Who will sell a book?

I have been a bit naïve. After all these years I still don’t know ‘everything’ there is to know about bookshops, and the politics between publishers and shops, or chains. I’d know more had I realised that there was stuff to learn and find out about, rather than me believing in common sense in the book trade.

For all the mutterings I’ve done over the years about ‘the buyer from Waterstones’ and how they might not like a cover, say, so the publisher bends over backwards and makes a cover that will please ‘the buyer from Waterstones,’ I hadn’t understood that not all books get ‘accepted’ by – shall we say – Waterstones.

In fact, I still don’t know whether the non-acceptance of a new book by ‘John Smith’ means that you can’t even go into the shop and ask them to order it for you. I should try and find out.

If you can’t, then it seems that there is only Amazon and other similar online shops. If you want ‘John Smith’s’ book, that is. 999 Nuances of Grey and books by comedians are obviously always an option.

I used to think the hurdles you had to overcome were a) write book b) have book accepted by agent c) agent sells book to publisher d) publisher publishes book and sends it out into the world, where e) you hope someone will buy it. Perhaps f) read it. I just had no concept of the gap between publishing a book and it being available for buyers to find.

It appears that if you have a Land’s End novel and a John O’Groats novel, you shouldn’t – necessarily – expect bookshops at the opposite end of the country to stock it. This is just so weird. It’s sort of the continuation of the situation where if you are a white Londoner you must only write a novel about white Londoners, and now you should only expect to see it for sale in a London bookshop.

I can see the reasoning happening. I just don’t understand it.

Most bookshops in the UK probably stock Jo Nesbø’s novels. They were written by a man in a country with five million inhabitants. The population of Scotland is the same, but it seems Scottish books don’t necessarily make it to bookshops outside Scotland. (Because it can’t be that smaller publishers are discriminated against, I hope?)

Many shops are also likely to stock the crime novels by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who hails from a small country with a population less than Cornwall. I actually have no idea if Cornish novels are treated differently, but if they aren’t, I wonder about the Scottish apartness. The referendum (the first one, about going it alone) was full of people saying we are the same and belong together. If so, what’s happening with books?

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