Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Literary Embassies

Publishing a book has simplified my life in many ways. Take people, for example. When I was an unpublished author, I sometimes found it difficult to decide whether I liked or disliked a person. Now the answer is pretty easy. I like anyone who buys my book, and the more copies they buy, the more I like them.
Imagine, then, my delight when a couple of bookshops asked today if I could sign their copies of the Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages. I was so excited that I got the date wrong for the first 30 copies or so (sorry. I tell myself there are probably collectors who pay good money for that kind of thing).
My first stop was at Goldsboro Books on Cecil Court, a tiny alleyway packed with shops specialising in rare and old books. Diagon Alley, where Harry Potter bought his cauldrons, was based on this street, according to sources close to the matter.

Nice, huh? And David, the owner, spontaneously placed my book in the window after the signing. That's the beauty of an independent bookseller. 
It was also a rare instance of hearing good news from an independent: Goldsboro Books recently moved to larger premises and is apparently thriving. They specialise in signed first editions, which are big with UK and US readers/collectors (though not with the French), and they keep in touch with thousands of loyal customers through their website. Interestingly, David is also a literary agent. Could that be the future of bookselling - a return to the comprehensive retailer-publisher-agent-salon along the lines of the old Shakespeare&Co bookshop in Paris in the days of James Joyce?

It's always nice to see a plucky independent, but I'm also brimming with affection for the chains on Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly: Blackwell's, Foyles and Waterstone's. Blackwell's because they placed my book particularly well: if you walk straight into the shop and keep walking, your nose will basically hit the Registrar's cover. Foyles and Waterstone's because they both recommended the Registrar as a favourite debut. 

"Debut authors always go the extra mile," Glenn at Blackwell's noted as I scribbled a cheerful "Enjoy! Sophie Hardach" into the sixtieth copy (which made me think about the importance of a well-placed exclamation mark). 

Glenn, it turns out, is learning German, which cheered me up even more. A person who buys lots of copies of my book and is learning German! This put me in such a good mood that I decided to engage in a bit of guerrilla marketing and visits other shops on the off chance that they might want me to sign their copies, too.
Which brings us to Hatchards on Piccadilly.  Before my impromptu tour, I didn't even know this bookshop existed. Look at it. It's gorgeous.

Not just one flag, but two. And the coat of arms. The wood pannelling. It's not so much a shop as a literary embassy.

Inside, the luxury continued. Instead of marking the signed copies with stickers, they lovingly wrapped beautiful white bands around each book:

Well. When I say that I like anyone who buys my book, I obviously include e-book users. The Kindle is a practical and clever thing and I can see why it's nice to be able to take half your library on holiday. However, a few days ago my Dad, after listening to all of us praising e-books, said: "You know, I'm grateful to live in a time when people still read books." And after spending an afternoon signing title pages, chatting to booksellers, admiring displays and watching people dreamily peruse shelves full of beautifully designed books, looking for the perfect match, I can kind of see what he means.


  1. Glad to see it's all going well - hope post-Reuters life isn't too much of a shock! Come and sign some books in Oxford...

  2. Oh that's an excellent idea! Especially since, erm, I've never actually been to Oxford. Perhaps we could combine it with cheap drinks at the student union.

  3. This is so super-cool, I'm so jealous!!! It must be wonderful to see all your work pay off in such a tangible form. I am so proud of you! I can't wait until my copy comes so I can reaffirm my friend status. Have a great time at your launch and give Melinda a big hug for me!

  4. Thank you Karin! Yes, it's very nice to see it in the shops. Hope to see you in London some time so I can sign your copy!

  5. That sounds nice. But I know you're going to make enough money on this first release to fund a US book tour so I won't have to wait that long!

  6. Nice. I really like the white "Signed Copy" band... fancy:)