Bookshops. Social engagement starts at the door.

There is an independent bookshop not far from me which has a way to go before they are properly socially engaged. There is the local engagement with the customers, there is Twitter and of course Facebook but let’s not forget Foursquare, Gowalla or any of the other location based services.

One of my gripes is that when walking into the shop they will happily sell you a book, as long as they don’t have to break off their conversation with each other for too long. This isn’t really how to get the best out of your relationship with the customers who support you.

I’ve spent a lot of time, in the past, working in a retail setting where I was taught that you don’t sell anything unless you communicate with the customer. This was my father’s shop where he sold antique furniture (mostly restored Pine, much of it restored by me) to people from all over the world. Engagement with and education of the customer were vital to keeping the money flowing in.

I also used to sell second-hand cookery books in a local cookshop and it was remarkable how the decision to buy is affected by how attentive you are to the customer. Too much attention and you can lose the sale, too little and the customer will just wander away money unspent. You know your subject why not help you customer with that knowledge.

This is my checklist for bookshops that want to fully engage using the social media:

  • Make the link between talking with customers, creating loyalty and the online equivalent of finding new followers/fans.
    You get lots of chances as a local bookshop. People will always be passing by. However, have you created a strong bond with them so they think of you, not Amazon, first. Online you may not be so lucky, once you’re unfollowed that’s usually it, you have to maintain the conversation.
  • Check out what others are up to. An excellent example of an independent making good use of Twitter is @gutterbookshop in Dublin. Lots of chat and they always respond to mentions on Twitter. What are the big guns like @Waterstones up to and check out the smaller chains like @Foyles.
  • Does your literature show your social networking places? Whether it is bookmarks, postcards, posters or flyers you need to tell people in the ‘real’ world about your presence in the virtual marketplace that is the Web.
  • Are you on the map? Can potential visitors get your location and directions easily? This is where your website, or Facebook page can come in very useful.
  • How well do you support local authors? Not all local bookshops do as much as they can for their locally based writers. It may be down to the writer, their publicist or the haughty response you give them which puts them off. Do yourself and your community a favour and promote local writing.
  • Don’t just chat to your colleagues, it’s downright rude. Quite often people will want to talk about what they are buying. You can help validate that decision and ensure repeat business.
  • Unfamiliar face? Say hello, make yourself available to chat. Not very good at that sort of thing then employ someone who is. Remember, first impressions last. If you get the double entendre there then you will know that it works both ways!
  • If you’re on Twitter or Facebook then make sure you are keeping the conversation going. @Foyles have fun competitions running every week and people just adore winning books!
  • There is a distinction between organic growth and SEO based growth so it is worth discovering what they differences are. I’m largely organic myself.

I should run a course on this really.

What is your experience of independent bookshops as a customer and if you run an independent bookshop you can use the comment forms to tell me I’m wrong or that it’s just too difficult and you’ve given up. Success stories to inspire others are encouraged!

 

So what is the “30 Day Book Meme”?

I Love Reading

I Love Reading

To many people there is this thing called the ’30 day book meme’ which is a kind of survey where you write a blog entry in answer to each of the questions.
An example of one is here http://ohemgillie.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/30-day-book-meme-day-30/ and you can see each of the days has been filled out by @OhEmGillie. There are many, many examples of this over the web and it’s rather popular.

I can see the appeal as it is a great way of talking about what you love; Books, reading and literature.

The concept of a Meme first appeared in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. Quoting from WikiPedia:

The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such “selfish” replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book.

There are other book and literature related memes around, here are some I found:

I notice a feature of these memes is that some of them involve ‘tagging’ which seems an ideal thing for Twitter. Not used much in that way though.

Do you do or have you ever joined in a ‘book meme’? If so tell us about your favourite one here, make sure you include a link in the comment so it can be found.

Made to Last – what does it mean?

Made to Last?Walking in to work yesterday I had an inspired thought. Which was that the phrase “Made to Last” means more than simply ‘durable’.

I’m happy to be corrected by know-alls and so on but this is my reasoning…

Its all to do with Shoemakers!
If you know that a last is the form a shoe is made on then the phrase takes on a different shade of meaning. A last is often a wooden form made to the shape of a client’s foot though it is also the foot shaped anvil on which the shoes are made.

