I spent a brilliant day last Sunday in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, at a little independent bookshop called Mostly Books. This involved some sacrifice as Sunday is the only day usually that Mr B and I get to spend alone together, and we’d planned to go away for a romantic Valentine’s weekend too. But needs must – I’d found that this bookshop were running a course called Shelf Secrets – designed for authors and publishers, and aiming to teach them how to market themselves and their books to the independent bookshop. It seemed just too good to miss. And I’m so pleased I went.
Is the independent bookshop a dying breed? How can they possibly compete with all the chain bookstores, not to mention supermarkets and online shops? I remember when the lovely bookshop in Weymouth closed its doors several years ago, squeezed out by a great big Menzies, which since morphed into a great big WH Smiths. No more interesting shelves stuffed with odd books, and a wonderful children’s section with low shelves and little chairs. Instead – wall to wall revision guides (how I HATE those things – poor kids get enough cramming in school without misguided parents shoving it down their throats at home – and I’m speaking as a school teacher here), celebrity rubbish, cookery books from TV shows and a generally sterile selection. Sorry – getting on my soap box here.
Now I’m as guilty as the next in trying to get my books sold in chain bookstores. When Borders and Waterstones agreed to stock the Stonewylde Series in many of their branches, I was over the moon. Because many towns only have these shops – no independents at all. And to be fair, I’ve always found the staff in all the Waterstones I’ve visited to be very helpful, friendly, knowledgeable and encouraging. But nothing beats the inside knowledge and passion of the independent bookseller. Those who aren’t knowledgeable and passionate have, or will, go out of business, because it’s this I believe that keeps the small independent bookshop afloat. And this is why customers who love books will always patronise their local bookshop rather than buy online or cheaply from the supermarket buy phentermine in south africa shelf. I’ve vowed, when Stonewylde eventually becomes a best-selling series, never to sell out and do a deal with Tesco or Sainsbury’s. I just hope when the time comes that I can maintain this integrity!
Mark and Nicki made a brave decision in opening Mostly Books eighteen months ago. But they know their market. They provide a fantastic selection of interesting reads, avoid celebrity stuff, cater beautifully for children, and even serve coffee in their courtyard. They give a personal service in a way that no chain bookstore, however helpful their staff may be, could possibly compete with. They also organise all sorts of author events – yes, they’ve invited me to do one later this year, so I’ll keep you posted! And special children’s days (eg pirates and ballerinas) and courses such as the one I attended. Mostly Books is thriving, and so it should. Check out their website on http://www.mostly-books.co.uk/
This week I believe a new independent bookshop is opening in Wood Green, London, and is another very brave step into the cut-throat world of the big boys. It’s to be called The Big Green Bookshop, and it’s the baby of two ex-Waterstones staff who’ve used their redundancy money, after the Waterstones branch shut down, and other financial backing to open their very own bookshop. I wish them all the best of luck – it’s scary taking on the large companies at their own game, and takes a great leap in faith. Setting up Moongazy Publishing made me realise just what a gamble it all is. You’re up against big money, years of expertise and know-how, and a scratch-back network that doesn’t welcome new, small people. But if you’re passionate enough and hard-working enough, you’ll get there. I hope!!
So my message is – support your local bookshop, if you’re lucky enough to still have one. Don’t just go for the money-saving option. If we did this, we’d never buy from farmers’ markets or little hardware shops – so apply the same principles to your book buying. And if you have an independent bookshop near you – tell them they should be stocking the Stonewylde Series!!