An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘bookshop’

An interview with FutureBook founder Sam Missingham

Anyone who knows anything about the publishing world know that an interview with Sam Missingham is a Big Deal. Having worked for publishing giants such as the Bookseller, FutureBook and HarperCollins, she has forged an immensely successful and influential career in publishing and marketing within the books industry.

I’ve been an admirer and follower of Sam’s for a while now and I was very excited when she agreed to undertake this interview for my blog.

The lovely Sam Missingham

The lovely Sam Missingham

Can you give my readers a brief overview of your career so far?

 Sure.

I’ve spent the vast amount of my career working in magazine publishing. I started at a very small company that published financial technology titles. I learned a huge amount working in a small business with a very entrepreneurial boss. He taught me a few simple but important things – everyone in the company should be able to answer the phone & give a decent answer to any question about the business, also, pretty much every call coming into a business is a sales opportunity – if you understand everything that you sell.

I then worked at Centaur on many of their B2B magazines, including Marketing Week, Creative Review and New Media Age. I launched their community site MAD.co.uk (for marketing, advertising & design professionals). This is where I learned about building audiences/communities and the various ways you can get people to pay for content. And yes I was MAD Marketing Manager for a while 😉

 I took a career break to have my daughter, move town & divorce (why not do all of it at the same time, right?). I then worked for several years as a freelancer/consultant, always working on circulation & subscription strategy work. I worked on consumer magazines at Future Publishing on titles about weddings, cars, photography & design.

Seven years ago I was offered temporary freelance work on The Bookseller, where I stayed for 5 years. This was the most fulfilling 5 years of my career, mostly due to falling in love with the book business and being part of the industry while it transformed so dramatically. I launched the FutureBook community, blog, conference and awards while I was there which I am still very proud of.

One of the most exciting moments of my professional life, was when Charlie Redmayne, HarperCollins’ CEO offered me a job running events. Until that point I had NO experience in books, so I appreciate the leap of faith he made employing me. I have now been at HarperCollins for 18 months and I genuinely believe I have the best job in publishing. My remit is to come up with engaging events and campaigns across our entire list to put more books into more hands. Doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

 You originally studied maths and Russian at university. What lead you down the publishing and marketing career path?

Oh I forgot to mention above that I was also a spy for the KGB for a while. Kidding aside, I enjoyed studying Maths & Russian and although I haven’t used either of them directly, logic and arithmetic are useful skills to have in marketing. I didn’t exactly choose my career in magazines – I graduated in a horrible recession and it was the only job I could get. No regrets.

I genuinely believe I have the best job in publishing

Over the years and in your many marketing roles in the industry, what are some of the biggest changes youve experienced?

 I suppose the most significant and seismic shift would obviously be the Internet. I worked on a magazine charting the very start of the Internet around 1996, a time when businesses were launching websites for the first time. So, everything that has followed; email, ecommerce, social, apps etc. Hard to imagine now.

Youve won and been nominated for a number of big industry awards. Can you possibly pick one or two that you are most proud of and/or most touched by and explain why?

 Well, I’m proud of all of them. But being runner-up for the Pandora award for outstanding contribution to publishing takes some beating. Also, I was a runner-up to Dame Marjorie Scardino. How cool is that?

In your view, what role has social media and digital played in attracting more people to reading and the industry? Why has it been so effective?

 Wow, not sure I can do that question justice as the impact is so huge and varied. In very simple terms, social media has removed the barriers/gate keepers between readers and authors. It has also facilitated an open and engaged conversation amongst all book-lovers. Authors can now talk directly to librarians, bookshops to agents, book marketers to readers. There is certainly still a way to go for publishers to fully maximise the opportunity social offers, but that’s the fun and challenge of continual change.

 In terms of digital, it would be impossible for me to understate the impact Amazon has had on the book business. Not least creating an ebook ecosystem that actually worked. They are a phenomenally impressive business, a week hardly goes by where they haven’t launched a new program, service or tech innovation.