Something that is made to last is therefore becomes made to a pattern, so it isn’t durability but reliability that becomes the watchword.

I found this link which is about shoemakers and cobblers motherbedford.com/Shoemaker.htm though it does nothing to back up my possibly fanciful suggestion. I’m sure the folks at QI (@qikipedia) and the estimable Stephen Fry (@StephenFry) would have an opinion on such deep matters of etymology.

What do you think, was I possibly a little overtired?

How do you choose your next book?

I’m sure we all choose our next books in different ways.

My favoured method for a long time has been to just start reading the book, sometimes after I’ve read the blurb but not always. This works really well particularly when browsing in bookshops or someone’s bookshelves. If I find that I’ve got to the third page of the book without any effort then I’ll probably read the whole thing.

Familiarity with an author is a great way to choose as well. It doesn’t always work out so well though when you find you prefer their earlier work to their later output. Short stories are a potent way of discovering whether you like an author’s style, I’ve sometimes found that the short stories are better than the full length ones or vice versa. What is interesting about that is that the short stories are often about the author finding their ‘writing self’ so you can see development and experimentation going on.

Recommendations are another useful way of finding out what to read. There are the algorithmic, computerised, methods used by Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing on the one hand and personal suggestions on the other. Personal recommendations might come from friends, colleagues or family or via FridayReads or forums/discussion groups on places like Goodreads and LibraryThing. It’s interesting how people will ‘sell’ you the book that they really enjoyed, they might not even realise you hate romantic fiction – but there’s a first time for everything.

I’d love to know how you discover what you want to read next. Join the conversation using the comments below.

Buck up your ideas BBC Books!

On World Book Night 2011 in the UK the BBC showed a program called The Books We Really Read presented by Sue Perkins. The BBC’s decision to focus their programming purely on the ‘literary fiction’ genre was in many people’s opinion flawed.

Science Fiction author Stephen Hunt (@SFCrowsnest) started the ball rolling with his vitriolic response to the coverage. Subsequently he has put together a petition of as many of the UK’s Science fiction authors as possible. Naturally the BBC is defending itself over the programme and subsequent discussion. There’s a good Guardian piece here with a bit more background.

So what do I think?

I reckon that Stephen Hunt is right to criticise the BBC. At present they are coming across as having a somewhat elitist view of what constitutes a good read without, it appears, having done any research. Hunt’s observation that the BBC was limited in outlook certainly stands. If there had been any evidence of joined-up thinking someone would have pointed out to the editors of The Books We Really Read and subsequent discussion programme that the BBC has a big SciFi output. Dr Who or Torchwood anyone?

In that case What Do People Really, Really Read?

I compile the Most Read list for FridayReads every week and there are always a few surprises but what always delights and amazes me is the sheer variety of books that people read. Only a small part of it fits in to that odd category of Literary Fiction. In fact I’d go so far as to say that Literary Fiction is the exception rather than the rule when readers make their choice.

Here is the most read list from FridayReads on 8th April 2011. I’ve added the Genre classifications, you can tell me if you disagree.

The top three are heavily promoted but do include real reading data so I’ve left them there for this list. If you have never joined in FridayReads before then you also need to know that the list changes every week. This is real reading data and is not based on sales data (eg Amazon).

The data is gathered from participants World Wide! It’s a global thing (thanks to @ibc4 for the prompt).

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Here are the numbers for each genre. Don’t try to add them up or do maths it won’t work as many books cover several genres!
1 action-adventure
3 autobiography
2 biography
1 children’s picture
5 contemporary
1 creative non-fiction
4 crime
1 crossover
1 drama
1 epic
1 faith
1 family saga
10 fantasy fiction
15 fiction
3 historical
3 historical fiction
2 horror
7 humour
2 magical realism
1 memoir
1 murder mystery
1 mystery
5 non-fiction
1 offbeat
2 paranormal fiction
1 philosophy
1 politics
1 popular science
1 post-modern
1 religion
2 romance
2 science-fiction
1 self-help
1 social
1 suspense-thriller
1 ya dystopian
3 ya fantasy
2 ya fiction
1 ya historical fiction
1 ya science-fiction

Good literature is more than books

Sometimes I get rather irked by the attitudes of those who teach my children. In this case I’m rather disappointed by the attitude of one of the senior teachers at my son’s school.

