To my usually warm and welcoming Waterstones this week, diary in hand, to arrange a pre- Christmas signing session for my Spy Girl books. Should have noticed something was wrong from the way the temperature started dropping the moment I approached the desk.
It dropped further as the Events Manager, talking embarassedly to a spot over my left shoulder, said that under new policy, they were not doing book signings as they used to. An ice sheet began to form as she explained that now I'd have to apply via email. A woolly mammoth wondered past as she said I might be allowed, as I am stocked by the chain, and a 'known' local writer. But it would be time limited and 'managed'.
It appears that the relationship has generally soured because writers have been seen approaching customers, and talking about their books, like literary chuggers. Can't have that! Worse, a few writers have purportedly been rude to people, and there have been complaints. Really? I find this hard to believe. Most writers I know are self-effacing, low profile individuals. I suspect the complainees were probably friends of rival writers, sent in to cause trouble: a clear example of sock-customers
In the olden days when it used to be Waterstone's (with apostrophe) local writers were encouraged to come in, sell and sign. I began my writing career with a very small, non-mainstream stocked publisher, signing in big chains, and the numerous small independent bookshops that existed back then. Indeed, in Waterstone's, there was a special shelf for local writers. I was on that shelf, and proud to be so. It is not there any more.
When Daunt took over, he promised an end to publishers paying for premium positioning, central buying, and the ubiquitous bogof tables. He promised stores would be given more autonomy. It appears that a U-turn has happened. I've been told of writers with new books out,who've had some signing events cancelled. The quirkiness and integrity of a truly local bookshop has been kicked over a cliff. And this time, there are no small local bookshops to provide an alternative.
Look, I am too old and creaky to chain myself to Waterstones' railings and stage a one woman writer protest, and I do not ask others to do what I am not prepared to do myself.
So this is what I'm suggesting: If you are a writer, or a reader, or a customer of some sort, go into your local Waterstones. Politely point out the unfairness of the change in events policy which discriminates in favour of already stocked, and established writers.
Point out the demoralizing effect of closing the doors on some for whom writing is a passion they are no longer allowed to share publicly. If you mention, politely, your disquiet, I'm hoping it will give the staff some leverage; I got the distinct impression they were not happy over this top-down imposition either.
I believe that bookshops should be vibrant, exciting places, where all writers ought to be welcome to share their work. I believe that books do not come out of a cardboard box labelled stock, or in a package with an Amazon label stuck to the front; books come from the minds and emotions and hearts of their authors.
If you also believe this, please go into Waterstones, and tell them.
*I have started a small 'Tell Waterstones' Twitter campaign. I am Tweeting ''Your events policy is unfair. Please re-consider'' + blog link to @Waterstones. Every time a store tweets a promo, I tweet them the link too, because the promo includes the Twitter link to the (well-known) and welcomed author. I'd love them to share some of your experiences. No writer is an Island! *