Wednesday, September 07, 2011

All at Sea

This morning I found a home for 'Steerforth Books': a small unit within a converted agricultural outbuilding, owned by a gentleman farmer called Peter*.

I had wanted somewhere in Lewes, but this option makes much more financial sense for the time being. The rent is very reasonable and if my business turns out to be an unmitigated disaster, I only have to give a month's notice.

I suppose that I should have visited lots of properties and carefully weighed up the options, but what's the point? I liked the office and I liked Peter. Also, with only three weeks left before I leave the comfortable world of paid employment, I need to get cracking.

I'll hopefully take possession of the unit next week and my first priority will be to install shelving for up to 10,000 books. I had thought of doing the shelves myself, but I've no desire to suffer the same fate as the French composer Alkan, who was killed by a falling bookcase. I think I'll ask an expert.

After the shelving, I need to sort out internet access, buy some desks and chairs and set up seller accounts on marketplaces like Amazon. Once that's done, I can start ordering the stock. None of this will feel real until I actually have some books.

At some point during the next few months, I'll also launch a website. I've been think of a logo and have scoured the internet for images of the original Steerforth from David Copperfield, but this was all I can find:


Steerforth all at sea? I'm not sure if it sends out the right signals.

Does anyone have any bright ideas for a logo or accompanying font? Most of my stock will be general titles from the 20th and late 19th centuries, with a few rare and antiquarian books thrown in. I certainly won't be 'high end', but I don't want to look like the bargain basement either.

What sort of things would you find reassuring or attractive as a buyer if you stumbled across Steerforth Books on the internet?

I'm resigned to opening a Twitter account, wading through the tedium of Google analytics and possibly beginning a new Facebook page (although I think that Facebook has 'jumped the shark').

Failing that, I could go viral with a book-related video on YouTube. 'Happy slapping' is so last decade, so perhaps a flashmob in the reading room of the British Library, or my five-year-old son and his friends dressing up in their Fireman Sam outfits and recreating 'Fahrenheit 451' would grab some attention? I'm not convinced.

Maybe I should just stick to selling good books at a slightly cheaper price than everyone else, wrap them in decent packaging and make sure that they're posted promptly?

Anyway, any suggestions would be much appreciated.

* NB - By 'gentleman farmer', I mean a farmer who is a gentleman, not a man of leisure who dabbles in farming.

31 comments:

Lorna said...

I suspect that the rowing boat with the tiller prominent would be a good thing. Make it simple so that making a stamp would be easy.

Mrs Jones said...

Oh good grief. I've just had a 'headdesk' moment. All these months I've obviously been seeing your name as 'Steerforth', but you know what I've been reading it as - 'Steerpike'.

I'll get me coat...

Canadian Chickadee said...

Congratulations on having found a space! Can't wait to peruse your virtual shelves. I agree with Lorna that Steerforth in the row boat should work if the design is simplified. As long as people don't assume Steerforth is going down with the ship!!
Good luck with this, and we'll look forward to seeing the finished product soon.
BTW - the word verification for this post is "leboffin"!

Gardener in the Distance said...

Hi Steerforth,
I'd say don't just have a list of books for sale, but have brief reviews of what's hot, related suggested reading and ephemera no-one else has got. I'd make the site as interesting as possible, not just a virtual warehouse, and I'd definitely have a good amount of second-hand one-off titles, such as you feature here. Brown wrapping-paper, possibly even tied up with string, would lend a genuine feel. Maybe a free bookmark too.
The image os Steerforth you found above is awful, not only because it's not especially striking and the face is bland, but because, as you suggest, he's lost at sea. The name 'Steerforth' is to me a strong one, ie, he is 'steering forth', and as such, you need a strong, clear image.

Burgess Horne said...

