One of the perks of running a bookshop is that you often receive ‘proof’ copies of books, those being, for the uninitiated, uncorrected draft versions of forthcoming publications. If you’ve ever read a book and thought:
What this really needs is a few spelling mistakes, some confusing typos, a front cover entirely comprised of writing and absolutely no re-sell value
then proof copies are definitely for you.
Proofs usually arrive by post, but just once or twice, they turn up at the shop with the author attached.
This happened to us recently when our shop received a flying visit from an author (young, male, good-looking) and his publicist (young, female, good-looking) to promote the author’s debut novel, to be published later in the year.
I had been pre-warned by the Publishers over the phone that the two of them would be “passing through your area, first thing” so I was fully prepared, in thick-rimmed glasses, stain-free top and lipstick in a non-distracting hue.
With coffees in hand, we sat at a table, so the visit could begin in earnest.
The publicist was really excited about the book. I could tell this was the case because she used the phrase “really excited” about fifteen times.
While the author sat by in complete silence, she went on to outline the publisher’s determined intention to turn this book into the next “word-of-mouth” bestseller.
I had no idea that “word-of-mouth” bestsellers were planned in advance by publishers, having always thought such things arose organically, and as the result of the book being recommended by, you know, actual people (those who don’t work in Marketing departments) but apparently not. It’s all calculated from the outset.
She went on to assure me that this book would receive a huge “social media push”. I think this is publishing shorthand for “not spending any money.” If huge billboards or branded airships were involved, this would surely have been mentioned.
As I understand it, a social media push involves most or possibly all of the Publishing Staff (and their Mums too) tweeting the hell out of a picture of the book cover in the vain hope that the British public will buy a copy when faced with one, on the grounds that “there’s been a lot of stuff on the internet about this. Better see what it’s all about.”
While the publicist continued in much the same excited vein (“real buzz” “sleeper hit” “sure-fire bestseller”), my attention turned to the young author, who as yet hadn’t had a chance to speak about the book that he wrote.
I felt a nagging need to impress this, after all, rather handsome fellow, who had come all this way especially to see me.
I wondered whether to flick idly through the pages of his book. Would that look like the act of a rarefied intellectual with an enquiring mind, or just a bit odd? What the hell: I gave it a quick go anyway and immediately caught sight of the word ‘Penis’ staring back up at me. I shut the book quickly.
The publicist was doing a very thorough (i.e. long) sales pitch on behalf of her author, and I started to wonder whether she would have better luck literally pimping him around bookshops.
I’m pretty sure I would order 50 copies of the book there and then, no questions asked (possibly even more) in exchange for half an hour alone with “the new Robert Harris” in my unpacking area (not a euphemism).
As my mind floated along these new and not unpleasant lines, it dawned on me that the publicist had stopped talking (see, miracles can happen at 10.12 am).
With the author still sat in silence however, it was up to me now to fill this new gap with some encouraging and wise words, to re-assure both author and publicist that their cherished novel was in good hands, and that all those years of work and weeks of excitement were not in vain, for they were leaving their book in the very best place: with an Independent Bookshop owner, one of the intellectual gatekeepers of the worlds’ high streets and shopping centres.
Erm…what’s the retail price going to be?