Saturday, 4 August 2012

Waterstones changes store guidance on events

It was reported in the Bookseller that Waterstones have a new policy on author visits. They say they are ‘moving away from open-ended, handselling events and asking shops to focus on well-rounded event programmes that are more engaging in the long term.' It seems they want store managers to focus on events that draw readers, unless you are a local author who is launching a book or the kind of author who draws a crowd.

The news has been met with some dismay by self-published authors who all say that they’ve sold hundreds of their books in stores and never had a complaint.

In some ways, I quite like the new policy. I’ve done quite a few Waterstones signings and have always felt uncomfortable handselling my books. Personally, I hate it when someone approaches me in ANY kind of shop.

My pitch is always very low-key. I will approach people scanning the 9-12 shelves, tell them a little about my book, leave a postcard and go and sit down again. Sometimes, when it’s clear they aren’t looking for the kind of book I write, I’ll recommend something entirely different.

I’ve never had a complaint either.

But I don’t know if people have felt pressured.

I don’t know if my approach is unwelcome.

I do know that my books are well written, well edited, well designed, and popular with the children they are aimed at and so I can approach people with confidence.

There is a certain single-mindedness, an obsession that all authors have. You need it to write tens of thousands of words and string them into a cracking story. Sometimes that spills over into rampant self-promotion. You know how it feels, you friend someone on facebook because they’re an author and suddenly you’re swamped by wall posts about their latest book, links to their website, links to the latest reviews.

As a children’s author, I will do events. I love them. I’ll team up with local independent booksellers, with Waterstones and we’ll entertain, educate and sell lots of books. Everyone’s happy. In bookshops, I’ll try to turn the signing into an event, bring a band in or have my good friend Simon South performing magic tricks by my side.

I’m not sure how that works for adult writers – you may have written a gripping tale of espionage and betrayal set in Napoleonic France but how do you convey that into an event? A historical talk? Could be hard to pull the punters in. A writer’s workshop? Not all readers want to be writers and have they heard of you? Catch 22 methinks.

So I’m left confused as usual. My heart goes out to those authors self-published or otherwise who may be left high and dry by this. On the other hand, bring on the well-rounded events. I’ll lap ‘em up! I’m off to Waterstones Birkenhead now to run a writing workshop for children. There might be four children there, there might be twenty or none but it builds a local fan base and the staff there are lovely too!