Independent stores are the best places to shop for books
What you need to know:
- When I got to the spot where Adichie was, there were only four other African titles there. I had to go to the till and ask them to do a search.
- The book I wanted had been there but was sold out. No idea when they would have one in stock. So I ended up picking two other titles to replace other misplaced copies.
In most South African bookstores, when a writer buys their work, they get an author’s discount that can range from ten to 20 percent. Why would anyone buy their own work? You may wonder. Is that not the ultimate mark of vanity? On the contrary. I tend to do it when I am with friends who may want a copy. My being there permits me to get them the book at a discounted rate.
So it was that a few weeks before Christmas in 2010, after brunch with my cousin and her partner, her partner was sucking up to the in-law and expressed a desire to read my then latest novel. As the restaurant was close to a South African chain bookstore, we walked into it and after whispering my plan to get him a discount. I picked up the book and as I was paying, I asked the woman who was serving me for an author’s discount.
“Are you the author?” she said disbelievingly.
I answered in the affirmative.
“Where is your identity document?” she asked.
“Sorry, I left it in the car,” I answered.
IN ALL SERIOUSNESS
Then she asked in all seriousness, “and how do I know you are who you say you are?”
I managed to get my discount though. After I had gone to take another of my titles on the shelf which had my picture and put my face against it.
I got thinking about this, during the week.
On Tuesday, armed with a book voucher for a certain chain bookstore, I decided I would buy some replacement titles for books that were liberated from my bookshelf by some biblioklepts I have the misfortune of calling friends. I also wanted to buy two new titles. Yes. It was a generous book voucher. After walking around the bookstore and not having a clear indication where the titles I wanted may have been, I asked one of the shop assistants to assist me.
“Could you direct me to the African fiction section?”
He had no idea what I was asking for. Instead, he told me to wait as he called one of his colleagues. When his colleague came, he walked me to a shelf which had African literature from one country — Kenya. There was nothing else from the rest of the continent.
My mention that they had selected the title I was looking for had been their chain bookstore’s last bookstore read had yielded no positive results.
So I decided to see whether I could get what I was asking for by pulling the CNA-Card.
“Right. Show me where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books are.” Perhaps, I figured, I could finally find Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming that I had asked for. A light went on.
I smiled. Finally we were getting somewhere.
Except we were not.
When I got to the spot where Adichie was, there were only four other African titles there. I had to go to the till and ask them to do a search.
The book I wanted had been there but was sold out. No idea when they would have one in stock. So I ended up picking two other titles to replace other misplaced copies.
When I left the chain bookstore, I remembered again why I tend to buy my books from Prestige, Bookstop or Magunga Bookstore online. Independent bookstores are often set up by people who love books.
They also seem to employ their staff on this basis and I have yet to enter an indie without encountering knowledgeable staff members. Indeed, my experience of independent bookstores is that I am likely than not to encounter slow service from the staff because they are busy reading a book which, I think, is a good problem to have for any bookstore. The staff almost always seem to know the best book to recommend when one walks in and asks be it genre fiction, literary fiction, political biography, children’s books or even spiritual books. It is also a major reason why, as a writer, I am more inclined to stock with indies. When a customer walks in, they will know exactly where the title that is being asked for can be found. If nothing else, this guarantees that when an author tells friends where they can get her title, friends are not met with “it’s not here” by bookstore staff because they are not familiar with the title.
I hope one day bookstore chains will make me change my mind about them and give the same excellent quality service I receive from independent bookstores. As things stand now, I am more likely to purchase from them only when I have vouchers.
Zukiswa Wanner is a South African author based in Kenya. [email protected]