A fantastic day

We had a wonderful, inspirational day yesterday and visited the Independent bookseller of the Year, Wenlock Books in Much Wenlock.

The owner, Anna Dreda, could not have been more helpful or welcoming and gave us some brilliant pointers about ranges and titles to sell, new ideas (eg a children's book group) and was generally a source of much inspiration. Most importantly the whole bookshop gave us a first-hand feeling of how much atmosphere can be steeped into a good bookshop by someone with a deep love of books. Thank you Anna for showing us so much kindness and giving us something so clear to aspire to. I can heartily recommend a trip to anyone.

You can read in the visitors book that people literally come from all over the world to drop in and appreciate how a bookshop should be. Anna also dipped into our blog while we were digging around in her shop and commiserated with my enormous task of getting all the ISBN numbers for all the books we want to stock. This has taken an unbelievable amount of time, so much so that I started having nightmares that we would only get to 't' before we opened and wondering whether we could simply turn it into a quirk of the shop of the 'oh no we don't bother to stock anything after the letter T, don't you know no-one reads Minette Walters any more' kind. But I am getting there. I don't know exactly why I thought there would be a simple way, but slogging at the computer hour after hour is the only method I have come up with. Apart from bribing my eleven-year-old nephew with all the Dr Who and goosebumps stories he can read. He's been totally brilliant and we shall be assured a good range of Roald Dahl and Captain Underpants.

So with ten days to opening, how are we faring? Our first order has gone in with Gardners and they have been utterly brilliant and are delivering it TODAY. About twenty boxes. We are unfeasibly excited. The plan is still to sneak in our books around the cookware, building shelves in the evening and gradually turning the shop from mostly a cookshop to mostly a bookshop over the course of this week.

We did have a vague idea that we might not need to fix the bookcases to the wall until we were absolutely sure where they were going to go. But with the listing floor of our listed building we rejected this on health and safety ground as we didn't want anyone suing before we'd even opened by being trampled by 100 Lonely Planet titles.

The first stock order is mostly our cookery, garden, homes and lifestyle titles, which will fit in best with the current look and feel of the shop. These were the easiest titles to come up with, although it was a bit of a lesson because when I went through the list getting all the ISBN numbers I did slowly realise that actually most the stock in our shop is going to be a basic extension of the sort of books we have at home. And I thought I was being so objective.

Thus we have quite a stash of titles on healthy living, aren't trees wonderful, going for long walks and you too can grow carrots in an unfeasibly small space. And not a lot on, say, bonsai. (wouldn't every right-minded person prefer to grow tomatoes?) So as long as all our customers are slightly green, keen cooks who like getting their hands dirty we'll be fine.

The fiction has been more problematic as I have desperately tried not to be too judgmental and only include titles I feel I can personally recommend. So going through on my ISBN trawl I have been guilty of thinking 'oh no I read that and it was terrible' and then noticing it's the top one hundred bestseller and gritting my teeth and keeping it in the list. It has not been easy. Even worse, I notice that my highlighted list of 'hot summer reads' is actually mostly my personal list of what I would like to read after the pent-up demand of enforced non-book-buying over the last few months. And I do appreciate I have slightly quirky taste and am now pondering whether the biography of Mrs Beeton is really likely to be considered a 'hot summer read' by anyone other than myself. Still, there you go.

The other problem is that I have a vivid picture of myself slapping people's hand's away as they try to buy the latest Kate Atkinson and snapping I HAVEN'T HAD A CHANCE TO READ THAT YET. (Wouldn't you prefer a nice book on bonsai?) and keep sneakily hoping that no-one turns up to buy anything so I can just lock the door and get on with some serious reading. But it's probably just all down to too many hours at the keyboard tracking down ISBN numbers.

Anyway. We have chic and charming cards, penguin book mugs, charlie and lola notelets and pencil sets all converging on the shop over the next few days. All we need is some customers to buy them. Let's hope it rains. Our major disaster for this week was that we had called BT months ago to check how easy it was to change the phone line and keep the number and install broadband. As they said it was all perfectly simple and only needed a couple of days' notice, we shifted it to the bottom of our somewhat lengthy to do list. Only to discover on phoning on Monday that it's all hideously complicated and will take forever. Not ideal as we have our computerised real-time, on-line stock control and ordering system arriving on Tuesday, about three months ahead of having any phone line.