Digital has had impact across all areas of our business in areas too many to mention; in no particular order, significant shifts in the last 7 years: the Ipad, apps, Wattpad, KDP, mobile, YouTube – the list goes on

For those unfamiliar with virtual events  how do they work and what are the benefits? What have been particularly successful and challenging about the ones you’ve launched?

Yes, these have been great fun. The virtual festivals replicate literary festivals, but are delivered on social media. I have organised virtual festivals in romance, crime and SciFi, delivering engaging programs for readers/fans. I suppose the thing that is significant about these festivals is that they are publisher-agnostic, open and inclusive and global – everyone is welcome. As far as know, no other publisher has run events/campaigns where they have included other publisher, organisations and indie authors. My view is we all have the same aim – more books into more hands and working together genuinely puts the reader at the heart of what we’re doing. How many readers buy books from just one publisher, for example?

There have been a few highlights during these festivals, one being Margaret Atwood’s Twitter Q&A – she is a goddess. We also had Agatha Christie’s publisher answering questions about what it’s like to publish the Queen of Crime. Fab.

You have worked as Head of Events & Marketing for two of the biggest publishing organisations in the UK today The Bookseller and FutureBook. What has been the most rewarding part of these experiences?

Launching FutureBook and building an engaged community as the book industry transformed. During this time I made many friends across the industry, many of whom were gracious and supportive when quite frankly I knew nothing.

 Most rewarding part of publishing? The people, by a mile.

In very simple terms, social media has removed the barriers/gate keepers between readers and authors.

How important is collaboration in this industry?

 Extremely, as mentioned in my previous question. A rising tide lifts everyone, yes?

How does it feel to be a huge influencer in the publishing industry and what qualities do you feel are essential for a person to become successful in this area?

 Huge influencer is overstating things. The qualities I try to bring are enthusiasm, a genuine passion for books and the business, a broader interest in news and trends with a little irreverence, perhaps. One thing I am particularly passionate about is supporting students and people at the early stage of their careers. I see that has my responsibility and also very rewarding. Nothing better than seeing someone fly.

What would your advice be to someone interested in the industry in terms of attending literary and publishing events?

 Id recommend you attend London Book Fair  lots of free events and also talk to people in the coffee queue. Making contacts is the NUMBER ONE thing that will help you at every stage of your career. Also, Byte The Book, Book Machine and SYP all run excellent events throughout the year.

Youve worked on both newsletters, magazines and now books. How important do you feel working on a variety of publication types to be when building a publishing career?

 Not sure the publication types is the important bit. What is more valuable is working in different types of businesses. As I have said many times, retail experience is extremely useful, particular bookshops. But honestly, the skills you learn dealing with customers directly cant be underestimated. I grew up in a flower shop and also spent many years working in shoe shops and waitressing.

Working in other entertainment and digital businesses would also be useful. My philosophy is that no skills are ever wasted, so gain as much experience as possible.

Who are some of your favourite and more approachable authors and publishers that you have worked with and why?

I had the privilege of running an event with George RR Martin & Robin Hobb last summer. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Spending an evening with George RR was how I imagine hanging out with Mick Jagger would be. A total rock star. He invited all of the Game of Thrones cosplayers back to his room after the event – you’d could see the real connection with his fans. Robin was an absolute delight too.

 On Twitter, there are a number of authors I think rock; Ian Rankin, Joanne Harris, Jill Mansell, Lindsey Kelk to name a few.

You can follow Sam on Twitter: @samatlounge

Check out The Bookseller and Futurebook sites.

Terri Cox Talks Chick Lit and Translated Fiction!

The purpose of these interviews are to get a more intimate look at how reading affects people and why certain different kinds of literature appeals to different people. Looking at the differences in reading habits between one identical sister and another proves that the books and literature have the power to touch people in so many different ways. Following on from my Readers Insights interview with the first of my two triplet sisters Toni in which she discussed her love of non-fiction and self-help books, I now present to you an interview with the second triplet sister Terri Cox, who gives us a reader’s perspective on Chick Lit and translated fiction, and why these mean so much to her.

My gorgeous sister. Again, I'm not biased, honest.