Recently it was World Book Day in the UK, celebrating the value of reading and promoting reading to children and their families. Great stuff. However the one thing that brought me up short was this excerpt from the letter to parents.

Children can come to school dressed as a book character from a children,s
book or from a traditional tale. We are asking that children stick to these two
categories rather than including comic heroes or film/cartoon characters. We
are aiming to use the day to promote reading good children’s books as much
as possible.

My italics!

So just what is wrong with comics? I can’t think of anything so I’ll state a few things that occur to me.

The comic form teaches narrative. There is an order to the frames and the frames contain speech bubbles and action. Sometimes the story is conveyed without any speech bubbles at all. We learn, visually, that there are many ways to tell a story. The Beano is so brilliant for this as there are so many different kinds of story there, especially when they run ‘Billy the Cat’ which is for the older kids.

Stereotypes and Archetypes appear throughout cartoons and early on introduce children to them in a visual manner. Whether you are looking at Spiderman and Superman comics or the Beano these characters are there. Super hero or super ordinary there is a metaphor for behaviour in there to learn from and discuss.

Exploration of Mores and Morals. The Green Goblin fought Spiderman, The Fantastic Four fought Doctor Doom, Superman took on Lex Luthor and Roger the Dodger continually tests the patience of those around him. Each time hero meets villain or naughty schoolboy tests his parents we see the characters exploring the outcome. Think bubbles are so good at helping us explore motivations, after all we can’t always be sure what the other person is thinking. Life isn’t like an episode of The Mentalist so the visual metaphors in comic books help us learn our way round relationships and means of communication.

The Comic Strip is one of the greatest storytelling forms ever created and has been around since before the written word. The stories told on the cave walls at Lascaux in southwestern France tell us the stories of Paleolithic hunters and their dreams and escapades.

I realise this is a rather boy-centric view from the titles I’ve mentioned but I’d be interested in knowing what you think of comics and their place in the literary pantheon. There’s probably a thesis in here somewhere…

 

Stoke Newington Literary Festival 2011

The dates for the local literary festival in Stoke Newington have been announced. Clear your diaries for 3rd to 5th June 2011 and look forward to some great events including an enhanced children’s strand.

I’ll be doing my best to get down there and join in the buzz.

Follow on Twitter: @StokeyLitFest

Event Homepage: Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Facebook: StokeyLitFest

 

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

When I was a teenager there was a brilliant television adaptation of John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel, Day of the Triffids. Thanks to the wonders of the Web and the BBC I was able to sit down and watch the 1981 series in one afternoon. It stars John Duttine as Bill Masen who is the main protagonist and narrator of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The novel was written in 1951, only a few years after the end of the Second World War and before the end of the period of austerity imposed during the war. In this context some of the themes of the novel become clearer: The idea of the destruction of humanity, by weapons or a terrible accident; Dealing with shortages of food and other related themes.

The production values don’t match up to the amount spent on today’s drama but the story telling is very faithful to the original story. Quite a relief when you see how badly some movies get chopped about in the name of entertainment. Overall it is rather a bleak story and the fact that it is possible to have produced it without fabricating a happy ending is a good thing.

I thoroughly recommend the book and if you feel inspired then watch the drama unfold 1981 style.

Day of the Triffids – SeeSaw

Buy from Amazon UK

Buy from Amazon.com

What makes libraries so important?

There is a growing #savelibraries campaign on Twitter. Why?
Recent political decisions in both the USA and the UK have put libraries under threat of closure through withdrawal of public funds. From a fundamental view of knowledge sharing and education this seems entirely wrong.

The obvious reason is that the accountants and politicians in their wisdom have decided that the cost of staffing libraries and maintaining the buildings does not produce a sufficient ‘return’. 

The world is going through an economic slump at present and it seems short sighted to reduce the level of education of the population. Libraries are a social centre where people go to explore new knowledge and deepen their existing understanding of subjects.

The issue of saving libraries is about far more than buildings full of books, it is affects society as a whole. Losing a single library devalues a community, to lose them more widely affects a whole nation.