Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Down with all pesterers

If you are a regular at Waterstones, or even an irregular, you have probably come across authors, book in hand, approaching customers for a chat. One author, with a backlist of some excellent fiction books, Stephen Benatar (ex-Nottingham as it happens) has been doing this for years to great success. Here's an old article about what he does: His books are good, but there has been a rash of other self-published writers getting in on the act, leading to customers feeling pestered. I found it bad enough when buying a book during the period when Waterstones staff would ask if I would like some populist dreck off the counter at a reduced price when I was buying something intellectually stimulating (or when I was buying other populist dreck), in the same way that WH Smith keep trying to sell me a giant bar of chocolate for only £1.20 when all I want is Private Eye. Annoying, and embarrassing for the staff as far as I could tell. Does Waterstones still do this? Not the last couple of times I've been in.
But I have digressed... Some of the books being sold by pestering hand-sellers have been grim, according to accounts, and one customer wrote to Waterstones complaining that they'd felt pressured into buying a badly written, badly produced self-published book by a pest. Waterstones responded by banning such practises. Unfortunately some managers reacted by banning everything in sight and some authors panicked. Below is Waterstones' statement, which is, I think, pretty clear. Some of our writers have had great success from signing sessions - I hope this all settles down to the benefit of real writers, Waterstones staff and Waterstones customers.
"Our aim at Waterstones is to host as many appropriate events as possible. These may be author signings, children's storytimes and activities, ticketed evening talks and many other sorts of events. Many of our shops have active events programmes and it is our hope that given the necessary support and encouragement we can build on this and get even more events happening in our shops. However, Waterstones’ reputation is built on service and on recommendation, and it is never acceptable for us to outsource either of these attributes. This means we will no longer allow open-ended handselling 'signings' where authors spend long periods of time in our shops approaching our customers. We will encourage our shops to support local authors, be they published professionally or independently, but never at the expense of the customer experience. So while open-ended, handselling events will not be acceptable, shops should consider other more appropriate events, such as evening talks or book launches."

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