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.
Then 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.