Hello there. The best of luck with this. Regarding your website, there are, it seems, plenty of easy-to-use, 'off the shelf' e-commerce tools out there. Shopify is quite good, apparently: https://www.shopify.com/

Re: your logo, my advice would be to avoid the temptation to use 'period' fonts, and to adopt some horrible 'heritage' design scheme, with cursive script etc Keep the visuals clean and simple, and let cover scans of the interesting books you'll be selling do the work...

Does Peter have impressive whiskers? I do hope so.

LUCEWOMAN said...

What a lot for you to think about, your brain must be whirring. I can't offer muchrom a pe(any) advice, I'm useless at organising things.

My only business skill is keeping prospective clients talking on the phone(just like I keep jabbering on in comments) and buttering them up. I learned the art when promoting a relative's business.
Let me know if I can be of assistance, I'd be happy to help!

My good friend Clare may be able to offer some great informal advice over the phone, she has some expertise on may of the areas you mentioned that you could tap into:

http://www.claresturges.co.uk/

(not a shameless plug - nothing in it for me!)

Lucille said...

He is steering forth. It's perfect.

Lucille said...

P.S I'll help you fill those shelves. I'd like to find an online outlet for some of my books.

Foxesatdawn said...

Branding & marketing are my game so i can help, Steerforth

LUCEWOMAN said...

oops - I wasn't drunk this time, but made more of a mess. I just deleted a big paragraph about not liking the image and didn't do a very good job of tidying up.
Sorry!
I agree with Burgess Horne re logo.

Neil said...

As someone who does the whole social media thing for a living I'd still advise to do the Facebook thing. Regardless of whether it's 'jumped the shark', it's still on course to being the second website after Google to hit a billion users. Rumours of its death, as the saying goes are greatly exaggerated.

Anyway love the stuff you post on your site - and good luck for your future.

Little Nell said...

Congratulations on finding the place for your business. I think you do have to undercut the big boys to start with, and as you build your reputation you can re-assess. Keep it simple is a good motto. I can’t say the chap in the boat would grab me as a logo, mainly because it doesn’t say what you are selling, which is books. You do need to have them somewhere in the design I think.

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the comments - some very good points have been raised. I'll take Lorna's idea of making a stamp, but perhaps with another image.

Mrs Jones - Steerpike! I wouldn't name myself after him. I know Steerforth was no saint, but he had a little more charm, I hope.

Chickadee - Leboffin - is that Canadian French? ;)

I think Gardener and Burgess Horne have successfully pushed me away from trading on the Dickens connection. I like Gardener's idea of brown paper - I'd even thought of using sealing wax. But I take Burgess's point about avoiding any twee 'heritage' theme. Thanks for the 'shopify' link - that has given me food for thought.

Lucewoman - Thanks for the offer. It's really good to know that there's a pool of expertise I can draw on if I need it. I looked at your friend's website and it's very impressive.

Lucille - You want to sell some books? I'm sure that we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, or I can just give you some top tips.

Foxes - Not just a brand manager, but also a former bookseller. Let's talk about it on Sunday. I'm at the food festival Southwark Bridge on Saturday afternoon, so I don't think I'll be in great shape that evening. BTW - are you interested in doing this on Sunday morning: http://sussexheritagetrust.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=55&Itemid=36 ?

Neil - Thanks. I'm sure you're right about Facebook. I'm just getting a bit bored with it.

Steerforth said...

Little Nell - I saw your comment after I'd written my reply. You're absolutely right - the image doesn't say "books" does it?

magiciansgirl said...

No suggestion for fonts or logo at present, but agree with others to keep the font simple and readable. I may be a sucker, but I always find myself drawn to books with good covers when I am browsing at the bookstore, so 'image' does matter and helps to draw people's attention. I don't think FB would be a bad idea for you at all and it would be easy for you to set up a page and edit/add to it. BTW, I've always loved the description 'Gentleman Farmer'. Sounds like you've done good all around thus far!

Steerforth said...

Kim - I'll defintely aim for simplicity - no 1990s Geocities animations!

