A Problem I’d Love to Have

Last week’s Bookseller reports on an innovative marketing ploy from Little, Brown: anonymous proofs sent out to booksellers with the challenge to guess the author (‘LB plays guess the mystery author’ Issue No. 5330, 2 May 2008, p.13). Commenting on the ploy, Nicola Hill, the company’s Marketing Director, said,

It’s a different way of getting people to read proofs. People get a million of them every day…

A million every day! Now that, truly, is a problem I’d love to have! Not really a million, of course — but some, please! It seems a long time ago but I’ll never forget my early days as a bookseller with Books Etc at Heathrow Terminal 4: a fantastic place to learn the art of bookselling, non-stop customers, a constant buzz.

And publishers who loved us — at least, so it seemed to me. I knew they loved us because they gave us copies of their books: they couldn’t give us enough! Books galore: advance proofs, finished bound copies, an endless stream of books, books, books. But what they really loved was the sales that inevitably resulted: as we, the booksellers, read the books, we’d enthuse about them to our customers — and nothing sells books better than personal recommendation. Hand-selling, the marketeers called it, though we never sold any books except by hand.

Mealtime Habits of the MessiahThen my good friend Conrad Gempf — author of Jesus Asked and Mealtime Habits of the Messiah — contacted me: “We need you at LBC,” he said, “the bookshop manager’s leaving and we need someone who knows books and theology.” How could I refuse? The opportunity of a lifetime to combine my theological education with my bookselling experience: I was outtathere faster than Concorde! Anyone remember Concorde? (Somewhere along the line I guess I should mention a year in between selling books on Ruislip High Street, but that’s kinda faded into the background…)

And so I became a specialist Christian bookseller… and my supply of books dried up.

Christian publishers, it turned out, and Christian divisions of the secular publishing houses, were a breed apart. Marketing consisted of catalogues and reps info sheets, but no books for booksellers. OK, I tell a lie: very few books for booksellers. But we’re talking about flood dried up to less than a trickle, to less than the equivalent of a tap dripping: instead of a dozen or more every week, barely two or three per year! Free books for booksellers? What a bizarre idea! I asked around other Christian booksellers: they’d never worked in the secular trade; they didn’t read the Bookseller; they really didn’t know what what was going on in the wider bookselling world.

Thankfully Conrad came to the rescue again: not content with having taught me everything I know about the New Testament; not content with having dragged me back to LBC (or LST as it’s now known), he wanted me to write book reviews. So I did. And I still do. And I’ve recruited others to the cause — and the publishers love me again: as I sit here typing I am surrounded by piles and piles of books pending review and seeking reviewers. I am surely the most blessed bookseller on the planet: I am in booklover’s heaven.

But what of my fellow Christian booksellers? Must they continue to go without? Christian publishers, wake up! Let me say again: nothing sells books better than personal recommendation. Hand-selling, if that’s what you want to call it. And how shall they recommend if they have not read the books? If you believe in your books enough to do a print run, believe in the people you want to sell them: run off a few extra, send them to selected booksellers and watch your sales rise!

Don’t go over the top like your secular counterparts who buried us so deep we couldn’t see over the top of our proof mountains: but do send enough to at least give us something to talk about.

And to end this appeal on a positive note: thanks to Ruth Roff of HarperCollins who has already responded, having heard this plea at the BA CBG AGM. Ruth says to any Christian booksellers who may be reading:

HarperCollins are very happy to supply such things as and when needed. When we have a new release I will post something on this Blog site with a contact email address for getting hold of material. The first book we’d like to offer is, of course, the new and revised Bible Book (pub August 2008 ) by the excellent Nick Page. If you would like to receive a review copy then please email charlotte.allen@harpercollins.co.uk. This is open to any Christian Bookshop owners.

So come on, booksellers: don’t miss this opportunity for a revolution in the way we sell! And if you write a review of a book you’ve read, please do send it in — to the publisher as well as for featuring here.

5 thoughts on “A Problem I’d Love to Have

  1. Pingback: Highland Books « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  2. Hi Phil,
    Excellent piece and as someone still with a foot in general books that still gets a fair few advance proofs from fiction publishers without prompting I can tell you it still goes on, though not quite as much as it used to though.

    However If booksellers are willing to deal with ebooks and pdf galleys there are a whole host of free books to be had!
    http://www.netgalley.com has loads of American Christian publishers as well as general signed up to it and they are all free to read! (though ideally they’d like you to review them somewhere too – in your shop counts in my book, as does on your shops fb page or blog!)
    Similarly O-books/John Hunt are willing to send pdf copies of their new titles to booksellers to read and review too.
    There’s also the BookSneeze.com blog review programme from Thomas Nelson and they will even send physical copies for some titles sometimes.
    I’ve been reading lots of freebies for years through these programmes, but I do admit that having a real book, whether finished copy or bound proof is always nice, especially if you didn’t have to ask for it first 😀

    Oh and if you ever want an extra bod to read books for you and crib together a few words I’m up for the job ;D

    That said and being cheeky can I put out a request to booksellers, publishes and others reading this – if any of you are interested in getting free books and are willing to write over 150words of review (but generally less than 300words) on them then http://www.thegoodbookstall.org.uk could do with some more reviewers please!
    We could do with a range of reviewers covering different churchmanships and styles from evangelical to charismatic, from catholic to academic!
    You can contact either me – unicorntreebooks (at) aol.com for more info or Mary Bartholomew at editor (at) thegoodbookstall.org.uk.

  3. One of the saddest moments in my history as a bookseller came when I was handed a stack of advance reader copies of upcoming books by a rep, who shall remain nameless.

    This was not the sad part, of course and I snapped his hand off to get them.

    No the sad part was the accompanying comments.

    “I come bearing gifts” he happily announced as he arrived.

    “I’ve been carrying these in my boot for months, and I just don’t know what to do with them… They’re stamped as ARC so it’s not like you can sell them, but they’re yours if you like.”

    So rare and unusual are review copies of books in our niche of the trade that sales reps don’t even know what to do with them when they receive them. They’d been in his boot so long that most were for books which had already been released… so much for the advance part.

    But, and I’ll put it out here now for any authors or publishers reading this, if you want to send proofs my way, I’ll be more than happy to take them.

    I can’t promise I’ll always write a review, but one of our staff will always read them which means that we’re infinitely more likely to recommend them to my customers.

    You can send printed proofs (preferred) to:

    The Hub Christian Resource Centre.
    31 Stafford Street
    WS2 8DG

    or electronic proofs (DRM free if possible please) to: info [at] enterthehub [dot] co [dot] uk


  4. Melanie, you’re on: will email you a shortlist 🙂 … and like you with TGBS, always in need of more reviewers for the UKCBD reviews section too, as it happens. I have a veritable mountain of tomes pending review that I’ll happily post out to willing readers…

  5. Pingback: Seeding the Trade: Free books for booksellers from Alban Books! « The Christian Bookshops Blog

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