I am kicking off Sarah Vaughan’s and my month in charge of the website with a blog about the power of enthusiasm. I have a wonderful friend who is brilliant at enthusing about her latest purchase. Whether it’s exercise, diet, a movie, a novel: you name it, for years I’ve bought into her recommendations. We all know someone with an almost uncanny ability to infect others with a love for what they love.
I do believe that having your book on display in a bookshop sells books especially if the owner supports it, as does having someone say to their friend, ‘you have got to read this!’ As Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer might say: Word of Mouth, Word of Mouth, Word of Mouth.
But that’s not to say I’m not continually impressed by the output of committed book bloggers. They are very enthusiastic people, and their kindness and willingness to give a generous plug to authors they enjoy is incredibly heartening. But I have only come to them since getting published (Though, to be honest, that might say more about my age). For me, real shops will always come first, so, in the light of this, I’ve dropped in on a small selection of independents to ask owners what value they put on their own enthusiasm.
My first stop is Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead, where Peter Snell was kind enough to make time for a chat with a stranger.
‘It is vital when hand-selling books to be able to sum up the person in front of me before they have even opened their mouth and to know, instinctively, how to engage with them, be it deferentially, humorously, flirtatiously, calmly or excitedly. Get it wrong and it is difficult to get back on the right track.’
He then proceeds to sell me a hardback I’ve never heard of by an author I’ve never heard of. I love that. This is a man who knows and loves his stuff.
I accosted Philip Maltman in Dulwich Books. Before I told him why I was there I asked for a recommendation. We discussed the books and he encouraged me to buy Laura Beatty’s Pollard. Philip said he loved the book and had sold at least three hundred copies. That is impressive. He admitted that when asked by a stranger to recommend a book there is an initial moment when everything blurs, but with fifteen years of experience under his belt, he is able to read his customers pretty effectively. I asked what the most important thing was and he and colleague Sheila O’Reilly answered simultaneously. ‘Passion!’
Next stop Sheen Bookshop where Lucy literally bubbles over with enthusiasm. We talk about the books like they’re old friends. She says it’s the personal touch that matters. She has read and stands by every one of the books on her shelves and happily makes recommendations. She thinks readers have lost trust in Amazon Reviews and I am with her there. It seems to me it is the number of reviews that matter, not so much what is said in them. I ask her to sell me something and am soon handing over my credit card and leaving with a copy of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Lucy has a friendly and approachable manner and a gorgeous smile and it makes me wonder if that’s all we authors really need (beyond having written a great book, of course).
My last port of call was to look in on Hazel Broadfoot at Village Books, also in Dulwich. Hazel made me feel as though I was in her home as she pulled books out of the shelves in a flurry of enthusiasm. She recommended five, from which I chose Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake, purely because Hazel loves the author so much and rates her so highly.
For the voice of a book blogger, I’ve talked to Isabel Costello, whose blog On The Literary Sofa reaches hundreds of followers. I’ve chosen Isabel because, of all the book blogs I’ve been guided to, hers is one of the few (Anne Goodwin and PamReader among others) that make me want to have a real conversation – like the ones I’ve been having in the shops. Isabel says:
‘I always hoped the Literary Sofa would be a friendly, interactive place to share my ‘love of good fiction with other keen readers. The importance of word of mouth cannot be overstated – few titles have a big publicity budget behind them. A knowledgeable bookseller or book blogger whose taste and opinions you trust can be a valuable guide when you are presented with an overwhelming selection. Apparently I’m responsible for many a lengthy TBR list and when I meet readers in person they often head straight to a bookshop when we part. I love that!’
It’s always nice to have a human being with eyes alight with passion to say, read this, it’s fantastic, but I think the internet can do that too. The important thing is to choose who to listen to, and you’d do that with friends anyway, wouldn’t you, before taking advice?