“Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends,” wrote Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical Oklamhoma! Same goes for indie bookshops and indie writers. If we both help each other, we both benefit.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. The Green Street screen writer and author Dougie Brimson recently told the We’d Like A Word books and authors podcast (full disclosure – I’m one of the presenters) about his unhappy experience with independent bookshops. He contacted more than 20 of them about his latest book In The Know. Most didn’t respond. Two said they’d order it only if customers asked for it. Not surprisingly, Dougie wasn’t impressed and now points potential buyers to Amazon. So much for us all being in it together, sez he.
As Dougie might have put it, in Oklahoma! lyrics…
I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else
But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!
For me, heaven is a bookshop. However long I’ve spent in bookshops is not long enough. I want bookshop visitors – the word guests seems more appropriate – to see my book Blackwatertown on the shelves when it is published on July 23rd. Or to see it if they browse bookshop websites. So I’ve contacted loads of them. Even more than Dougie. A lot more. 150 maybe, across Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. And a handful in the USA. (Sorry if I’ve left you out so far – it’s a long job. Please nudge me.)
Most have not – yet – responded. But then again my timing is awful. There’s a pandemic on. Doors are closed. Staff are furloughed. Businesses are struggling to survive. Bookshops are scrambling to adjust.
But some bookshops have responded. And that’s wonderful. Even if only to say “we don’t sell that sort of thing” (“nor that sort neither” when I had a go at reframing how I described Blackwatertown). Nearly every response has been friendly and encouraging.
The best have been along the lines of “yes, we’ll definitely stock your book” or “yes, I’ve just put in an order.” You can see them on my website on the Buy The Book page. One of the best bookshops in the world, No Alibis in Belfast, was the first to order in copies. Their halo shines bright.
And now the delightful Little Bookshop in beautiful Cookham (Berkshire) by the Thames, has gone a stage further. They’ve featured Blackwatertown on their newsletter to all their bookshop regulars. That feels very much like we’re both in it together.
As the song says…
The farmer should be sociable with the cowboy
If he rides by an’ ask fer food an’ water
Don’t treat ‘im like a louse
Make ‘im welcome in your house
I’m feeling that Blackwatertown and I am being made very welcome in the Little Bookshop and all the shops near and far that are making a small space on their shelves or on their website for us. Thank you.
As the coronavirus lockdown eases and bookshops begin to reopen, please go visit them if it’s safe for you. Or check out what they’re offering on their websites. (I can recommend some very good ones…)