Today Vicki and I went into Sydney for a meeting. And around lunchtime, we went for a walk. And we went to a book store.
It's a crowded little independent store, full of all the usual kinds of books – literary, trash, non-fiction, travel, cookery, all the usual. And a children's section, which featured a fair range of kids books. In a number of cases, they had four or five copies of books that you might not ordinarily expect to find in multiple numbers.
I've had a lot more joy lately finding my books in stores (even the chains), so I thought it might be safe to look for my titles. I didn't expect to find the entire backlist , just a couple, perhaps. I'm not greedy, but I do think that selling books is somewhat reliant on bookstores stocking them.
There weren't any. Not one. Since this is nothing particularly new, I thought I'd go and talk to the lady who owned the place, and introduce myself. Most booksellers really like it when authors do this. It creates an oft-missing connection between the author and the person who sells the book to the person for whom the book is written. It's not an exercise in ego – it's an exercise in mutual benefit.
'Hi,' I said. 'I'm wondering if you have any copies of Edsel Grizzler, by James Roy?'
'No,' she said, without even looking it up on her computer. 'We don't have it.'
'I see. Have you ever had it...? You sold out, perhaps? Because I wrote it, you see, and I like to check the shelves of local---'
'No, we've never had it. Who published it?'
'Right. No, I don't have it.'
'Well, it was featured in a double-page spread the Sun Herald a few weeks ago, so it's quite possible that someone who read that piece might come in looking for that specific book.'
'Look,' she said, 'I've only got thirty-eight square metres of space in this store, and I have a lot of books to shelve, but I can't be expected to stock everything that's published.'
At this point, she turned away to cut some ribbon for the books she was gift-wrapping for a rather embarrassed-looking customer. Conversation over.
I couldn't resist a parting shot. 'Well, you seem to have multiple copies of a lot of books by other children's writers, so I'm sure you could find space for one of mine. Thank you.'
The fact is, I always expect to find none of my books in bookshops. It's safer that way – it can avoid real disappointment. And I also assume that the owner has never heard of me, or any of my books. And I'm sad to say, this woman confirmed my assumption. But I have to wonder, would she have been as dismissive – no, let's say it the way it was – rude to a buying customer? I very much doubt it.
An author/illustrator friend had a similar experience himself recently, when he went into another independent store not that far from where we were today, and asked for his book by name (without mentioning that he was the author). While the young shop assistant was looking up the title, her boss asked my friend, 'Are you going to order it in if we don't have it?'
'Probably not today,' my friend said.
At this, the boss turned to his employee and said, 'Stop. Stop looking. If they're not going to order the book, don't search past the title.'
Good to see that customer service is alive and well. I've had better service in the big, impersonal chains, and that's really saying something.
Oh, and by the way, Lady from ******* Bookshop, if you find a pile of books in the entirely wrong section of your store, they're the $200 worth of books we were planning to buy, but ended up putting down. Sorry, couldn't do it.
(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)