Yesterday I came close to inflicting serious damage on an indie bookshop manager. I’d very much like to know from anyone else who has a similar story, either as an author, a publisher or a reader.  Or indeed a bookseller.

I’d received a worrying email from one of my readers – or rather someone who wanted to be one of my readers – who’d tried to buy my novel The Breaking of Liam GlassIndie bookshop books Charles Harris Bookshop-rage in her local independent bookshop. To be precise, it’s part of a small indie chain of bookshops, whose name will have to remain unspoken, for reasons which will rapidly become clear.

Support your indie bookshop

She was told, in no uncertain terms that my novel was not in stock and that there “seemed to be a block on ordering it.”

She wanted to support her local indie bookshop so she didn’t give up and was then told there was “a comment” placed by my book title highlighting that it would be “complicated” to acquire “as it was being distributed only by an Irish distributor.”

Fake news

As it happens, just about everything she’d been told was wrong. (Ironic, maybe, for a crime satire about fake news…)

The book was (and still is) in stock, in three other branches of the chain. If only the assistant had had the intelligence to look. There is no block on ordering it. It’s not complicated to acquire and it’s not distributed by an Irish distributor.

While the publisher is indeed Irish, and independent, Liam Glass is distributed by all the main British and American distributors in the UK and USA. You order it in the normal way. It’s true that the book is POD (printing on demand) but that is hardly new technology any more. It might take an extra one to two days.

Not exactly “complicated.”

It gets worse

But it’s a concern if readers can’t order my book.

By good luck, I have a branch of the same indie chain near me, so I walked down to check myself. Oh, dear.

The manager looked on the computer and her first reaction was “Oh, it’s self-published.”

It’s not.

I pointed out the name of the publisher – Marble City Publishing. “Well, it’s on special order,” she said.

Surely that means you can order it.

“Yes,” she said. “But it might take a bit longer. Gardners and Bertrams don’t hold it as stock like they do books from the big name publishers. The customer might not get it before Christmas.” 

Please note, the buyer hadn’t said anything about wanting it before Christmas. And it was only November 28th. No matter.

It gets worse, though, because I now asked what we could do about this.

The prize answer

And this is when she gave the prize answer: “You should get it published by one of the large publishers.”

Which is when the bookshop-rage took over. It makes me very proud to say I managed to leave the shop without doing or saying anything I regretted. It wasn’t easy.

I really don’t know how to unpick the thoughts behind such a sentence. Clearly this is not someone who understands how authors and publishers work. Presumably, she thinks all you need to do is pick up the phone to get published by one of the big five.

Clearly, too, this is a woman who’s missed the number of breakthrough books produced by indie publishers in recent years. Such as the two indie-published novels that were Booker short-listed last year.

But more than this shouldn’t indie booksellers be supporting the pioneering work of indie publishers? Not telling people to avoid them.

Amazon again

The irony is that last weekend The Breaking of Liam Glass reached #8 on one of Amazon’s genre best-seller lists and has received five star reviews.

I gain very little from sales in indie bookshops. They don’t count towards the important Amazon best-seller rankings and the publisher and I make almost no money in royalties from bookshop sales – and far more on Amazon.

But I do believe in supporting my local indie bookshops – even when they don’t seem to want to support me or my publisher. What can we do?

I’d like to hear from others who’ve been in this situation. Tell me if you’ve had any similar – or totally different – experiences as an author, publisher, reader – or indeed bookseller?

And, if you have a moment, I’d like to test the system. If you’re willing to help, I’ll pay the cost of you ordering my book in your local indie bookshop. (That way you get a book for free). I can afford to pay one person per country. Email me if you’re interested – or leave a comment below – and I’ll email you back.