I went shopping with your money

Announcing a new event

KIDS EVENT: Sam Copeland — Friday 10th May, 4pm

Meet children’s author Sam Copeland at our free ticketed event and find out more about his brand new fantasy series Alex vs Axel.  There is also a chance to get your copy of the book signed by Sam.

Sam will leave children with an important message about the real battles we face in life. At the end, children can ask questions in a Q&A.

Sam is the author of the bestselling Charlie Changes Into a Chicken series and with Jenny Pearson, he has also written Tuchus & Topps Investigate: The Underpants of Chaos and Tuchus & Topps Investigate: The Attack of the Robot Librarians.

Last chance to get 10% off

Our offer of 10% off a Backstory subscription expires on Tuesday (30 April). Use code IWASHEREFIRST for 10% off at checkout.

And here it is in the wild, in Foyles:


Guess who’s back

OUT NOW: You Are Here by David Nicholls

Vintage Nicholls. Funny, bittersweet, ever so human — Tom

Marnie is stuck. Stuck working alone in her London flat, stuck battling the long afternoons and a life that often feels like it's passing her by.

Michael is coming undone. Reeling from his wife's departure, increasingly reclusive, taking himself on long, solitary walks across the moors and fells.

When a persistent mutual friend and some very English weather conspire to bring them together, Marnie and Michael suddenly find themselves alone on the most epic of walks and on the precipice of a new friendship. But can they survive the journey?



ONE OF THE best bits of having your own bookshop is getting to buy lots and lots and lots of books on somebody else’s card. The business’s card, that is — and, well, ultimately your card. So thanks for that.

I’m usually quite disciplined at deciding whether to replenish books that have sold at least once a day. But this week I’ve been a little sloppy, thanks to a combination of giddily leaping around various Waterstones to see our Backstory magazine in the wild and hosting two exceptional author events, with Jeremy Bowen and then Tom Burgis.

So today I went on a massive binge, buying several thousand pounds worth of books in one go. I’ve written before about the process of ordering newly-published books (leafing through publishers’ catalogues each month and saying yes or no), but I thought you might enjoy a peek under the hood on the less glamorous but more important job of daily replenishing.

Our point-of-sale software — one of two platforms used by most UK indie bookshops — makes this super easy. Each time I open it, it will give me a list of every book we’ve sold since the last time I cleared this page (usually, yesterday; at Christmas, about an hour ago).

It’s a case of using Lord Sugar’s market-stall credo of “smell what sells”, then filling the shop with that particular scent.

There are several ways to apply the smell test. The best is undoubtedly a busy Saturday shift on the shopfloor, seeing customers’ reactions for yourself and hearing what they say to their friends about this or that book. (A close second is popping into somebody else’s bookshop and doing the same thing, but as a customer.)

But the computer helps too. I can sort the recent sales spreadsheet in lots of different ways. If I want to make sure I’ve got a good stock of the current bestsellers to see us through a busy weekend, I might sort it by sales of each book this month. If I want a more targeted smell test, I’ll do sales this week.

Something I find fun, though not necessarily much practical help, is the comparative analysis bit. I can sort by what percentage of other users of the software — i.e. other indie bookshops — have those titles in stock.

The titles that are stocked in most bookshops are not that surprising, at least to me. According to the computer, about three-quarters of bookshops have Demon Copperhead and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow in stock right now; about two-thirds have The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.

More interesting in this case is the bottom of the spreadsheet: the books we have in stock that very few other bookshops carry. The books in the 0-10% range fall into a handful of categories. First are extremely weird — sorry, unique and carefully chosen — customer orders.

Second are books that make a lot of sense for our local market but might not work in every bookshop: we always have a lovely art book called Victorian Modern (4%) in stock, because a lot of the housing stock near us is Victorian terraces. Third are books that my colleagues simply insist that I keep ordering: the complete works of David Mitchell (Amy) or Helen Garner (Megan) or, in my case, Lawrence Osborne.

More surprising to the general reader, perhaps, is the fourth category: books that would once have been in every bookshop in the land but now, due to the relentless wave of new titles every month, have been forgotten by most.

According to the system, we are among only 3% of the bookshop cohort to stock Strangers on a Train; and 2% to have Graham Greene’s The Human Factor on our shelves. (There are several editions of both, so the true figure is likely a little higher, but still relatively low.) This is the nature of having only a small space to display a few thousand among millions of books: there will be hundreds of “must-reads” that we never stock, either.

Anyway, I did a little jig when I saw that 4% of the cohort is now stocking an ISBN very close to my heart — 9781738542710, otherwise known as issue 2 of Backstory magazine. Yippee! (If you order for a bookshop and you’d like to join them, just head to Gardners. And either way, you can subscribe here.)

I’ve fired off all the orders. Now we just have to work out who pays for them all — you or me?