Sunday, 3 June 2012

BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS: An invitation to writers from Meryl Halls at the Booksellers Association

This is the first in our new series of guest blogs by booksellers. These blogs are designed to show life behind the scenes of a crucial but neglected relationship – the one between writers and booksellers. Here Meryl Halls shares news of some exciting initiatives and invites writers to participate in the events such as ‘Strictly Come Bookselling’ during the fifth Independent Booksellers Week, which this year takes place between 30th June and 7th July.

My main responsibilities lie in working with independent booksellers, and over the last five years we have established a thriving Independent Booksellers Forum, which organizes events and campaigns for the 1000+ indie bookshops still operating in the UK and Ireland.

I’ve always been a book-lover, and my earliest and most vivid childhood memories revolve around our annual trips from Scotland to visit family friends in Meldreth, near Cambridge. A trip to Heffers Children’s Bookshop was the highlight of every trip (for me, if not for my brother!). I can hardly put into words the excitement of walking through the door and smelling ‘that’ smell.

As a teenager and student, I worked in the local indie bookshop in my small Scottish home town, though it is now sadly long-closed. Whenever I am home visiting family, one of the biggest pleasures for me, my husband and my two teenage children is to visit the wonderful Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells. So, you could say I have the perfect job – and you’d not be far wrong!

At the BA, our umbrella brand for our indie activity is IndieBound, a marketing campaign begun in the USA, which focuses on the importance of shopping locally, shopping independently and creating a strong community. When we introduced the campaign into the UK, it immediately resonated with UK booksellers and it has provided both the BA and our members with opportunities to start a meaningful conversation with customers about how important their consumer behaviour is in keeping retail areas diverse, bookshops thriving and high streets healthy.

We have migrated our IndieBound messages about community engagement and shopping locally into our more recent ‘Keep Books on the High Street’ campaign, which is currently entering a new phase, and is reaching out to authors for support. You can see more here.

We will be back in touch with SAS members about the campaign, but in the meantime if you are interested in providing us with a quote in support of indie or high street bookselling, or – even better – if you are prepared to record a short spoken piece on the same subject, we would love to hear from you – email us here. The American BA has just launched a very similar initiative called ‘Why Indies Matter’, and you can see some of your fellow authors talking about indie bookshops on this link to the US IndieBound site.

The main reason, though, that I’m delighted to be writing this blog, is to bring SAS authors news about Independent Booksellers Week. The Week is in its fifth year, and is designed as a celebration of independent bookshops on the high street.

There are many opportunities for authors to get involved in IBW, which this year runs from 30th June to 7th July and which includes National Reading Group Day on 30th June – we have 310 bookshops signed up to take part this year, a record number, and many of them will be holding events in the bookshop during the Week. They are always looking for local authors to run events, or to participate in our ‘Strictly Come Bookselling’idea, where authors work behind the till for a couple of hours, and create a great bit of local press and PR! Or sometimes just a signing session, or to take part in a reading group discussion.

The 310 shops signed up are all over the UK and Ireland, and you can see a list of the participating shops by visiting our site. Many bookshops also run ‘authorless’ events, such a quizzes or reading groups, but most are looking to involve authors in their plans. If you are an author or illustrator and would like to get involved in IBW this year, check the website above for any UK bookshops near you and get in touch.

You could also use the BA’s author-bookseller service, AuthorBound UK, to connect to bookshops year-round – if you upload a profile, your details will be available to bookshops whenever they are searching for you, or for authors in your area. Visit the site to see more. If f you need help getting set up, then email

We’d love to work with authors more and more often. In this fast-changing book world we all love, nothing stays the same for long, and the more collaboration and shared creativity we can foster, the better. For a good overview of what the BA is up to, and to get ideas for how you can get involved, here are a few sites to visit:

Hope to hear from you soon!

Meryl Halls

Head of Membership Services, Booksellers Association

6 Bell Yard, London, WC2A 2JR

direct line 020 7421 4692 - switchboard 020 7421 4640


Elen C said...

A really interesting set of events and some really useful links for authors to follow. Thank you for dropping by!

goodgentlewoman said...

Many years ago I used to work in the order's handling department of Heffer's Children's Bookshop. My job was desk based and I didn't really need to go into the shop. But did I let that stop me ... Happy days.

Katherine Langrish said...

That's fascinating - and very useful! Unfortunately I'll be away the first week of July, but I'll certainly investigate some of these links. Thankyou!

Emma Barnes said...

Fascinating post with lots to follow up - as someone who has enjoyed working with schools and libraries, but not had so much chance to interact with bookshops, I am keen to get involved.

I, too, have very fond memories of Heffers' Children's Bookstore - even though they once turned me down for a job!

(I was very put out at the time - I didn't reckon there could be a greater children's book enthusiast than me.)

Celia Rees said...

I've always been impressed by the US Indies and it is good to see UK booksellers doing it for themselves. We need independent bookshops to keep open and thrive. Thank you for this really useful blog for authors to find out more about how they can help/support/get involved.

Penny Dolan said...

Really interesting to hear all about these initiatives, Meryl. Independent bookshops - especially those with a deep interest in children's & YA books - are a very precious resource.

Pippa Goodhart said...

This all looks brilliant, and just what's needed - hooray! I will happily register for all those author/bookshop initiatives, and would especially enjoy having a go at serving behind the till because I used to do that years ago .... at Heffers Children's Bookshop. I wonder if I ever served you, Meryl? I worked there from 1981-1986. And did I meet goodgentlewoman at Heffers too, I wonder?

Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting, Meryl - thank you. I'll be away that week too, but good luck - it all sounds very exciting!

Savita Kalhan said...

A very interesting post with lots of great links. I'll certainly follow them up and hope something is going on in an indie close to home. Thanks.

Luciano Crinamorte and Arianna Rossi said...

I'll not be back for most of that week but will try to follow up the links. Hooray for Indies! I just wish I had one nearer to me than the magnificent Jaffé and Neale in Chipping Norton.