Sunday, 27 October 2013

Marketing for the Technically Challenged and Totally Terrified - Bookshops,Bunyan and The Word

Bedford is a town you tend to pass as you drive up the A1 or M1. Which is a pity because apart from having a multi-racial and multi lingual population - 100 languages spoken at the last count - it is the place where one of the most famous books in the English language was written. 

Pilgrim's Progress, a book that is second only to the bible in sales terms, was penned in Bedford gaol, when John Bunyan was imprisoned there for preaching outside of the established church.

It's always a great encouragement to me as a writer, that although few if any of Bunyan's sermons are remembered, it is what he wrote in prison, for the entertainment of his children, at what was probably the lowest point of his life, that has lasted and changed lives. 

So 'Books' are certainly 'Us' in Bedford and there has been a Christian bookshop here since the late 1970's. Initially it was housed in a room above a local GP's garage,tucked down a country lane. How people found it is something of a mystery, but find  it they did and The Pilgrim Christian Bookshop flourished within the limitations of its situation.

After two or three years it was moved into Bedford, fairly near the centre. Staffed mainly by volunteers it had a coffee shop upstairs which served to draw people in. My father was one of those who helped out and during his stint on a Monday morning my sales increased by about 100% since he turned them all face out on arrival! 

Scripture Union took the bookshop over when the Karach's retired and moved to Norfolk, followed by Wesley Owen and then the Living Oasis chain. Sadly it closed then for a while, before Joy Denny felt God giving her the vision for restoring the witness that a bookshop can give to any town, and the Word Bookshop was opened in a popular shopping area near Bedford's beautiful Embankment.

It is a small shop but crammed with stock and supported by at least 30 of the churches in the town. Joy has had bookselling experience, since she managed The Pilgrim bookshop for some years in the early part of it's life, and perhaps this is why she has seen steady growth in support and sales. But she is also aware of where the needs are. 

While I was in the shop a lady was asking for a bible to give to someone who was doing an Alpha course at the King's Arms,one of the town's bigger churches. Rather that give her any version Joy rang the church office to ask what was being used in the course. Sadly the receptionist didn't know but, when pressed, promised to ring back.

 I wonder if that is a 'Tip for the top' for other shops. Perhaps a register of the bible versions used by the churches running Alpha in YOUR locality would help you to serve enquirers well. And the Gideon booklet of 'where to help when' is available from your local branch of the Gideons, to tuck inside and make this Book of Books more accessible to a new reader.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Marketing for the Technically Challenged and Totally Terrified - York a city of surprises

York is a fascinating city with sudden surprises around every corner. And one of these is the Barbican Bookshop.

A family business, it was started by Dick Rollinson in 1961. Originally it was housed in The Walmgate Bar, one of the four medieval entrances to the city, but moved to the City centre in 1967.The premises are an Aladdin's Cave of books housed in 10 rooms. 

A real browsers paradise, the Barbican bookshop specialises in books on York and Yorkshire, Aviation and Railways, Christian books and  second hand volumes on a huge variety of topics.

In 1972, Pickering and Co joined the firm, selling books in the Shambles for nearly 30 years until the lease ran out. The  two stores then merged on the Fossegate site in 2000.

Les Bingham was very happy to see a Lion author in the flesh, having stocked my books for many years. Although now semi-retired, I persuaded him to let me take his photo with my latest offerings, which he did with cheerful grace.

 In four years time the shop could be celebrating its Jubilee, although Les was cautious about counting on that, in these harsh economic times. How sad it would be if they didn't make it to that special anniversary. The Barbican bookshop is obviously needed in York. The Cathedral shop has hardly any Christian books and is certainly not a competitor. So what is needed is for the Christians in York and the surrounding area, to 'man the barricades'  by shopping there themselves and recommending this treasure store of good reading to their friends.
Lets say it all together ...

Monday, 14 October 2013

Marketing for the Technically Challenged and Totally Terrified!

The late Edward England, who published many significant Christian books during his time as Director of Religious Publishing at Hodder & Stoughton, often said to his authors:

"It isn't enough to have written a book. It isn't enough to have had it published. You have only succeeded when the writer, publisher and bookseller work together so that the book is written, published, bought, read and acted upon.'

That is obviously true, and sounds great - in theory! But where do you start? A drop of ink may make a million think, but unless the 'million' know that your book exists, the thoughts that you might hope to provoke aren't going to blossom.

 In these days of the social media, it's tempting to think that a few well aimed tweets, blogs and Facebook updates will do the job. But physical bookshops do still exist, thank God, and there's still no substitute for REAL people who are out there, passionate about sharing the good news that books can and still do change lives. 

With that it mind, my first stop on 'Marion's Meet and Greet' tour was Lincoln to visit Melanie Carroll at Unicorn Tree Books in Lincoln's covered market. 

Melanie is stocking my two new titles 'Dear God It's Me and It's urgent ' and 'It's Just You and Me Lord' in a bookshop that must be the only one to be in the form of an open square, with its walls, both facing inwards and outward, made of books!

Melanie stocks both general and christian books; new and second hand, as well as cards and other gift items. I didn't like to ask, but I assume that the 2nd hand books form the  outside walls, in case any passer by  fancies reading a book without paying for it!

And why The Unicorn Tree? This is the name of a group of tapestries, as famous as the Bayeux, featuring a Unicorn, which is, according to Melanie, a symbol of Christ.

A unique name for a unique shop, right where people are in the heart of Lincoln. Do visit it if you're in the area - you'll be glad that you did!