You would think that booksellers and book writers (as my youngest daughter might say) would have such obvious common cause that it would hardly be worth mentioning, let alone celebrating, when it’s recognised. Where would the one be without the other? Surely any bookseller would be pleased to have an author in store signing books on a Saturday? Surely any author would grab the opportunity to meet potential readers? And yet it is not so.
If this were a bookseller’s blog then it would probably berate those undeserving, arrogant, lazy and just plain rude authors I’ve encountered since Spring. True, some of this was by reputation and anecdote, but I witnessed enough first-hand to believe the rest. How can such abuse be justified? Judge for yourself: the inebriated who disappeared for a three-hour lunch returning only to sleep in a corner; the retiring type who hides behind a newspaper all day, stirring only to sign a solitary copy; the almost-famous who declines the chance to mix with readers and sign books because he can’t be bothered; the missing, who doesn’t even turn up; and self-important who expects to only sit and sign, consequently doing much sitting but little signing.
But this is a writer’s blog, so consider instead the booksellers. Like authors there are good and bad, so let’s get the bad out of the way and make it easier to end on a positive note. Undeserving, arrogant, lazy and just plain rude? Yes, all apply just as much to booksellers as to writers.
A writer comes to expect publishers and agents to be rude, discovers they don’t reply to letters, ignore emails and don’t take phone calls. But having finally got in to print, the shock was discovering the next link in the chain is nearly as bad. A year on, at least a dozen bookshops still haven’t bothered to reply to multiple enquiries. Others entered a dialogue, even as far as suggesting dates, only to disappear from the face of the earth – no reply to emails, no returned phone calls, nothing. Save the independent bookshop? Some simply don’t deserve to be in business.
And when contact is made, arrangements agreed, some booksellers think nothing of simply taking the appointed day off so that on arrival the author is greeted by blank faces and shrugged shoulders. Or they disappear ‘on a break’ for thirty minutes leaving the punctual author to twiddle his thumbs. Appointments? Who keeps appointments?
In case the use of the word ‘bookseller’ suggests a junior rank, be assured that managers and owners are equally as guilty as their staff. Perhaps most galling of all is the condescending manner so often adopted, as if they are about to bestow the greatest of all gifts upon you, the poor ignorant unworldly writer who knows nothing of selling books. Bow sufficiently low and you may be granted access to their golden space. More than once it was tempting to remind them that if they’d more of a clue about selling books themselves they might not be on the endangered species list.
So where is the positive ending promised earlier? It is in the wonderful support from those events and bookshops, mainly Waterstones it must be said, who have shared Saturdays with me in the last few months. Nor do I forget those who offered enthusiasm and encouragement even though we couldn’t find a suitable date. No prizes for guessing that the most successful, the most enjoyable for all concerned, have been those Saturdays which were seen as being for mutual benefit. Yes, it is brilliant for a little-known author with a little-known title to have a stage to meet the book-buying public, yes it massages the ego wonderfully to sign a book. But it is also good for the shop to have something original to promote, excellent to have a healthy contribution towards their sales target, great to have another way to engage with their customers.
By working together, understanding each other’s needs and objectives, respecting readers and potential readers, offering ideas and energy, authors and booksellers have countless opportunities to create events that enhance both their reputations. Obvious? You would have thought so.