Posted in Reading, Self-publishing

Lightbulb Moments About Independent Booksellers and My Reading Habits

(A post about revelations that came to me when setting up my virtual bookshop on the fun new http://www.myindependentbookstore.co.uk app)

Debbie Young photographed with David Ebsworth and Helen Hollick
At the launch of David Ebsworth’s “The Assassin’s Mark”, with Helen Hollick

Some time ago, after going through a phase of reading one book after another by the same few authors, I decided on two courses that would encourage me to read outside my comfort zone:

  • to read and review any books that I was offered, in particular self-published ones to support other indie authors
  • to join the local Historical Novel Society book group, having never knowingly chosen a historical novel for leisure reading

It was only when joining the new www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk website this morning that I realised that by chance I’ve discovered a preference for a very particular type of book that I’d never articulated before.

My Independent Bookshop

This site has just been launched this month by Penguin Random House purportedly to support the dwindling supply of independent bookshops in the UK. (Of course it does no harm to Penguin Random House’s reputation, either.)

It invites you to set up your own virtual bookshop and effectively play at being a bookseller. And before my overseas friends rush to try it out for themselves, I’m afraid this looks like a UK-only initiative so far, but maybe it’ll be heading for your shores soon. After all, those Random Penguins get everywhere…

You get to design your own shop from a range of templates and then choose up to 12 books that you’d like to recommend to others, beneath your own shop sign.

The result is a very pleasing pretend shop – and who hasn’t enjoyed playing shops at some point in their life?

Celebrating Indie & Self-Published Authors

I chose to call mine “Flying Off The Shelves With Debbie Young”, to reflect my book promotion advice website, Off The Shelf Book Promotions, and I decided to stock it entirely with self-published books by indie authors – because it’s harder for them to get their books stocked in real shops, despite the very high quality of the best indie books.

I’ve driven that point home with all the subtlety of a brick through a window by adding the strapline “Top Quality Fiction by Indie and Selfpublished Authors from Around the World”. (I’d have hyphenated the “selfpublished” but the site didn’t allow hyphens – hmmm.)

You don’t actually stock or sell the books on your shelves in real life – but if any readers take up your recommendations and buy a book you’ve suggested, the real-life bricks-and-mortar store that you’ve recommended will be sent a share of the profit (the rest, presumably, being absorbed by the website’s founders).

I’ve nominated Foyles in Bristol as mine, because I’ve been to some great indie author book launches there, such as the one pictured above. It’s also where I’ll be launching my paperback edition of Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes this autumn, thanks to some helpful negotiating by SilverWood Books with whom Foyles has a special working relationship – and because my own local independent bookstore, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which has branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth, is not yet listed on the website’s database.

Early Quirks

Two old copies of Lewis Carroll books - Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass
My antique Alice books

As with any new site fresh out of beta-testing, there are a few glitches and quirks, such as not recognising a surprising number of books. Not only did it refuse to acknowledge some self-published books, which didn’t really surprise me, but it also had apparently never heard of my favourite book: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. That narrowed down the choice of books that I could post on my virtual shelves.

The site also asks you to list three categories that characterise your reading, so that it can list your shop alongside similar stores. Although I do read very widely, not least because I review children’s books for the parenting magazine Today’s Child and an eclectic mix of books by contributors to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, I decided to narrow the focus of my pretend shop to the three types that make up the bulk of my leisure reading: contemporary fiction, literary fiction and short stories. I therefore omitted the children’s fiction from my shelves.

Inventing My Own Genre

Once I’d added my selection of 12 of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the last little while, the site asked me to write a paragraph describing my choice of books. Only as I was searching for words that summarised my choice did I realise that the following description held true for them all:

Gripping reads by gifted storytellers who will transport you to another time and place – fulfilling reading, whether you need something to stash in your suitcase for your travels or you prefer to tour the world from the comfort of your favourite fireside chair

Some are historical novels, some are contemporary, and trade publishers would never lump them all together under the same genre. Traditional genres are far too restrictive and unbending. Historical novels, for example, are defined by the Historical Novel Society as having been written at least 50 years after the event that they describe. But even though it falls outside conventional classifications, I’m still pleased to find there is a common bond between them all: transporting me to a different time and place. That made me realise what I need to look out for in future, when I’m seeking out a new read that I’ll enjoy.

Of course, I’ll still read more widely and just as voraciously as ever – but I was intrigued to discover this new common bond between the books that I’ve most enjoyed recently.

What’s On My Bookshelves?

And now the answer to the question that I’m sure you’re dying to ask: which twelve indie authors did I choose? They are (in alphabetical order by first name):

  • Ali Bacon
  • Alison Morton
  • David Ebsworth
  • Francis Guenette
  • Helen Hollick
  • Hilary Shepherd
  • Judith Barrow
  • Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
  • Lucienne Boyce
  • Rohan Quine
  • Sandy Osborne
My Independent Bookshop logo
The logo of My Independent Bookshop website

But if you want to know which books they are, you’ll just have to go and visit my independent bookshop! Come inside, it’s open for business here!

(And yes, that is only 11 on the list – I took the liberty of putting Sell Your Books!, one of my own books in the twelfth slot, and in the next few days I’ll ring the changes by adding Opening Up To Indie Authors, which I co-authored for ALLi with Dan Holloway.)

By the way, I was unable to find all the books I wanted to include, such as Jane Davis;s fabulous novel I Stopped Timenot yet listed on the site,  Carol Cram’s The Towers of Tuscany and Orna Ross’s Blue Mercy.  All of these books exactly match my definition above.

The Most Important Question of All

So, I’ve had a couple of hours fun playing at pretend booksellers today, and it’s given me a nice warm feeling.

But as I put up my virtual “Closed” sign for the day, I do have one niggling question. Will this site really help reverse the fortunes of our struggling high street bookshops? Or is it a cynical ploy by larger forces to give readers the feeling of helping them, while actually encouraging them to place their orders on line? After all, the cut of the sale that will be passed on to your local nominated bricks-and-mortar store will be much less than if you’d actually visited their shop and bought the book in person. I’ll be very interested to hear what the REAL independent bookstores have to say about the issue – and if the boffins behind the new http://www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site would like to reply, that would be terrific. Over to you!

  • How would you describe your favourite reading matter?
  • If you set up your own store within the www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site, do come back and leave a link to it in the comments – I’d love to come shopping in it!
  • And if you’re the proprietor of an independent bookstore, do you welcome or dread this initiative? Do tell! 

Author:

Optimistic author, blogger, journalist, book reviewer and public speaker whose life revolves around books. Her first love is writing fiction, including the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (out 2017), short stories and essays inspired by her life in an English village. She also writes how-to books for authors and books about living with Type 1 diabetes. She is Author Advice Centre Editor and and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Advice Centre blog, an ambassador for the children's reading charity Readathon, and an official speaker for the diabetes research charity JDRF.

3 thoughts on “Lightbulb Moments About Independent Booksellers and My Reading Habits

  1. Debbie, I’m absolutely thrilled to be chosen as one of your authors. And what wonderful idea. You are one of the most generous authors I know
    Thank you so much
    Judith

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