Scottish Book Trade Conference
Difficult though it is to believe, there was life prior to The Beast from the East. It was possible to wear normal shoes and walk along the pavements of Edinburgh without disappearing into an eight foot snowdrift. I did exactly this last Thursday and was rewarded with a day surrounded by publishers, booksellers and the odd author. The Annual Scottish Book Trade Conference was in town…
Following a welcome from the chair Jenny Brown the keynote speech was given by Sally Magnusson who, all things being equal and all roads being open, will be speaking to us at Mainstreet next Tuesday about her first ever fiction title The Sealwoman’s Gift. Here she talked us through her career and how she moved from being a reporter to a broadcaster, always writing factual pieces which helped make some sense of the world.
However, with a half-Icelandic background and a family full of bookworms she has always loved storytelling, and this has led her finally down the road towards fiction. Through stories she believes we experience the lives of others, learn to empathise, and consequently become more tolerant. Paraphrasing Philip Pullman she told us that ‘Booksellers and publishers are the custodians to the gateway of other’. She then hailed a taxi to the airport to be back behind the news desk for 1pm. Well that wouldn’t have happened today!
We were then bombarded with bookselling data by Steve Bohme of Neilson Book Research, but we were also sworn to secrecy so my lips are sealed.
Lot of lovely booksellers (and Fraser from Batch) then gave us some excellent advice about Instagram (Julie from The Golden Hare, Edinburgh), running big book promotions (Helen from Forum Books, Corbridge), and using bookshop space to help the community (Mairi from The Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh). There was also a presentation from Barrington Stoke about their Dyslexia- friendly titles. It’s very uplifting to learn ways in which you can provide a better service and these sessions are always well received (even Fraser’s techie one!).
The afternoon followed in a similar vein starting with a discussion panel entitled The Next Big Idea? Then the wonderfully exciting Fever Pitch presentations. These consist of lots of nervous Scottish publishers standing in front of lots of baying Booksellers and trying to cram as many of their new titles as possible into a 3 minute slot (I think it was 3, it could have been 5, you get the idea).
Our final session was entitled Reaching and Building New Audiences. Like many other industries the book trade is concerned with the lack of diversity within its walls. Unlike others however this disparity is also reflected in the customers who come through the doors of a bookshop and in character representation within books. It is something we continually strive to address.
Staying with the serious vibe the lovely Richard Holloway gave our closing speech. He discussed his life in books and after a long, but productive, day there was no-one better to sooth our fever(pitch)ed brows. And in a shameless pitch to book buyers we will be getting a limited quantity of signed copies of Richard’s new book Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death, into the shop SOON. Feel free to phone and reserve a copy!
The day was rounded off with a dinner at Cannonball on Castle Hill (my view of the castle was amazing) sponsored by Pan Macmillan. There were three authors in attendance: Morag Hood of I am Bat fame; AJ Pearce who’s debut novel Dear Mrs Bird is published in April (watch out Jessie Burton….and watch this space for event announcement…) and Graham Robb who is coming to Mainstreet on 29th March to give a talk about his book, The Debatable Land. Oh, we are so with the zeitgeist! I then walked back to my hotel, no wellies, no snowshoes, not even a hat, a week in bookselling can be a long time.