Monday, November 2, 2009

Names changed to protect the bloody rude.

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.)


Joshua Maule said...

You should have smashed the shop up.

Well... you probably shouldn't have actually, but still.

belinda Jeffrey said...

this is very scary. Perhaps we need an Australian writers book selling chain. And if they're not going to stock james Roy, well there's no hope for BJ

JudiJ said...

Unbelievable that they are even in the book game. I have just forwarded this to my favourite children's bookshop (in another city) - it would be a terrific staff training scenario. Name and shame, I say.

Gus Gordon said...

What's going on Jim?? Hard to believe that this happened so soon after I walked into that (I SO want to name them!) store. Obviously I didn't bother about saying that I wrote the book after the grumpy bugger said that. It shouldn't matter - a customer (potential or otherwise) is a customer; who may or may not decide to buy books from that store today or on another day. Is a little bit of polite service too much to ask? Won't be going in there again. Guessing the same for you mate!

james roy said...

No, Gus, shan't be returning to there, or the one you went to. And re naming and shaming, I've emailed the lady, and I'm awaiting a response.

kate.o.d said...

that's a horrible thing to have happened. it would never happen where i work (i hope). we're always excited when an author comes in, and so embarrassed when the book isn't in.
that said, i loved town. and hunting elephants. so i keep them in stock. i should pass if you came to visit!
(and the not looking things up if they don't want to order it - oh. my. lordy. awful, awful, awful.)

Sunny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sunny said...

Well, you told us Cherrybrook Tech-ers to say hi. So, hi! And I recall you clearly stating the name of the bookstore today.. ;]

Weeksy said...

Unbelievable - what DO they sell? Obviously not anything to meet customer needs! And obviously not in sync with the world of Australian Children's literature...

Linda W.

Claire said...

I reckon there should be a wall for posting these stories. And of course the gooduns.

Here's my favourite: I found my book in a store (yay!) and asked the bookshop owner if they'd like me to sign it. 'No,' said she. 'People round here won't buy a book if it's got scribble in it!

james roy said...

That's great, Claire. If it wasn't so sad, it'd be funny...

Anonymous said...

OK, the lady was certainly not pleasant... but as a former bookseller I found this sentence changed the context for me somewhat:

"At this point, she turned away to cut some ribbon for the books she was gift-wrapping for a rather embarrassed-looking customer."
Err, wouldn't it have been a little rude to her first customer to stop attending them to look up your request? And wasn't it a little rude to interrupt her when she was serving someone?
Just sayin'.

james roy said...


I can see how that could change the context for you, but the reality of the situation was that she was chatting as she wrapped, saw me waiting, asked what I wanted, and said what she said, clearly with no intention of looking anything up. I'd have been happy to wait, but she made it abundantly clear that she KNEW she didn't have my book, and would not be bothering to order it. And as a former bookseller, I'm sure you can see that her attitude was simply bad business.

Anonymous said...

God what a gruesome moment. Glad I wasn't there to witness your ego wallowing away before that hapless bookseller. Surely you've been in the game for long enough to realise that you can't control things like sellers stocking your product? Just take a few deep breaths, leave the store and get on with your work and your reason. And don't--under any circumstances--be rude to strangers. You lost dignity there, sir.

james roy said...

Thank you, Anonymous, your advice is duly noted.