My gorgeous sister. Again, I’m not biased, honest.

Please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Terri, 24. I love reading and have done since I was a kid. My main passion is for Modern Foreign Languages, namely French, Spanish and Italian.
 
What kind of literature/books do you read?

Fiction. Definitely. I think I have read exactly one autobiography in my entire life. My two favourite genres are fantasy, such as Harry Potter, and what people would refer to as ‘chick lit’, although I read much more of the latter as I get older.
 
Why does this genre speak to you and appeal to you more than others? What is it you love about it?

Fantasy and magic are for the child in me – the one that still loves the feeling of Christmas morning – but the adult storylines of corruption, mystery, romance and war that run alongside them are gripping and thought-provoking.
 

I love reading women’s fiction because it’s relatable – a cliché, but true. I can’t count the times I have laughed out loud or shed a tear over stories that have happened to me before.

 

There is nothing more disappointing than reading a whole book and realising you could have guessed the outcome 300 pages ago.
  
Is there a good fan base and/or community behind this work or this kind of book?

Fantasy series always have huge followings. For Harry Potter, the story carries on long after you close the book. There is so much more to be learned from the fan community, I love that the stories are rich and detailed enough to have still have unanswered questions, that whole debates and theories can still be found online or with other fans that you come across.
 
Toni, Me, and Terri

Toni, Me, and Terri

What do you think makes a good book in this genre?

There’s a stereotype attached to ‘Chick lit’ – that it is mass-produced, cheesy, mindless stories. I don’t find that to be true, if you’re reading the right titles. For me, for a book in this genre to stand out, I have to care about the character, believe that someone like that could exist out there somewhere
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A poor book in this genre for me personally is a predictable storyline. There is nothing more disappointing than reading a whole book and realising you could have guessed the outcome 300 pages ago.
 
I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu throughout the entire book – I had read the book before, but not in the same words.
Talk to me about some specific titles that are special or mean more to you and why. Is there a story behind why you value it? Did it make you feel a certain way when you read it?

A memorable title for me was during my year abroad I read a book called ‘Ti ricordi di me?’ in Italian by Sophie Kinsella, or ‘Remember me?’ in English. An advantage of reading a book in this genre in Italian for me was that the content was light and enjoyable, which I found helpful considering the actual language of the book was a big challenge. The book was a mess by the time I got through it, dog-eared and written all over in pencil. Because the book spoke about a lot everyday topics such as work and relationships and used a lot of everyday language, the vocabulary I learned from it was really useful. I read the same book a couple of years later in English, and I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu throughout the entire book – I had read the book before, but not in the same words.
 

Another book I loved was called the Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl – breaking my rule of thumb when it comes to non-fiction. It was written by an Australian lady called Shauna Reid and her weight-loss journey over the space of a few years. It was unbelievable how many of her diary entries could have been written by myself.
 
Who are your favourite authors and why?

Jane Costello and Lauren Weisberger are my ultimate ‘chick lit’ favourites (Lauren Weisberger is the author of The Devil Wear’s Prada). Jane Costello has a brilliant sense of humour, and for me her books have always been very dependable – most follow the stories of three main female protagonists who are friends – so I know exactly what kind of thing I’m going to get by reading the book. Having said that, she does still manage to weave a brilliant and original story for every single one of her characters throughout her books. For me, light entertainment and easy reading.
 

Jodi Picoult is another. I think the woman is a genius. But as a general rule after reading one of her books I need a good few weeks or even a few months break before reading another, as they go into very complicated, very deep, and very emotional storylines and are often full of sorrow.  They question society and morals. The court room trials are fascinating.
 

A great middle ground is Cecilia Ahern. Not quite as heavy as Picoult, but covers a wider range of issues than Jane Costello. And there is just a slight  mystical or spiritual edge and sometimes even a hint of the supernatural in some of her books.
 

J.K Rowling…for obvious reasons.
 
 
Where do you most like to buy your books?

