One of the fun aspects of working in a bookshop is that you get to choose what books you sell. In my early days at Waterstones we were each given responsibility for different areas of the shop and it was our job, as booksellers, to decide which titles were stocked on the shelves. Obviously, this kind of responsibility wasn't given lightly and you had to prove you understood the idea of budgeting and marketing before you could fully take over an area of the shop. You were also responsible for returning books that didn't sell, displaying the books within whatever framework Waterstone's was working on at the time, and essentially ensuring that your area of the shop was as profitable as it could be. However, the satisfaction that I got from finding a book with potential, ordering a pile for the table, or 3 or 4 copies to face out on the bookshelves and watching it sell was immense, and it's one of the reasons why I enjoy doing what I do so much.
Things have changed at Waterstone's, and as the company got bigger, more and more responsibility has moved to Head Office. The booksellers are no longer responsible for most of the buying decisions in the shop, or for that matter what books are returned. It's a world of Checklists, Planagrams and Stickering. I'm not saying this is worse, simply that it's different and not my idea of fun. In some ways, it was inevitable that this would happen. As companies get bigger it becomes harder to control all the different areas of the business. So the obvious solution would seem to be to take all the control away and do everything yourself. Another alternative might be to trust the people you employed to do the job that you employed them to do in the first place, but what do I know. They're clearly making more money than we are, so well done chaps.
Anyway, the point of this post was something that I wrote earlier on about choosing books and satisfaction in watching it sell. The thing is, publishers have different methods in persuading us bookshops to sell their books and one of these methods is to send us 'Proofs'.
A Proof is in most cases a paperbacked copy of a new soon to be published book sent out to bookshops or reviewers as sweeteners. For bookshops, proofs are meant to help the recipient decide whether they like it enough to stock it. Most of the time the contents are exactly the same as the published copy, though they occasionally contain few extra typos (a bit like this blog).
We love getting proofs and they work very well (if any publishers are reading this and want to add us on their list of people to send proofs to, please feel free).
Examples of books that we've chosen and sold loads of because of reading a proof include, Meat by Joseph D'Lacey, Suicide Room by Jean Teule, Company of Liars by Karen Maitland and The Isle of Dogs by Daniel Davies. One that we're going to be selling lots of which has just been published is Legend of A Suicide by David Vann of which more later this week.
However we get lots of them. Far too many for us to read ourselves. So what do we do with them?
Last year, we tried book crossing, and we left about 150 books in various places around Wood Green, including buses, restaurants, coffee shops, telephone boxes and one or two in WH Smith with 'here's a free book from the Big Green Bookshop' stuck on the front cover. We don't know how successful it was, because we had nobody come in and tell us they'd found a copy of any of the books...
This year, we're going to try something else, which is hopefully going to be more beneficial all round. And here it is.
We'd like to give our blog readers and customers the proofs ... hang on, it's not as simple as that, so here's the plan.
You get in touch and say, I'd like to be part of your Big Green proof reading team. We'll then invite you to choose a proof to read.
This is where your part of the deal comes in. You will then read the book and tell us what you think of it, in the form of a review. It could be good or bad, but we'd like a review.
We can the use these reviews on our blog/website/shop to give our customers something to help them decide whether to buy the book or not.
Here's the small print.
We can't afford to post the books to you, as there are hundreds, so if you live too far away to pick them up by hand, we'll send you a list of proofs we've got and once you've chosen one, we'll charge you £2.00 per book to post. This will cover the cost of post and packing and nothing more.
We'll do this free book thing about 3 or 4 times a year.
If you don't send a review, we'll have to take you off the list. It's only fair.
When you send the reviews we'll credit you with the review, but you agree that we can use it.
We will stamp the books so you can't sell them on ebay, although clearly you wouldn't do that because it's very very naughty.
I hope that all sounds fun. Our customers already dictate a lot of what we stock in the shop, as they're the people who buy the books, so it's really an extension of that.
So please let us know if you're interested.