When I first opened Write Blend, a little over seven years ago, one question I was asked, probably more than any other, was, “Why are you opening a bookshop?” The second half of the question, which was implied, but rarely actually said, was, “Are you insane?”
In many ways, it was a reasonable question. When supermarkets and online stores sell books cheaper than anywhere else, and people would often rather be plugged into an e-reader or tablet than into a book, why would anyone want to open a bookshop?
Initially, at first, there were two very compelling answers. One was that I needed a job, as the jeweller’s where I worked for twenty-four years had just closed down without warning overnight. The other was that spending all day in a bookshop seemed like an ideal way to pass the time. I spent a lot of my free time in bookshops anyway, so why not get paid for it? Of course, once I’d opened the shop, it became fairly obvious that the people who thought I’d lost my marbles might have a point.
Running a bookshop is a huge challenge in this day and age, and that was before you throw things like pandemics and recessions into the mix. As a small, independent business, I don’t have the buying power, money, or prestige of a big chain. The top authors don’t fall over themselves to visit, and I have to budget carefully to be able to stock all the top titles and as many less well-known, interesting titles as I can afford. The decisions are all mine, and if they are the wrong choices, well, they’re mine too.
But the word ‘independent’ brings with it some huge advantages too. If I want to stock and promote a particular title simply because it’s fab, then I’ll do so because there’s nobody telling me not to. I don’t have publishers telling me what to promote or to call Bestsellers. I don’t have to give loads of display space to whatever TV/boy band ‘celebrity’ thinks they can write a book if I’d rather provide the space for books by talented people whose only job description is ‘author’. Best of all, though, it means that I can throw my weight behind independent authors, and this is where my role crosses over from Job to Privilege.
Before I started working here, I didn’t even know what an independent author was. It was only when one such author contacted me and asked if I would consider stocking her book that I began to be introduced to the possibilities. I won’t name names because she is very publicity-shy. I’ll just say that in those days, she carried a dragon around with her before discovering that lambs were more portable. She introduced me to an organisation called Team Author UK, and my eyes were opened. I found that there were loads of brilliant, high-quality books available that you just couldn’t get everywhere.
I now have independently published books on display in prominent positions in the shop, and I’m proud to do so. Some of the best author events we’ve done here have been with independent authors. A quick note to indie authors out there – I’m happy to do anything from a sit-down signing session to a full-blown launch event with music, dancers, whatever you want. But generally speaking, the difference between a small audience and a big audience, is how many people you invite; the casual public may well not be interested in an author they haven’t heard of, no matter how loudly I shout. Working with independent authors means they get their books in a friendly bookshop, and I get to stock some amazing books that other shops haven’t got. It really can be win-win.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing good people succeed. This year, because I heard that the Blue Peter Book Awards were going to be cancelled, I rather rashly organised the Write Blend Children’s Book Awards, and I threw the nominations open to independently published books, just because I can and because they deserve it.
That’s the difference. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. Mr Bigname McAuthor doesn’t care if I sold one of his books today or not. But if an independent author contacts me and asks how their book is doing and I say I’ve sold some and need some more, it makes their day. Neither of us will get rich out of it, but it’s a lovely feeling that someone has seen their book and taken it home to love. Independent bookshops and independent creators should have this close relationship, in my opinion. We become a whole, stronger, independent community and look after each other. In small, but important ways, we all benefit.
Just last week, a local creator came to me with a rather lovely book she had published herself, a colouring book of local landmarks. I took six copies and advertised it on our social media. The next day I had to text her to tell her I’d sold five of the six overnight and needed more—the smile on her face when she brought them in lit the road up. Seven years on, and if people ask me now why I run a bookshop, I know the answer. That smile and the smile and hugs I get from authors who have just launched the book they sweated over for ages and never thought they’d see on sale in a bookshop. That’s why I do it. Turns out I’m not insane after all!
For more of what we do, have a look at our website www.writeblend.co.uk, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@WriteBlendbooks) or Instagram (@writeblend).
Guest Blog Written by Bob Stone