I have a Kindle which is great for travelling, or if you need to get hold of a book straight away, but at the minute is in a corner gathering dust. I don’t see the appeal of yet another screen full of data. I buy my books from Waterstones…the closest I’ll get to the feel of a traditional bookshop.
 
How do you find out about new titles in this genre?

I rely on word of mouth from friends and family to recommend books for me. I find they have a much wider range in taste than me. If it were left solely up to me, I would stay in my comfort zone and just read authors similar to ones I already read. For that reason only, I am part way through a Stephen King book that you recommended to me. I wouldn’t have ever considered reading it otherwise. Likewise for the odd Dan Brown book, and books such as the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Genius works that I would otherwise miss out on.

 

What are you reading at the moment/looking to read next?

My next aim to find a good title, and buy it in French, Spanish and Italian. Reading books in foreign languages are a lot like study for the first few books you read, and can take a long time. But my long-term aim is to be able to read them for leisure just like any book I would read in English. A brilliant way to combine my two favourite hobbies.
Me and my literary sisters.

Me and my literary sisters.

The Humans by Matt Haig

I bought this book as a treat for myself on the way back from the London Book Fair in April. It’s a long wait and a long train ride for me to get home. What way is more perfect to pass the time than a bit of reading? I’ve heard a little rumour that Matt Haig might be coming to Hull for an event in the near future, so thought I’d give one of his titles a try in advance!

The Humans by Matt Haig. Already well used...

The Humans by Matt Haig. Already well used…

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race?

The Humans is a hilarious and thoroughly philosophical examination of the human condition and the human way of life. I won’t be spoiling this for you when I reveal that Andrew Martin has been replaced with an alien, because you find this out in the first page. What this gives us is an outsider’s perspective on humans and all of their eccentricities. In a very amusing but also very clever way.

The alien, whose name you never find out, is on Earth attempting to hide a secret that Professor Andrew Martin had – a very valuable and, in the aliens’ eyes, very dangerous secret that must not be told or discovered. If it does, it will set the human race on a path to self-destruction.

Emotion and anything outside of rationality and logic are completely unacceptable. Anything even remotely human-like, from the human form to the way humans live their lives, is utterly repulsive and baffling to him. And yet he must now live among them and get away with fooling people that he is Andrew Martin. Cue the hilarious mistakes and misunderstandings. Some of them had me in fits of giggles. I won’t spell them out as it would ruin it for you, the reader, (who will of course go straight out to buy the book after reading this review) but it’s the first time I’ve laughed out loud and for so long at a book for a long time.

Although the book is very comical, it also does more than a good job of reminding us how we have failed as a race and failed our planet. It points out many of our flaws and our mistakes. (I perhaps found the passages where the aliens discussed these failures and just generally communicated with one another a little over-dramatic and a bit too Hollywood, but it in no way damaged the book as a whole.) The narrator makes us evaluate ourselves, our mindsets and our beliefs.

The humans are an arrogant species, defined by violence and greed. They have taken their home planet, the only one they currently have access to, and placed it on the road to destruction. They have created a world of divisions and categories and have continually failed to see the similarities between themselves.

Matt Haig takes what we all know and think but manages to express it in such imaginative and clever writing, which is truly a brilliant achievement. Take the following passage for instance:

She said being human is being a young child on Christmas Day who receives an absolutely magnificent castle. And there is a perfect photograph of this castle on the box and you want more than anything to play with the castle and the knights and the princesses because it looks like such a perfectly human world, but the only problem is that the castle isn’t built. It’s in tiny intricate pieces, and although there’s a book of instructions you don’t understand it. And nor can your parents or Aunt Sylvie. So you are just left, crying at the ideal castle on the box which no one would ever be able to build.

This is such a profound commentary on the difficulties of life and building the ideal ‘life’. While I do believe that if you work hard enough, you can get what you set out to achieve, the passage is so true in terms of how helpless and lost people can feel going through life. Haig takes characters within the novel and uses them as embodiments of the fear, insecurities, and also triumphs within human existence. The above passage is one character Maggie’s view of life, but it is a view that many readers will relate to.

