Books are my Bag


It's Freshers Week at Edinburgh University and PublishEd, the group for all those interested in writing, invited me along to their inaugural meeting. Given the frenetic nature of the pre-term week, they did well to attract such a large number. Audience members included those interested in writing, editing, translation, design, publicity - they covered the full range of publishing skills.

It's easy to make the publishing industry sound every bit as innovative, vibrant, exciting and varied as these young people all hoped it would be. But I felt honour bound to inject an element of reality into the mix. I reminded them that if they wanted to work in the industry they needed to be part of it now. Had they visited Word Power - one of Edinburgh's excellent independent bookshops a five minute walk from where we were meeting? A few raised their hands. I tried not to sound like their mother, but I couldn't help asking them to compare the money they had spent on beer the previous evening with the cost of a paperback. They seemed to take that in good part. They all use libraries - heartening in a week in which there have been several Bad News stories about public libraries, but as students their enthusiasm for what libraries offer is probably no great surprise.

I ducked into Word Power on my way home, and left having bought three books I hadn't realised I needed and a 'Books are my Bag' bag, a key element of the campaign of that name to celebrate the work and importance of high street (and off highstreet) bookshops. [I also encouraged the bookseller to stock Breaking the Spell, the new collection of Scottish folktales by Lari Don, illustrated by Cate James. A Literary Agent's work is never done.]

When I was preparing my talk I was reminded of something I'd been told during a course on management many years ago. 'The perfect sale is the despatch of a product that won't come back to a customer who will.' That's what happened to me today in Word Power. Anybody reading this who has worked in a bookshop will recognise it too - it's a sale that keeps the beancounters happy, the readers returning and the bookseller engaged and motivated.

We're all booksellers in our way - but the Books are my Bag campaign recognises the very particular role of those who stock the shelves, know the books, delight in the books and sell them.

We owe them a great deal.

May their tills ring and fill up.

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