What would happen if you handed the keys of a bookshop over to three authors and told them they could run the shop for the day?
Or I should I say – what is going to happen as that’s exactly what we’re doing next Saturday – at Mostly Books in Abingdon.
Paula Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters, all from publisher Nosy Crow, will be experiencing life as a bookseller just for a day, when they will do everything from inflating the Pip and Posy balloons, to taking money on the till.
We run plenty of author events at Mostly Books and I’m fairly sure the usual way of things is that by the time our guest author arrives, everything is fairly calm and well-organised. A good crowd is assembled, dutifully agog for words of authorly wisdom, while the bookseller fades into the background, fingers firmly crossed that the event goes well and book sales are high. Fairly confident that the author has no idea of the weeks of preparation that has gone into making the author feel welcome and ready to see their own titles soar off the shelves after a flying visit.
But we’re not doing that next Saturday. Oh no.
Paula, Fleur and Helen will be there for the whole day, seeing the whole nitty gritty of bookselling action from behind the counter. In fact I know that they realise things are going to be pretty different as their preparations this time are starting early; they have all been busy baking cakes to add to the welcoming atmosphere in Mostly Books on July 6.
They won’t be engaging an audience with the usual straightforward event format of an interesting talk to an eager crowd. Instead, they will be facing the audience the same way a bookseller does every day – facing 100 different questions from ‘My teenage daughter has read every paranormal romance going, and polished The Hunger Games off in a week – what should she read next’ to ‘I’d like to order this book I heard reviewed on the radio sometime in the last month and the author definitely began with an A’. Yes. We get plenty of that.
You never know who is going to walk in through the door next when you work in a bookshop. But it’s always interesting, and pretty much everyone who does come in has one thing in common – they love books. Which makes it a joy.
We hope that meeting and talking directly to so many keen readers, readers in all different guises, will be great fun and interesting for our visiting authors.
We’ve also lined up some fans eager to talk to our roving booksellers, but instead of taking questions at a big event, they’ve gamely invited our customers to come and have an informal chat over a cup of tea and some cake while they take a break from bookselling and can get back to being authors for a few minutes.
I daresay there will be some impromptu Nosy Crow storytimes for the younger ones. And Nosy Crow have sent us fistfuls of badges and stickers to giveaway too, so no-one’s in any doubt who is running the show.
It’s a fun (mad?) idea as part of Independent Booksellers Week – a week long national celebration of everything that’s great about independent bookshops – a sector that continues to thrive, even though there is plenty of doom and gloom about its future.
IBW is a great chance to remind customers to switch off their browsers, get down to the High Street and handle some actual books and share some quality time talking about them. And a great week to remind anyone who loves books that indies are worth a visit.
But it’s also a time when publishers and authors kindly turn out to events up and down the country to support the sector and to say a big ‘thank you’ to indies for still being there and offering an alternative in a sector which gets squeezed pretty hard at both ends.
Plenty of the authors who are supporting indie events throughout the UK are doing it because they feel their publishing careers would never have taken off as well as they did without the support of independent bookshops – which still offer an unrivalled way to discover new books to read.
It’s the passion of independent booksellers that keep us on the High Street. It means customers will travel a pretty good distance to visit a favourite one. Some very interesting research earlier this year showed that, in those instances where a customer didn’t know what they wanted, physical bookshops were responsible for 45% of new book purchases. That’s a lot of new books and new authors being introduced to readers.
But even so – handing over the key to three authors?
If you want to find out how it goes – watch this space. Or pay a visit to Mostly Books, Abingdon on July 6 – I guarantee some excellent and enthusiastic service – and some extremely good cake.