Naturally, the longer the alien spends on Earth among humans, the more he can relate to them and he starts to enjoy the experiences of life, something he does not have on his own planet.  He begins to enjoy music, food, wine, love, laughter, and companionship. He does not have happiness, or love, or pleasure on his home planet. All he has back home is logic and mathematics, and he soon begins to realise that despite the pain, and loss, and disappointment of human life, it still has so much beauty to offer.

He understands that we are strange, self-destructive, impulsive and reckless race, but it’s these very things that redeem us in his eyes. He knows that humans contradict themselves in every turn, but eventually he loves that about us.

“Don’t you think that there is something beautiful in these contradictions, something mysterious?”

Two reasons that the main character takes such a U-turn in his feelings towards humans are Andrew’s wife and son, Isobel and Gulliver. Each character is going through their own pain and internal struggle, mostly caused by Andrew Martin himself. Our protagonist has to deal with this and try to make amends for Andrew’s behaviour, all the while knowing that it isn’t one of his priorities or objectives. And for this reason, as a reader I began to empathise with the alien who believes that humans are so imperfect as to be doomed. I genuinely couldn’t help but feel for Isobel and Gulliver and I often found myself wishing that the alien could right Andrew’s wrongs. Whether or not he manages this is something you’ll have to find out for yourselves.

The Humans is a brutal evaluation of human life, but it also celebrates it. Haig made me take a critical view of myself and the human race but also made me realise just how brilliant we all can be. We get out of life what we put into it. The book is incredibly funny, and sad, and heart-warming, and entertaining. I strongly urge you to make this book your next purchase.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

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I ended up buying Station Eleven when I was in Waterstones in Hull with a friend, who offered to let me take advantage of the Buy One Get One Half Price deal as he wasn’t interested in buying anything else. After asking for a recommendation from a staff member, I bought Station Eleven and took it home with me. So congratulations, Waterstones sales assistant. You succeeded in selling a book and satisfying a customer.

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.
One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.
Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

For me, Station Eleven is the book that Stephen King’s The Stand fails to be. I read The Stand last summer while I was on holiday in Tenerife (I know – not the most relaxing subject matter) and only really finished it because my stubborn personality refuses to let me give up on a book. But after reading Station Eleven, I came away from it thinking, “Now, that’s all King had to do. In far fewer pages than The Stand.” And the similarities between the two are many, in terms of plot and characterisation.
At first, I was worried that Station Eleven would be a little too cliché for me, but I did want to give a book a try based solely on word-of-mouth recommendation. I expected to read a novel that was all the recent zombie and/or apocalypse movie themes combined. And I won’t lie, there are some scenes in this book that lift straight from those movies (hoardes of people crowded around a small mounted television screen in a public place, all looking terrified, for instance), but then again, this probably just means that the movies and the books are correctly predicting what circumstances would be like in these types of situations.

Each unique character within the book brought richness to the narrative. The central character, Arthur Leander, is a conflicted and egotistical Hollywood star who comes from a humble background and struggles all throughout his life to find a balance which makes him happy. He recognises the superficiality of Hollywood life and misses his quiet life back on the remote island on which he grew up, and yet at the same time he craves the spotlight and feel stifled and claustrophobic when he returns home. His tendency to jump from one wife to the next, each very different from each other, reflects his inability to really understand what he wants from life. In this way Arthur is a personification of the book: while the novel highlights how fragile society is and its obsession with the trivial things such as corporate wealth, social media and celebrity culture, it also demonstrates how lost people feel when it’s all ripped away.

Jeevan, the man who attempts to save Arthur’s life on stage, is another such character. Originally a celebrity journalist and then a member of the paparazzi, he eventually moves on to training to become a paramedic, to give his life more substance and to feel that he is contributing to something truly worthwhile. Arthur’s childhood friend Clark reminisces about his corporate life after the collapse, wincing when he thinks of how he used to behave towards other people in his business life.

“I used to write ‘T-H-X’ when I wanted to say ‘thank-you.'”

“I did that too. Because, what, it would have taken too much time and effort to punch in an extra three letters and just say thanks? I can’t fathom it.”

