Over the last three weeks I’ve driven 433 miles and visited 31 bookshops in Devon, Somerset, Dorset and London. The reason? To deliver proof copies of Knife Skills For Beginners to bookshops, in the hope booksellers will read and enjoy it, and come February, put it on display next to Richard Osman and encourage customers to buy it.
This procedure is known as a ‘proof drop’ and seems to be a rite of passage for début authors. Although so many books are sold online nowadays, bookshops provide a direct link between authors and their readers, and have real influence on a book’s popularity (or lack of). And after my round of visits, I can report that they are very much alive and well – buzzing with customers – and staffed by delightful, friendly, knowledgeable booksellers.
For the London proof drops I was chaperoned by my Transworld publicist, the delightful Thomas Hill, but for the country ones I was on my own. Some bright spark in Tom’s department had the idea it would be fun to reveal the proof from under a silver cloche, in imitation of the cover image (I’m lucky they didn’t make me wear white gloves). I was somewhat trepidatious about this but it was the cause of much mirth, and no one is going to forget my book in a hurry.
My West Country circuit took the best part of four days, during which I became expert in the myriad different parking regimes applied in different towns and counties. (In Sherborne I struck lucky – it was ‘Pack Monday’ and parking was free… if you could find a space.) I visited: Taunton, Sherborne, Yeovil, Crewkerne (where I was greeted by Karen and her dog Buster, pictured), Sidmouth, Axminster, Newton Abbot, Torquay, Plymouth, Okehampton, Crediton, Dartmouth, Ivybridge and Totnes. In London, we covered the ground on foot and by tube, sticking mainly to the SW postcodes: Clapham, Putney, Fulham, King’s Road, Sloane Square, Belgravia, Victoria, Notting Hill, High Street Kensington, South Ken and Piccadilly, finishing up at Hatchards. I got quite a high delivering the proof to Belgravia Books, which is literally round the corner from where Knife Skills For Beginners is set, and to Books For Cooks, in Blenheim Crescent, which is bookshop heaven for those of us who love to cook.
Although the bookshops had been warned in advance to expect me, I was touched by how welcoming they were, in some cases allowing queues to build up at the tills while we chatted about cosy crime and I gave them the low-down on my book. I hope to pop in and sign copies once it’s out, and I mentioned that I love doing talks/appearing on panels if they have any events coming up.
It was obvious how much booksellers love their job. A fair few of the shops I visited were branches of Waterstones, and I was struck by how totally different they all were, with individual layouts, specialities and atmospheres.
If you don’t have a local bookshop, or simply prefer to order books by post, an alternative to Amazon which supports independent bookshops is uk.bookshop.org.