Monday, March 27, 2006

What we hope to achieve

Hi – I’m Mark, the other half of Mostly Books. What I hope to achieve with this blog is:
  • Try to understand what makes a successful bookshop, and;
  • Share with others what we learn

It’s worth making the point that both Nicki and I have almost no retail experience, so trying to open a small, independent bookshop in this day and age (furious competition, high street in decline, long-hours, competition with Amazon, eBay, Borders, AbeBooks, etc.) might seem a tad foolhardy. So we’re going to need all the help we can get. By trying to share how we’re doing I’m hoping that others may share some ideas of where we might be going wrong. This post came from an idea whilst attending the Oxford Literary Festival (currently running in, er, Oxford). I was listening to Melvyn Bragg talking about his new book “12 books that changed the world”. This got me thinking – if I were to ask them (and assuming they could grasp the concept of blogging) what would some of history’s greatest writers have to say on how to succeed in starting a bookshop. So – in full-on “standing on the shoulders of giants” mode – here goes. Any venture must start with belief. A challenging goal must be backed by an almost religious faith that you will – eventually – succeed. Apparently St Augustine (in about 400AD) said “believe so that you may understand”. Belief precedes knowledge (which is why, I guess, people with bags of self confidence always seem to do so well when they are starting up a new venture?). So we need to “keep the faith”. We need to keep feeling that what we are doing is worth it, and that we will – eventually – succeed, despite all the problems that may come our way. OK – we’ve got our faith. Now we need some advice on how to “understand” what makes a successful bookshop. When asked how he had worked out the theories of gravity, Newton gave this profound answer: “by thinking on it continuously” (thanks to Melvyn for this bit). Apparently it took Newton 20 years, working 20-hour days, and by all accounts he was a bit of a loner. We’re hoping that through this blog – with other people thinking along with us – we might understand a bit quicker than this (the bank will insist we pay the loan back in a slightly accelerated timeframe unfortunately). Next stop, Napoleon Hill. He studied the fundamentals of success for 20 years, and the result was “Think and Grow Rich”, one of the world’s biggest selling books on how to succeed. He reckoned that “thoughts are things” – and I take this to mean that once you start to “think” and visualise something, it begins to take on a life of its own. By my reckoning, the more people thinking about the success of our bookshop, the better our chance of success. Nicki and I now have some great pictures in our head of the wonderful experience our customers will have coming into our shop – so now it’s time to make them happen. And (despite my best efforts to find an alternative to this one) the final bit of advice seems to be: get on with it. Steven Covey states “Action” as one of his 7 habits of highly effective people (“all is dust without it” apparently). Richard Bach (he of “Jonathon Livingstone Seagull” fame) wrote “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however." There are plenty of things that still need doing before our self-imposed Summer opening date – so we’d best get cracking…

6 comments:

  1. Hey there,
    Your site is now bookmarked as compulsory reading! This is the kind of story that excites me. We need to maintain independent bookshops.
    Will you promise to give regular updates on how you get on? I am interested to know how you go about things, as I have often dreamed of doing the same thing.
    I wrote a piece this morning on my blog about the pleasure of getting books through the post. Sorry, but I haven't yet turned my back.
    What gets me into a bookshop is the choice and selection, the enthusiasm (about books) of the staff, a cosy atmosphere (why not coffee, a couch?), a warm effort to link with the writing community (noticeboards, discussion groups, sigings, launches). I also like a bookshop that does some digging for me: recommending new writers; putting on special displays about writers from different countries; resurrecting lost favoutites and forgotten award winners.
    I could go on and on, but I will save it for another time. I will watch this space with interest.

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  2. Thanks Shameless - we were well-chuffed by your comments, thank you! Apart from shamelessly stealing your ideas (which seemed to me to be a top-ten list of bookselling success) we definitely promise to keep you informed of progress, with regular updates.

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  3. Amanda11:06 PM

    How about offering something no one else offers eg a large print book section? You'd then need to publicise it - maybe a poster in the local optician's or anywhere else people go on a regular basis, as well as local paper etc.

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  4. Chains generally don't have either a romance section or a historical novel section, so how about having both in your shop?

    If you wanted to join the Romantic Novelists' Association as an associate member

    http://www.rna-uk.org/
    http://www.rna-uk.org/join.html

    you would have a chance to meet local authors at RNA events, and perhaps arrange book signings, talks etc which would generate publicity for your shop and provide added interest for customers.
    You could also publicise events at the shop through the RNA's elist.

    And if you wanted to join the Historical Novel Society

    http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/

    you would meet a lot of people who love historical novels, and who would be the kind of people who would become loyal customers. They might even welcome an article about setting up an independent book shop, which would publicise your shop. If you left the HNS magazines in your coffee area, it would be an added attraction, particularly as they produce a review magazine 4 times a year.

    And how about a historical romance section? Try contacting those lovely ladies at Historical Romance UK :)

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  5. It's an interesting point that bookstores don't generally have a special section for romantic fiction. I wonder why this is? Obviously it works well for crime and science fiction.
    It will certainly be fun experimenting with how to present titles to see what works best.
    Current interesting things our research has shown is that people prefer to browse tables than shelves and that 30% of sales will come from the books put in the first few feet of space, so first impressions are really important.
    Thanks also for the tip about the RNA being a good way to meet authors happy to do book signings.

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  6. I have just stumbled across your blog and thought you might like to know what annoys me most about my local indie then you can do the opposite and have 'em pouring in the doors.
    1)They take your money whilst talking on the phone or worse eating a pastie (this is a biggish clue as to where in the country this might be!)and then heaven forfend leave big greasy pawprints all over your lovely book.
    2)I try to buy in there but why should I have to pay for a book to be ordered even if it is from a smallish publisher when I can go home and buy if half the price anyway from you-know-who?
    3)They do nothing community based. Suggestions about reading groups met with derision and claims of "far too difficult, people would argue"
    4)They gossip loudly behind the counter, I have heard some very derisory things about people I know.Very embarrassing.
    5)I have been going in there for years but they still don't know my name or try to engage me in conversation at the till.
    6)They haven't read the books!
    Good luck with your shop and when I know where it is we'll sell up and move there.
    http:dovegreyreader.blogsource.com

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