Clark goes on to shave his head in the same manner that he did when he was a teenager. In the face of crisis, he tries to reach back into the days when he felt the most the carefree and a sense of individuality. Kirsten, another major character, was too young when the collapse happened to remember much of life from before. Because of this, all she does is crave the world that her and her friends had taken away from them before they truly had the chance to experience it. She pines for it, but, unlike Clark, who knows exactly what he’s lost, Kirsten mourns what she never had.

One of the most striking and interesting characters is the prophet, who for me is quite similar to Randall Flagg (the Dark Man) in The Stand. I won’t give too much away here but the extremity of the prophet’s reactions to the collapse, his so-called ‘spirituality’ and his actions towards other people provides an effective contrast to the other characters in the book. The book, in a non-linear narrative, shows us how the collapse affects each of these characters in turn and how differently they cope with survival in a world where most of what they loved is now gone.

What I loved about this book was how it highlighted the stark contrast between what is important in today’s society, and what would be considered important in a post-apocalyptic world. Station Eleven seemed to me to be a social commentary on the state of modern culture.

The Travelling Symphony is a group of musicians and actors who travel across North America performing the plays of Shakespeare and accompanying classical music. They are clearly trying to preserve the best, or what is perceived to be the best, of arts and culture in a world where those things have become obsolete. The Travelling Symphony are a characterisation of this sentiment. But this isn’t to say that more modern culture isn’t appreciated in this world.

Gone is electricity, gone are computers, and therefore all the social media and the internet crazes that come with them.

“Alexandra had been enraptured, the screen a magical thing with no memories attached.”

But these things do have a lasting effect on some citizens. They are viewed as just as magical and amazing and Shakespeare to many. Clark, a key character within the novel, starts up a Museum of Civilisation – preserving and exhibiting any and all objects that they can find from the pre-apocalyptic world. Mobile phones, books, snow globes, bikes all make it into the Museum.

Clark had always been fond of beautiful objects, and in his present state of mind, all objects were beautiful. He stood by the case and found himself moved by every object he saw there, by the human enterprise each object had required.

The importance of newspapers and literature is also a big theme throughout the novel. Miranda, the main character’s ex-wife and the writer of Dr Eleven (the comic which plays a large role in the book), is wholly dedicated to her art. She cares far more about how it helps her emotionally than getting it widely published and earning money. The importance of the text and art itself lies in the message and the comfort it gives to those who read it.

Similarly, the newspaper which Diallo publishes in Year Fifteen in his settlement/town, The New Petoskey News, for obvious reasons does not have a large circulation or commercial impact. But still it somehow manages to find itself in the hands of Clark in the Museum and its contents have significant meaning and relevance to him. Communications, literature and publications survive in a world that is considered doomed. That is a powerful message in a novel in an age where literature and publishing is still largely, and essentially, profit-driven.

I could go into more detail, but perhaps it’s best to leave the reader to see more for themselves! I highly recommend this book, to those who are lovers of the genre, but also to those who are looking for something a little different to try. Well done Emily St John Mandel!

Introducing Bookshop Owner Joanna De Guia


Victoria Park Books
174 Victoria Park Road
London, E9 7HD

@VictoriaParkBks

joanna@victoriaparkbooks.co.uk
www.victoriaparkbooks.co.uk

I am so pleased to be able to feature an interview with a bookshop owner; it’s always been kind of a quiet dream of mine to work in a bookshop. Today’s interviewee is a children’s book store owner who is located in London and who is very passionate about books, children’s literature, and the world of publishing. A vital cog within the publishing machine, the bookseller is one of the most important and influential people in inciting passion and enthusiasm for reading. To be able to do that for children must be a wonderful thing – if I am an example of how childhood reading can play a part in a person’s future career, then encouraging children to read, and to love to read, is essential.

Joanna De Guia, owner of Victoria Park Books in London, has very kindly conducted this interview with me and gives a fascinating and illuminating look into the world of book selling and how the publishing industry has changed things massively for the bookseller over the years..

