Monday, October 31, 2011

World Book Night

World Book Night is happening again next year. Remember last year, when there was all that telly stuff and Traflagar Square and Margaret Atwood did a TV whatsit. It was nice. Well this time it's on April 23rd, a sensible distance away from World Book Day, which is on March 1st. (last year it was a little bit closer, and caused a bit of a kerfuffle). The 25 titles for World Book Night were announced earlier this week. Alison Flood did a piece about it here. I mention this article specifically, because I am quoted in it. Ha ha ha.

The article, among other things, questions whether giving away free books will hurt Independent Bookshops. On a personal level, it makes not the slightest difference to us whatsoever that these books are being given away for free. In reality, we are likely to sell between 2-5 each of these titles a year. In fact 10 of them we don't regularly keep (although all shops stock profiles are different), so in terms of black and white facts, it really isn't that big a deal.

'but if people are reading these books, that means they might not buy a book from you instead'.

Well that is possible, but it is also possible that if the organinsers of World Book Night get it right, it will raise the profile of books and how ace reading is, and then get more people into bookshops, libraries etc.
My concern is that last year, the organisers did NOT get it quite right.

The idea of World Book Night is a good one. Give lots of free books away to people who don't usually have access to books or to people who don't read. Good, I like it.

But how do you get the right books to the right people?

That's incredibly hard. But asking for volunteers take packs of 48 books and expecting them to do it is not, in my humbly bumbly opinion, the right way. These volunteers are wonderful people who want to get involved, but a lot of them are (I suspect) pretty well read. My concern is that the books will often be distributed to these well read group of people's well read group of friends. I know this is not true in lots of cases, but it was certainly true of a number of volunteers who picked up their books from our shop. I am not in any way blaming the volunteers, because all of them clearly wanted to spread the word about reading and gave up their own time to do this. All i'm saying is that I think the point is to give books to people who don't usually have access to books or to people who don't read and there is probably a better way of doing this.


World Book Day is good. Very good. The idea of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own
There's more;
Thanks to the generosity of.....participating booksellers, school children are entitled to receive a World Book Day £1 Book Token. The Book Token can be exchanged for one of the six specially published World Book Day £1 Books or is redeemable against any book or audiobook of their choice at a participating bookshop or book club.

Ooh, now here's an idea. Instead of giving away one from a selection of 24 titles to random people, why don't we give certain people (people who don't usually have access to books or to people who don't read) a voucher up to the value of say £7.99 to buy a book of their choice from a selection of thousands and thousands of titles at any bookshop in the country.
Here are the plus points.
  • People get to choose a book they might actually read.
  • It will get people into bookshops.
  • It's more likely that the people who should benefit from World Book Night, do benefit from it.
  • More people will read books.
  • It is ace
  • There will be no need to print 1,000,000 extra books with special covers n' stuff because the books that people want will already be on the shelves. Hurrah.
There are negative points too, like not everybody will use the vouchers (did everyone read the free book they got given last year), and i'm sure that it will be impossible to target 100% accurately the poeple most in need of these vouchers. But I suspect that if a little research was done to work out those people most worthy of the vouchers (area's with lowest literacy, highest unemployment etc), then it would be totally brilliant.
The cost of the scheme could be shared by everyone (government, publishers, bookshops, BA and the like), and WBN is a charity too so that's good.
Well anyway, that's my idea.

Here's a picture of  a kitten with some cute ducklings

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

London Tales.

I met Greg Stekelman a few years ago. Probably just after Waterstone's in Wood Green closed down in 2007. I absolutely loved his book A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep, and wanted to get in touch with the author to let him know. The book sadly went out of print, as the publishers went bust (this is becoming a theme of my blogposts). Rather than having his book pulped, Greg sensibly bought a few hundred copies from the administrators. You can read a longer version of this story, plus an interview I did with Greg in 2008 right here.
I was very proud that our bookshop was the only one that sold Greg's book, which we got directly from him, and it was probably the most consistently bestselling book we have stocked. Inevitably, Greg ran out of copies earlier this year, such was its popularity.
I had spoken to Greg last year about the idea of publishing a book with him. Initially the idea was to re-issue his original book with a few changes, but Greg was getting some really positive feedback from some of the illustrations that he had been doing and he persuaded me that a collection of these would actually be a much more exciting project. And London Tales was born.
We wanted the book to be something special. A lavish, beautifully produced collectors item, which complimented Greg's wonderful atmospheric drawings. Here are a couple of them to give you a taste of what I mean.

The book slowly took shape and sure enough a new London (fairy)Tale was written.
What Greg has done is incredible. The book contains the dreamlike quality of his first book, but what London Tales offers is a new perspective on London and the people who find themselves living here.

Such a special book needed to be presented in a special way, and as such there is a limited edition of  just 250 copies. Each will be signed by Greg, and the first 50 copies ordered will contain a personalised hand-drawn London Tales postcard. The book costs £40

Here is the final product. I hope you like it.
The book will be published on November 10th, but you are able to pre-order copies by going to the London Tales microsite here. Please take a look.

I shall share with you all the story of how Timeline Books, my new publishing company came about later, because right now, it's all about the book. As it should be.

Thank you for reading this.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Beautiful Books

A couple of weeks ago I read this on Beautiful Books website;

"Today, 11th October 2011, Beautiful Books entered administration. For information regarding the administration of the company, please contact Leonard Curtis...All the employees at Beautiful Books would like to thank everyone with whom we have worked over the past six years."

Now I really like Beautiful Books and this made me very sad indeed. They have published some of my favourite books of the last few years. Let me give you a couple of examples.

1. Meat by Joseph D'Lacey. Actually this is published by Bloody Books (the horror arm of Beautiful Books) and I have said lovely things about this book on the blog. I did an interview with Joseph here, and also Joseph was the first author to come and do a signing at the shop...two weeks before we even opened. Here's a link to that story. Beautiful books consequently went on to publish Garbage Man by Joseph and also the wonderful horror of Bill Hussey too. If you like eco-horror, or think you might, then Meat is the book for you. Or at least it was.

2. Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald. Alex is/was one of our customers and came into the shop one day asking if I wouldn't mind reading the first chapter of a book he'd been writing for the last seven years. He'd only showed one other person his book and I was totally blown away that he had asked for my opinion. That evening, I read the first chapter, and for the second time that day I was totally blown away. The incredible imagery and power behind Alex's writing was a real pleasure, and the next morning I called him and demanded that I see the rest of the book.
It was me who suggested to Alex that he should contact Simon Petherick, the MD of Beautiful Books to show him his novel. And I was so pleased when Simn showed the same enthusiasm as me for Alex's book. It would be a real shame if nobody picked up this little masterpiece and gave it a new home.

Not only did Beautiful Books publish some great stuff (other titles include Role Models by John Waters, The Glassblower of Murano by Marino Fiorato, 17 by Bill Drummond, The Wreckng Ball, The Sweet Smell of Decay by Paul Lawrence and The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy), they also were one of the most innovative publishers around. The way they marketed the books was refreshing and infectious, as was their enthusiasm for the books they sold. I was lucky enough to work with Beautiful Books on a number of occasions and each time I did it was a real treat.

There are probably lots of reasons why BB went into administration and i'm sure there are many unhappy people who are far more directly involved as a little bookshop in Wood Green. I hope all the legal issues are sorted out and a satisfactory conclusion is reached.
But I didn't want to let this news pass without sayng how sorry I am that it happened. That's all.