It’s Independent Bookseller Week and, as little makes me happier than browsing bookshelves filled with interesting titles, I want to shout hooray for such shops and celebrate their diversity and unique appeal.
I also want to admire their toughness in the face of What Happens with Books and Schools because recently the complexity of school bookselling was really brought home to me.
I'm also sorry as this is a slightly vexed post!
You see, a while back, a literacy co-ordinator at a primary school booked me for a future date as a visiting storyteller and author for the Nursery, Reception & Key Stage One classes.
Now, although I am expected to talk about my books, many primary schools do not expect to arrange author book-sales these days. Many schools opt for the “big discount” Book Fairs instead, wheeling out the metal juggernauts as their visiting author departs. That’s the bookselling opportunity that parents get the letters about. No point in fretting over it.
I am not keen on the hard sell style of visit but I do usually carry a few copies of my books with me just in case anyone asks.
At the end of the day, I often donate a copy or so to the school so that the children do get a chance to read my books - and maybe they'll ask at the library or their parents afterwards.
Well, I cannot tell you how totally surprised and delighted I was back when I heard that this primary school DID want plenty my books!
There had to be enough copies, so the message said, for every child to be bought a book and have it signed by the author. The quantity was enough for a bookshop to be involved. It felt like a dream!
It was just like a dream, because then came the twist. The independent bookshop that was supplying the books was told – presumably by some distant distributor or hub - that none of my books were in print, bar one new and therefore expensive hardback. (If, dear newly published author, you think publishers will tell you about such situations in person, you may be disappointed.)
Aaagh! Being bookless is like being silenced or becoming invisible. It’s why authors re-issue their best back-list titles themselves. I felt as if I’d been punched. But I’m stubborn so I rang my publisher’s distribution contact number. The pleasant woman checked her computer and told me that, yes, copies of several of my books were actually still available. Big smiley face!
(The bookshop though lovely, was none of those illustrated. Their pictures are here to remind me to be cheerful - and how hard the people inside work to make their shops special.!)
Next I heard that the publisher’s rep was calling at the bookshop the next morning. All would be fine, all round.
In any case, there was still plenty of time to go. When the future Visit Day arrived, my books would be available. Problem solved. Ta da!
However, it wasn’t. It isn't. At all. Even knowing the books would be available, the Head-teacher suddenly decided to cancel the visit
Why? It’s impossible to find out for sure, and not wise to try. Had the head realised that the books - being from an independent bookshop - might not offer the same wild discount as those big shiny trolleys full of “special deal” books?
Or were parents not as keen to buy as was expected? So the school might not make the profit that was expected? So were we – the author, the books and the bookshop – cancelled because we were not “discounted” enough?
Just now, this all feels rather sad. In my opinion, the children will lose out and the school and staff will lose out. The travelling rep and the publisher certainly lost out.
Either the news of the cancellation reached them in time, or else they were very polite about dealing with a large number of specially delivered, unwanted books.
They lost out in the time spent and in book sales, too. Sad.
Yet my sorry little anecdote is only ONE small incident in the life of such a bookseller. I can’t help feeling how incredibly brave these small bookshops are to deal with this sort of thing day in and day out. Somehow, somewhere the publishing business just does not seem to be organised in a way that fully supports such valuable bookshops.
However, despite all the annoyances, the eager indie booksellers keep smiling and trying to promote books to their customers. So, for this week and more, hooray for the bold optimism of independent booksellers!
As for me? Come that visit day, I’ll be enjoying some satisfying writing time at home.
Are there any authors out there? If so, how do you manage your book sales in the era of austerity? How do you pursuade teachers to let children buy your books? And do you know of any incredible indie book shops that are great at school visits?
The bookshops shown are the Childrens Book shop at Lindley, nr Huddersfield; Storytellers Inc. at Lytham St Anne's; The Bookseller at Lowdham; Victoria Park Books in London and the Norfolk Childrens Book Centre.