For some time now, I have been hoping to get Sam and Martha into a fifth – a fifth! – bookshop. I know from hard, perhaps even bitter, experience that the big chains are a no-go for self-published, unknown authors. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to convince my local branches of both Waterstones and WH Smith to feature my books on their “local interest” shelves, but it seems that even these are furnished by head office stock control elves, so I have given up on that for now. But one independent bookshop in my local area has been on my radar for some time: Hart’s Books in Saffron Walden.
Saffy – as I am afraid we call it in our house – is a delightful small town about eighteen miles from where I live. In the summer I go there most Sundays as the stoker (back half – the one who does all the hard work) on our tandem, as it is a lovely cycle ride. Over the years I have seen Hart’s (founded in 1836) falter, fail, close – and then reopen with great success in 2016. On the publication of “Portraits of Pretence” and then “Faith, Hope and Trickery”, I emailed the bookshop to ask to be considered, and heard nothing. I resolved to go in in person, to plead my case and hand over a book. But every time I was in the town, I was sweating – sorry, glowing – profusely from my cycling exertions and far from the image of a trustworthy author of respected historical crime fiction. And then yesterday (I know, not a Sunday, but the weather was so good that we did it anyway) we cycled into Saffy and I decided to take a chance, sweaty and un-booked though I was.
And reader, the shop’s manager could not have been nicer. He listened to my tale as I glowed gently by the front desk, and immediately agreed to take five books – a copy of each – into stock. A customer was waiting to pay and said that the series sounded perfect for him and that he would “haunt Hart’s” until they arrived and then buy one immediately. Given my recent experience in David’s in Cambridge, I am beginning to see that standing by the till and catching people with their money in their hand is the way to sell books. The upshot is that, from tomorrow (after our usual tandem ride, with the addition of a pannier containing five books and a handful of bookmarks), Sam will be stocked in his fifth bookshop and third county (Essex).