Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bookselling 101

This post is coming to you from behind the sales counter of an independent bookstore. I have a part time job selling books to the public and I am getting first hand knowledge on selling books to the public.

I think I'd rather be left in the dark.

Lemme tell you. A crude, mercenary mind-set takes over a bookseller. Sure the unknown author has a title on the shelf but I'm pushing the latest Stieg Larsson and Jodi Picoult. Why? Because I have a better chance of making that sale. Today my priority is the survival of the independent bookstore, not growing some unknown author.

But darn it--why are the two mutually exclusive? Remember the 70's when radio stations were ordered to play a percentage of Canadian music? The result is that today we have internationally famous artists and a healthy music scene at home. It didn't happen by magic, it took legislation.

I'm not saying we need legislation to force booksellers to showcase Canadian books. But maybe, just maybe, booksellers could be encouraged to piggyback a lesser known author onto the fame of a bestseller. As it was with the radio stations--everyone tuned in because they wanted to hear the familiar U.S. and U.K. hits. The Canadian musicians who were given airplay piggybacked onto that popularity, becoming popular in their own right.

Here in Wakefield, local performers did just that. Last year they launched the Piggyback Festival a day after the larger, hugely popular Ottawa Fringe Festival closed. Theatre-goers, hungry for more fringe, flocked to tiny Wakefield to take in the smaller shows. Today, the Piggyback Festival is a hit, attracting a heavy share of media attention.

There's no reason why a bestselling author can't drag the rest of us into the limelight. Or at leastcast a bit of glow our way. It takes a year or more for a book to be written and get to the shelves, correct? In the meantime, fans of a bestselling author can be persuaded to try another, lesser known author. I discovered William Deverell while waiting for PD James. A friend handed me a Louise Penny one day. Penny led me to a world of Canadian mystery that makes me positively weak in the knees.

With this in mind, I pop some lesser known Canadian musicians into the CD player and set a couple of fine Canadian mysteries next to good old Stieg.

Will you take a Barbara Fradkin with your Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest?

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