Mark did get slightly annoyed during the course of the conversation and I have to say, Mark never, ever gets annoyed with anyone. But the upshot is that we can actually keep the same telephone number, which is fortunate as it is appearing all over the 5,000 bags we have ordered which are also arriving just-in-time this week.

Anyway, I shall now let Mark put in some photos of Wenlock books and say thank you once again to Anna. And add what a pleasure it was to actually allow myself to buy some books. I am especially looking forward to Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now. We hope one day that Mostly Books will be the sort of treasure that people will come miles to visit.


  1. It was lovely to meet Nicki, Mark and Alex and I am cheering from the sidelines as they move towards their opening day. What a brave venture (especially the bit about not closing while thye move in!) I really wish them every success, and feel sure that they will be fantastic booksellers.

    Anna Dreda.

  2. When our first store -- The Children's Bookstore -- opened in Chicago on September 7, 1985, I was shocked to find myself being forced to take the books people were bringing to me at the cash register, ring them up, place them in a bag, and PERMIT these people to take my books out of the store and away. The fact that they'd given me some money in exchange certainly did not make up for the absence of the book from my shelves. Of course I did get used to this sensation, but at first it really felt like a form of legal theft that these people were getting away with. Those were MY books.

    Also extremely disturbing at first was the fact that people would open the front door, walk into what after several months of building and preparation certainly felt like MY living room -- wander around, pick things up and put them down -- ignore me! -- and then simply wander back out the door having chosen nothing to buy.

    So -- when they bought something, it was awful. And when they didn't buy something it was worse.

    Just thought I'd write something cheery.

  3. Actually the hardest thing is when someone brings a book from the second hand section to the counter; maybe you didn't even know it was there, or maybe it was a much loved favourite of yours that you donated to the shop in a weak moment years earlier and had forgotten all about. Oh how you want to hold on to that book! Especially as the chances are that you will never be able to find another copy of it! So far, I have always managed to let the customer buy the book, but I do sometimes have to satisfy myself that its going to a really good home where it will be much loved (and please bring it back here when you've finished with it!) Selling new books is a cinch in comparison!

    By the way, many years ago I visited Women and Children First in Chicago; do you know that shop? I loved it.

    Anna Dreda.

  4. dovegreyreader waving at Anna across the blogwaves. I've never set foot in Wenlock Books but I think I know from past conversations exactly how Anna's shop would feel as I walked in.
    So we're in the delivery room are we? Nearly there,one last push and you'll be done!
    I've bitten my nails alongside you all the way and am wishing you many buying customers for the opening and beyond.

  5. As of last night - we had some books on the shelves (our first Gardners order). The experience was both exhilarating and terrifying; it was amazing to see what our baby is starting to look like, but terrifying to see just how few shelves 20 odd boxes of books fill up...some pictures tomorrow hopefully after another full day fitting new shelves.

  6. Anna,

    Yes, the owners of Women & Children First are good friends of mine -- I tell some stories about them in my book REBEL BOOKSELLER.

    Mark --

    As to the sparseness of a book display, keep in mind that when big bookstores give lots of shelf and table space to stacks of books, what they're really doing is using the ten copies on the bottom of the stack to display the single copy on the top of the stack. They've found that having fewer titles, and facing these out, results in stronger sales. They're using the multiple copies as an illusion, to give customers the feeling that they're choosing from a much bigger array of featured titles than is actually the case. What this point to -- if indeed your initial buy fails to satisfactorily stuff your bookcases -- is your need to address display issues. Somehow really properly giving each single book it's very own "display" focus. For instance, you build a zillion little wooden bookstands, and write a personal book review for EVERY book and paste these reviews on the display stands. So each title is faced out and each title is heightened from the browser's perspective. You could even put clippings of published book reviews into little displays for a very large number of your titles. Use the extra shelf space to push the hell out of every book on that shelf.


  7. BT - a few words of advice,gained by experience. BT Local business operations are now franchised to area networks : the sales staff know their job, but their job is selling. Within each office there is at least one very experienced long-serving BT staffer to oversee and assist when business relocations or start-ups run into unforeseen problems. As soon as you can get word to this man your problems will be swiftly sorted : it might need some quite strong talking to ensure that your "case" is passed for his attention.

    Please do not be afraid to promote books "face-out" : books sell better if well displayed. Spine out is OK for the browser with time on their hands, many of your initial customers are going to be people who lead busy lives and buy a book on impulse when it is well presented.

    I would suggest that you stock a decent selection of local titles ; increase the stock range as you discover local books which have long-term sales potential and are not going to get mugged away by the publishers within three months.