When you convert a child to reading you know you are potentially having an effect that could improve the quality of their life and job opportunities.

I notice you used to work for Waterstones. What would say are the main differences between working for a chain bookshop and your own, independent bookshop?

When I worked for Waterstones it was still a small personal chain owned by Tim so it felt like a local bookshop.  I was in the High St Ken branch and we bought stock with our local customers in mind.  There wasn’t a core stock list then or centralised buying.  That all came in much later.  The main difference then was that we weren’t set up for customer orders as we were so big the idea was that people came in and would find something that would fit their requirements in the shop.  As a small independent we can’t do that as we don’t have the room or the capital.  So our customer ordering is key.

You first worked for Waterstones in the 80’s. How would you say things have changed in the industry between now and then?

It has changed beyond all recognition. The number of books published has increased exponentially so it is now necessary to return stock.  This wasn’t necessary when I worked at Waterstones and in my Mum’s shop, or indeed allowed. Once a book became old stock you put it in the reduced section as there just wasn’t that much in the way of new titles to keep up with.  There were several high street chains then (Smiths, Ottakers, Dillons, Books etc).  Now there is really only one, which is Waterstones.  There was a NET Book Agreement which meant that no retailer could undercut on price except if they were prepared to take a hit on their own profit margins.  There was no Amazon; no online.  The High Street was King.  Books were proportionately more expensive but people didn’t expect them to be rock bottom prices.  There were several bookdata providers so all retailers had equal access to a list of books in print (on a microfiche!).  Now there is a monopoly of provision –  Neilsen – and small retailers can’t afford to purchase that online access except through a wholesaler which means that information can’t be put onto their websites to indicate their ability to provide any book in print.  There were no e-books so there wasn’t the huge discrepancy between the offer from indies (unable to make much of a profit on e-books as there is no satisfactory scheme for selling e-books available to us) and that from chains and Amazon.  In short the playing field was much more level and the main difference between walking into an indie and a big provider was that you might have to wait 24 hours for a specific title from an indie if they didn’t hold it in stock.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Undoubtedly it is effecting an introduction between a reader and a marvellous book.  This is especially satisfying when one is dealing with kids as there is now so much competition for their free time and when you make a convert to reading you know you are potentially having an effect that could improve the quality of their life and job opportunities. I love inventing and running reading festivals and events and reminding children of how much fun reading can be.

Have you found that having your own children allowed you to understand the demands for quality children’s books?

Without a doubt! It is like working in a sweetshop when you have kids and if something especially delicious is shown there is always “one for us” added to the order.  Plus I know how deadly dull the process of learning to read is now in schools with everybody required to teach phonics and only phonics.  Being able to show children that books are actually a source of pleasure and not just something you have to do to pass an exam ensures lifelong reading and opens up a whole world of enjoyment. 

You have recently branched out into selling e-books. When did this begin and has this been successful so far? (If it’s too soon to tell, how successful do you expect it to be?)

I don’t think we have sold a single e-book!  The e-book market has been completely cornered by the cut-price big players (Amazon beyond everything and then Waterstone’s and Foyles and Blackwells – all online).  Indies get a laughable cut of profits – between 5 and 15% – and so even if you offer the opportunity to buy on your website (and we do) why would anybody do that when they could buy it from one of the others for so much less?

How important is it for your business that the customer trusts your staff’s advice? Do you find it has a big impact on sales?

My staff read a lot and have opinions about what they like and don’t like and they recommend titles happily.  Recommendations are crucial for indies.  A customer may come in for something specific which we are very likely not to have (given the number of books published and the amount of space and money we have). We can suggest other similar (possibly better) things and thus ensure a sale.  The people who use us best are those who are happy to be open to something new and unexpected rather than somebody coming for something specific which is immediately available.

How do you measure your bookshop’s success? Hard sales, or customer satisfaction and loyalty? How do ensure you continue to be successful?

