Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"I want to support my local bookshop"

This YouTube video has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently, shared by several ex-colleagues of mine.

It's an animated video produced at Xtranormal.com - a clever website where anyone can create a cartoon in a matter of minutes and although the expressionless, computer-generated voices sound weird, it somehow adds to the humour.

As for the content, I think that anyone who's ever run a bookshop will agree that it's spot on:


The Poet Laura-eate said...


Hopefully most writers aren't *quite* that obnoxious, self-delusional and hypocritical, not to mention completely oblivious to the bookshop owner's needs, but I guess you would know better than I Steerforth!

Martin said...


Steerforth said...

Laura - there are 'writers' and real writers. The real writers have always impressed me with their warmth, empathy, humility and humanity. The greatest example of this was Jacqueline Wilson, who signed at my shop for eight hours non-stop, without even a loo break!

I've generally found that the less well-known the author, the more inflated their ego and sadly the scenario in this video is very typical of many exchanges I've had with self-published authors. In fact this video is mild compared to some conversations I've had.

I'm pleased that the manager in the video mentioned the hassle and expense of holding events. I'd sometimes work a 13-hour day when we had events, closing the shop at 5.30 so that I could spend a couple of hours taking down displays, moving furniture, getting the books ready, preparing refreshments and counting a till float. The staff would then arrive back from the pub.

By the time we'd paid for the wine and staff (at time and a half), we were lucky if we'd covered our costs. I didn't mind if the author was nice, but more often than not, we were just massaging the ego of a local self-published writer who wanted to show off to their friends. I can count the number of times an author has thanked me on one hand. They always thought that they were doing me a huge favour.

And after months of pestering me, they were curiously elusive when I tried to return the unsold stock.

We liked authors like Oliver, who worked really hard to promote their books and arranged lots of publicity, but I'm afraid the he's the exception rather than the rule.

Jim Murdoch said...

Great animation. I've had a go myself. With a bit of effort you can actually get quite decent results especially if you fork out a few quid for some different voices but this is one I did just using the online version.

Steerforth said...

Love the poem. Thanks Jim.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I am shocked Steerforth.

I know plenty of splendid but undiscovered writers and poets who just haven't had the breaks, but very few I would describe as ego-monsters. If anything, most tend to suffer from not being able to say 'boo' to a goose and terminal naivety about today's publishing world and their chances of being 'discovered' in it, rather than putting the frighteners on their local bookshop manager if they don't get a launch! They might try submitting to one agent, or even a second or a third and then either give up or pay to have a limited print run done for friends and family.

Those who are lucky enough to be published by someone else are often then naïve enough to assume that their usually small-medium publishing house will do it all for them on the publicity front post-launch and they can happily concentrate on penning their next bestseller! They tend to be utterly shocked to learn they need to become an expert in marketing as well as writing these days. Though even the large publishing houses tend to blow their marketing budget on pushing Dawn French etc with very little left to promote the non-celeb part of their stable.

That said, there is no excuse for lack of manners and courtesy on either side – ie monstrous authors or rude booksellers (though perhaps you seldom see smiley, customer service-orientated booksellers owing to the monstrous authors, I don't know!) I do believe there is always a polite way to tell someone that their book is simply not suitable for the store though.

As for out-of-hours launches, I've always wondered how they turn a profit when they do not charge for tickets (though some now do, throwing a glass of wine in with the ticket price, which seems to work well) for any author lesser than Michael Palin, that is. Re local authors, I think if I were a bookseller I would offer to have a 'Local Author' launch night every so often with a handpicked 3-4 bringing half the town in with them each time. Or even a host a competition for local authors with a launch party as a prize!

Sorry to hear you have known such bad experiences with both authors and launches anyway.

I think Oliver has been entirely realistic in how he has approached marketing 'The Commuter's Tale'. Firstly he is confident he has produced a quality and innovative read that bookseller and reader alike will be pleased to possess and secondly he knew from the beginning that he needed to work like a Trojan to make his book a success in today's climate and is doing so in a logical and methodical manner, taking all the factors into account, whilst not forgetting his manners and being genuinely grateful and acknowledging anyone who helps him along the way.

Steerforth said...

Laura, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is that the best unpublished writers are generally modest, self-effacing types who wouldn't dream of expecting a signing session, so booksellers only get to meet the ego-maniacs.

Unfortunately, I think writers do have to be marketing experts these days, which is tough if you're not that sort of person.

My policy as a manager was that I'd always encourage local authors if they'd made some effort to get some local publicity and if I felt they had a good story to tell, I'd often talk them into doing an event, rather than vice versa.

I think the reason why Oliver has had such a good response from booksellers is because, in addition to a good book and personal charm, he has worked so hard to publicise it. Also, as a professional writer, he has the experience and connections. If only everyone was like him.

As far as the video is concerned, an ex-colleague posted it on Facebook with the comment "If I had a quid for every time I've had a conversation like this..." and judging by the response, he wasn't alone.

When I went into bookselling, I imagined that all writers would be likeable, sensitive people by default. I was very young. But overall, my experiences have been very positive. I've met some delightful, interesting people over the years and felt privileged to talk about their work with them.

If you're a local author reading this and, assuming that there are still some bookshops left in a few months time, don't lose heart. Booksellers are on your side!

mtFF said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh dear. I have no experience in this field (other than buying books as an ordinary punter) but it's horribly reminiscent of the music business and the way that a lot of artists behave (my good self excluded, of course! I am a paragon of good manners and gratitude). I loved the cartoon. I am off to make one instead of doing the work I am supposed to be focusing on..