for booksellers and writers to come together and provide a really great experience for readers.

Linda Strachan said...

What a great post. All the ingredients that make a bookshop a magical place - warmth, enthusiasm and delight! Wish I lived closer.