I'll open a Facebook account for the business, but I might cancel my personal account. I'm not sure if I can stand the idea of being on Facebook twice over.

Sarah said...

Your website should be good at making links and suggestions to users. If they look at something, suggest they look at something similar.

A scan of a paragraph is good (they do that on manybooks.net), and reviews are very helpful. I often go by reviews.

Instead of a Dickens theme, maybe a scrapbook look would work? I'm hopeless at design though so this may be a stupid idea.

Lorna said...

I was thinking more on the theme of a boat rowing in a sea of books. A good book seller 'steers' his clients by his choice of books.

MikeP said...

I think you'd be well advised to steer clear of water altogether, if only because of the connotations of damp, not to mention all the other things that can go wrong on and in that particular element. I know you want to avoid twee, but since your operation is almost by definition somewhat backward-looking, I can't see anything wrong with something a bit traditional, maybe wood or linocut, involving, er, books, or type. The word Steerforth itself could produce a good logo, especially if you forget the Books bit.

AE said...

Good luck!

I would get a move on with getting business-weight broadband lined up.

I think your logo needs to emphasize the "Steerforth" not the books. People don't think "Steerforth are a good outfit, now what do they sell?" They think "There is this good bookseller, now what is the name?" So a picture to help them remember the name is useful.

AE said...

I am afraid I usually use AbeBooks for secondhand books and rely almost entirely on price+postage cost to make my selection. BUT, I am often looking for more than one book and then the cost of adding extra books to the post and packing becomes key. If the multiple books rate is good, then I will scour that seller's lists looking for other things I want to read.

Lucille said...

I do like to see a dust jacket depicted if I'm weighing up the pros and cons of two editions. I'm that shallow.

Foxesatdawn said...

Yes, please. In fact, I had already noted it was Heritage Open Day and looked up what was on in Lewes...

Richmonde said...

a) Find a Phiz illustration of Steerforth looking devilishly handsome.

b) Twitter is fun - no need to resign yourself. You'll soon get the idea.

c) Punters like tips, reviews, recommendations. Why should we read this forgotten 20th century classic? etc etc

NickT said...

As soon as I find out where you are placed, and I know you're ready for visitors, I shall arrive Bearing cash for the strangest of books. I don't know which ones until I've seen what you've got; Lewes isn't that far from Brighton, and our new place demands some quality literature. For "quality" read "things that no-one else would want but I can't bear the thought of their being pulped". Books and vinyl are twin Achilles' heels - I'd rather not eat than see either destroyed...

NB - On reflection, that may not have been the best thing to tell a bookseller...

Mrs Trefusis... said...

On the subject of death by bookcases, was it Leonard Bast who met his sticky end under a bookcase in Howard's End?
X

Steerforth said...

Richmonde - I must admit that I'm a bit phobic about Twitter - it feels out of control (I don't want to become an addict), but everyone I've spoken to agrees with you. Ditto the reviews.

NickT - Sadly, Steerforth Books will only exist in cyberspace. I don't think I'm allowed to have visitors, as there are lots of agricultural machines charging about the place. However, I'll try to make the virtual bookshop as welcoming as the real thing.

Mrs T - I'm ashamed to say that I've never read it. I could pretend I have - Wikipedia has just confirmed that a falling bookcase gives Mr Bast's weak ticker a fatal shock - but I'd feel dirty.

zmkc said...

Never one to resist an opportunity to promote my offspring, I suggest you ask my daughter to design you a logo. Here is her website: www.annahiggie.com
Your wish is her command, so don't be put off by the fashion/pop music dominated work there. It's just that that's what's come her way mainly as paid work.

Steerforth said...

Thank you zmkc - you have a very talented daughter and I may well require her services at some point.

Anonymous said...

Logo guru is good:

http://logoguru.co.uk/contests/business-logo-with-a-symbol

You can crowd source a logo essentially. There is a cost though

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