(as featured on my weekly Huffington Post blog)
Imagine a world bereft of bookshops, where the only way to buy the latest Hilary Mantel or JK Rowling is at your computer with a click of the mouse. No more lazy bookshelf browsing on rainy afternoons, tripping over a tattered first edition of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or leafing through a hardback copy of the latest Kate Mosse. Just one clinical click and the deal is done.
These days many self-publishers chose to sell only online, but given that Amazon will take around 60% discount, whereas the average bookshop will take 40- 45%, it seems daft to cut them out. They are also a great way to raise your visibility, something which we all need, given the thousands of books uploaded onto Amazon each week. Granted, as a self-publisher it may require a little more effort, but believe me, it’s more than worth it.
As ever, start local. Armed with a copy of your book and a professional looking Advanced Information sheet, along with a press release, drop into all the bookshops in your area. Providing the book is well produced and well edited, they are remarkably receptive to new authors.
I couldn’t have imagined the opportunities that dealing directly with the bookshops opened up for me. Every one of the eight bookshop managers to whom I gave my book (I obviously went further afield than just my own neighbourhoood), took the time to read it. All of them were happy to order a few copies and half of them even placed those copies in their precious window space. Waterstones Notting Hill went one step further and turned a whole section of their window display into a miniature cinema for the launch that they gave me. That literally came from wandering in off the street, book in hand and sales pitch at the ready.
Another local bookshop, Lutyens and Rubinstein has included Cinema Lumière in their now notorious A Year In Books http://www.lutyensrubinstein.co.uk/bookshop-bespoke-services/ package, which delivers a hand-picked must-read book to your door each month throughout the year. Since the manager takes the time to discover the customer’s personal literary taste, (as most good bookshop managers do these days), each book is perfectly tailored to the reader. No faceless Amazon Algorithm coldly crunching keywords there, just proper old-school, thoughtful, human interaction.
It helps if you are prepared to do a little legwork on their part too. Tweet about your favourite bookshop. Tell others when they are putting on one of their intimate readings, or which book the insightful manager has just recommended. And if you can sneak a story into the local press about your own book and where it can be bought, even better.
If there are no local bookshops in your neighbourhood, then there are two main distributors: Gardners and Bertrams, who will distribute your books, providing you have an ISBN number. http://www.isbn.org/faqs_general_questions
Recently, there’s been a lot of argy-bargy between Amazon and the bigger publishers, slugging it out over discounts (see Alex Clarke’s article in ES magazine http://bit.ly/1u544PR ). Who knows where it will end, but what we do know is that with all of our support, the bookshops, those carefully curated havens of literary treasures, will continue to brighten our lives.