Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I have always been a glass-half-full kind of person – especially if the glass is a wine glass. Those who see the glass half-empty have been sounding the death knell of books and bookselling for almost as long as I can remember now.
Bookselling is not the same as it used to be, that’s for sure, but it’s also nowhere near dead and gone. It’s just different. That March wind outside your frosted window this morning is also a wind of change. And, as a book lover or as an author, if you tap into that difference or change, well, really, the sky’s the limit.
Independents have closed down, chains have grown, on-line businesses have emerged, and books have appeared at the drugstore and grocery store. Some of these changes have been very painful to watch and some surprising. But as in many kinds of changes, it can also mean more opportunities – or at least some different ones.
More years ago than I can comfortably count using all of my fingers and toes, I started in the book business, working as a bookseller and manager for one of the big chains, which wasn’t so big then or seen as so evil, and then much later switched to another chain as a manager and buyer.
Even when there were sales reports and payroll to do in the office, the highlight of every day was being on the sales floor chatting to customers and being asked for a book or author suggestion. And I remember stealing one great idea to put out bookmarks that said, “If you like Sue Grafton, then you’ll like these 3 authors too.”
My favourite job was a busy airport location, where customers had limited pre-flight time to grab an interesting book before inching through security. So many of these frequent flyers were huge readers and of discriminating taste. (I thought they were discriminating, as they took my suggestions!) There is nothing more satisfying to a real bookseller than a return customer begging for more, “Loved the L.R. Wright, what else can you suggest?”
So what does a budding author do, with so many of the small, friendly neighbourhood bookstores rapidly disappearing, and with them those traditional experts at handselling one by one, their new favourite mystery? And what does a booklover do who counted on those same experts to connect them to their next author discovery?
Handselling is still around, it is just dressed differently. Instead of having so many bricks and mortar destination choices to discover the next Cold Mountain or Angela’s Ashes in, we just need to see things differently.
Years ago, several of us book types attended a Parliament Hill literacy fundraiser. While the rest of us were sipping the free champagne and ogling the array of political and literary celebs, our budding mystery author friend was charming and working her way around the room while collecting MPs and Heritage Ministers. As Randy Jackson would say, “And that’s how it’s done!” There are opportunities everywhere; the key is to see them and to recognize them, even to create your own buzz.
Women are astonishingly good at doing this, as we love to get together, to form groups, to sip wine and share the scoop, and really to find any excuse to get out and to get together. We form book clubs, work groups, sports groups and social groups (I belong to The Pink Bra Society, a great example, as it is a glorified reason to eat all the food groups, sip wine together & laugh. Also to exchange books).
And readers find each other on-line as well, on places like Good Reads, the Word-of-Mouth page on Book Reporter, Facebook, and even Oprah’s Book Club. Through all of these groups, readers share a new found author or book discovery, and it then spreads like wildfire. That is how The Secret Daughter became a Canadian bestseller. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
I recently invited a diverse group of friends from my book club, from work, and from my neighbourhood, to my second annual Author Evening. I invited my mystery author friend, who now has many published books under her belt, to come and speak and read to my friends while we all sipped wine and nibbled dessert (we fed my friend too!). She struck a chord, signed her books and made connections with each of the women present, and some went home to read late into the night in the excitement of discovering a new author.
It is the savvy author who can network their books through the use of all of these new and perhaps not-so-new ways of connecting those who write with those who love to read. So sit back, put your reading glasses on and fill up that half-full glass of wine. That March wind of change is bringing spring with it and all of the newness of life and new books that it always brings.
Catherine Lee (Cathy) is a college textbook buyer in Ottawa, has been a bookseller and book buyer by trade for most of her life, and is a member of 2 book clubs. She became a book lover on her parents’ knees at story time & by flashlight under the bed sheets. One of her greatest pleasures is sharing great books with friends, of course while sipping wine.