Both hard sales and customer satisfaction are crucial yardsticks. However without hard sales it doesn’t matter how satisfied customers are; we cannot continue.  So the final measure is whether we make a profit.  I don’t know if I would describe us as successful yet. Our customers definitely love us and so do “our” authors.  And some of our publishers love us too.  And we have a legacy already of reading events and children who without us would not have developed a love of reading.  But it is such a struggle and the industry is so clueless about how to deal with its independent sector.  And high street shopping appears to be dying a slow and painful death right now.  There is very little help out there for small businesses.  The banks are sitting on our money and refusing to lend it to ensure survival.  It is quite hard to see where the future lies. 

In what ways would you say your bookshop is unique? How do you go above and beyond for your customers?

All indies are unique.  That is what is great and what is annoying about them.  They reflect their community and the personality of the owners and staff.  We reflect this specifically in the stock we sell and the books which interest us.  We stock books which would never sell outside London or a big city; showing diverse communities and liberal lifestyles.  The events we run are very realistic in their aims, understanding that most of our potential customers come from very poor families (Hackney is the second poorest borough and Tower Hamlets is the poorest borough in the country – and we border both) and/or from non-English speaking families.  Therefore we need to evangelise about reading and ensure it is the most exciting thing those children encounter – more exciting than their Xbox or the latest Pixar movie!  We go above and beyond what is expected of a corporate bookshop which only needs to show a profit.  We feel we should be selling children quality and not the latest pap.  But the quality has to be fun to read and sometimes pap is necessary to entice children into reading something better.  We have a great responsibility to our young customers.  We know them all and have watched many of them grow from primary school to A Level students and make their move out into the real world.

Your bookshop is based in London. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

The advantages are that reps still visit London bookshops regularly so we are more up-to-date on new titles; and we have a significant population.  However we are not on a high street as such.  Very few indies can afford to be placed so well now.  We are in a (lovely) backwater of boutique-y shops.  But this means we don’t get the footfall you would get on a high street, even one outside of a big city.  We don’t have the disadvantages of leasing our building – London rents are extortionate and I have no idea how anybody keeps going having to pay those – but our business rates are affected by the relatively high cost of renting and so we pay more rates. We didn’t have the problems of having to contend with out of town shopping centres…until they built Westfield 20 minutes away in Stratford.  Now we have a Foyles right on our doorstep, alongside a Primark and a John Lewis, etc, etc. So the attractions of mall shopping are becoming apparent. Mostly the advantages of being in London are personal; I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else!

What are your goals for the future?

Our goals are to survive.  And to continue to produce our reading festival at Shoreditch Town Hall – Town Hall Tales – and to make a success of our bookstall at the Half Moon Theatre in Limehouse.  And eventually to be able to pay myself a reasonable salary; nothing greedy mind, just enough to make a proper contribution to the household bills which are not particularly high!

What do you and your partner most enjoy reading? What do your children most enjoy reading?

I read anything at all.  But the things I have read recently which I loved are the new Michel Faber – The Book of Strange New Things – and a new book unpublished ‘til May called The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger.  I guess I especially like literary novels with a great plot.  And I love graphics – Fun Home by Alison Bechdel being one I read last year which blew me away. And then I love reading anything by Shaun Tan and good gritty kids’ fiction like Sally Gardner and E Lockhart.

Cris likes crime fiction and has just finished the Gold Finch by Donna Tartt.

Tilly and I are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird and she loves graphics – Jane, the Fox and Me, for example. She gets the Phoenix comic every week – and she reads absolutely anything from picture books to teen novels to poetry.  She is obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent trilogy and the Hunger Games.  And we are especially fond of Carol Anne Duffy. 

Which would you say has been your most rewarding job/career so far and why?

I have had many careers(!) and even more jobs.  I am quite old!  I have probably found the bookshop my most rewarding so far but also my most stressful because it is my thing.  I created it from scratch so its successes are all mine.  But so are its failures.  Mostly I am proud of every child we convert to reading for pleasure and every book we recommend which we get a positive report on!

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Have you shopped here before? What did you think of your experience? Or perhaps you know of a similar book store that you would like to recommend and publicize? Please, let’s get discussing and as always leave a comment below!

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