By Katie Clapham
At the moment footfall is still quite light here at Storytellers, Inc. It could still be the weather – winter is taking its time to get on its way, or the greater economic climate that means a lot of people are still paying off Christmas. It’s been dragging, but with the sun starting to make an appearance, so hopefully will the customers. Weekday sales come in flurries, maybe a morning burst of early shoppers, or a lunchtime dash and then hopefully an after school visit but Saturdays are still by far the best and busiest days. Day to day we’re putting together orders, unpacking boxes, cutting down cardboard and drinking tea. I have another freelance copyediting job so where possible I’m trying to earn some extra pennies for myself. I’m reading, constantly, several books at once, and reviewing when I can. I’m often out and about at schools during the weekdays and orders from schools are starting to become a big part of our business. We’re getting more author events offered to us this year which is fantastic, and knowing that previous guests have had a good experience gives us the confidence to pitch for even more. Being in the North West has its problems; we can’t afford to pay author fees so we have to raise our profile with a good reputation; we put a lot of work into our events, making sure the right schools are selected and that they’re prepared and excited to have the opportunity. This year we’re hosting our first returning author/illustrator, Debi Gliori, which I count as a real achievement.
We run four monthly book clubs in the shop, a monthly illustrator promotion, a weekly storytime and a termly school scheme so there is lots of opportunity to draw attention to particular titles. Publishers help out with discounts on larger orders so we’re looking for every opportunity to have an event or make a fuss of book we feel passionate about. It’s no coincidence that these titles continue to sell well even after their club meeting has been held or the term has ended.
I think the current wealth of picture books is incredible. Artists and designers are taking more risks in terms of style and substance. I look at our shelves and feel like I own an art gallery. Picture books probably make up the majority of our sales and I am proud to offer such an inspiring selection. If we had the budget I’d double our stock because there are just too many good ones to choose from. Customers come to us because they enjoy our diverse selection, so I’m encouraged to seek out new artists and publishers. For me, picture books are the most rapidly developing spaces for creative literature to reach bigger audiences. Unsuspecting readers are often lapping up, in what any other shaped book, would be called poetry. It is tremendously exciting and I think as long as the material keeps coming the picture book industry is a beacon of hope for bookshops in the digital age.
It’s a personal preference but I’m much more interested in standalone novels. For writers a standalone is a chance to try something different, without being bound by concepts that have to be sustainable (and profitable) over a series and really great writing can be borne out of that freedom. I think it’s probably publishers rather than writers that need the encouragement to get behind more standalone novels and only a receptive market can give them that confidence. Standalones need more support than major series that sell themselves, so it’s natural to me to prioritise them when making selections for my various groups and schemes, and I have found richer stories, more diverse issues, and more dynamic styles of writing in standalone stories than I have found in any series. There are of course exceptions, but I have no time for mimic series piggy-backing on the latest craze, with creepy covers that echo their inspiration in a slightly less attractive way. That marketing is specifically designed to sell those books to their target audience, who sometimes aren’t looking for anything else, so I’d rather hand-sell the books I think might be overlooked, but are worth shouting about. It can feel quite depressing when you at look the new month’s releases and find that the covers are all similar, right down to the colours and fonts, when you know there are so many great books out there that might not get the audience they deserve. That said, you know when there is something special on the shelf because it looks like nothing else out there. We love it when designers take risks and if it catches my eye as looking exciting, I’m more likely to read it and then more likely to sell it.
The crossover market is of particular interest to me. We developed a book club specifically for adults reading ‘young peoples’ fiction, which seems a strange thing to label because I did it unaware until I joined the book industry myself. Rather than specifically stick to the books the publishers tell us are suitable for both teen and adult audiences, we use it as an umbrella to just read great books!
Generally I think the standard is high in most age categories, publishers are still interested in chasing prizes and awards, publishing quality writing that will attract good reviews from real critics and investing time and nurturing good authors. Everyone can be billed as the new Roald Dahl but we still sell more real Roald Dahl than any latecomer. What survives is great writing and we’re delighted to sell ground-breakers and future classics alongside established favourites. In fact it’s preferable because we want this industry to thrive. Written talent is emerging everywhere but publishers need to match the writing with a desirable product. Every time I sell another copy of A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books, and one of our bestsellers!), I like to think it’s another encouragement for publishers to try go ahead and try something daring. I hope Dave Shelton wins the Carnegie award this year, not only because I love his story, but because it’s a really exciting book to own. A book as an object. A book as treasure; in all of its (respectively) expensive, ambiguous glory. I can sell that beautiful little blue book over and over again because it inspires wonder in me and in the children I show it to, and that’s what we aspire to do every single day.
To find out more about Katie and Storytellers, Inc you can visit their website: http://www.storytellersinc.co.uk.
Or, if you can, why not pop into the shop:
7 The Crescent