Summer success

<p>At the beginning of July, I was one of a crew of authors who took part in the first ever Independent Booksellers Week. The idea was to celebrate the diversity and achievements of independent booksellers and, while accepting that the indies can't compete with the big girls and boys on discounts or cut-price deals, there are other things that matter too, such as an ability to get to know individual customers. The Booksellers Association is gathering feedback, but their initial impressions are that, although not without teething problems, the week was a &quot;resounding success&quot;.</p>
<p>It's bold to launch a new campaign in the hectic summer period&mdash;festivals, literary prizes, competing book promotions, &quot;R&amp;J&quot;, not to mention school plays and sports days! Even so, the roll call of authors was impressive&mdash;Gyles Brandreth, Alan Titchmarsh, Sally Gardner, Michelle Magorian and Jilly Cooper. Leslie Thomas helped out behind the till at the Torbay Bookshop in Paignton, Devon&mdash;owner Matthew Clarke is one of the leading lights of IBW&mdash;and at Newham Books in east London, Vivian Archer held a &quot;Girls' Night In&quot; where readers met Gilda O'Neill, Sarah Wise and Kimberley Chambers over wine and chocolate.</p>
<p>There's no independent bookshop where I live, so I went to the Hayling Island Bookshop in Hampshire to do a drop-in writing surgery for students from local schools and sixth-form colleges. For me, more than the signings and press stuff, this was the key justification of IBW, a chance to reinforce, at grassroots level, the crucial links between local readers and local writers, established and just starting out. There are outstanding individual branches of chains&mdash;my local, Waterstone's in Chichester, does an enormous amount to support local authors&mdash;but obviously the bigger the shop, the harder it is to know customers individually. Most, if not all, independents are modest in size and are rooted specifically and uniquely in the areas they serve.</p>
<p>As for the profile of IBW, there was national press coverage, but more significant was the amount of local press generated. The Western Morning News, Pocklington Post, Portsmouth News, Lewisham Mercury&mdash;all widely read, serving very different constituencies, yet, for this one week, all of them giving substantial space to books.</p>
<p>Campaigns can be launched nationally, but they succeed or fail on what they deliver on the ground. And what I saw in the various bookshops I visited was enthusiasm, en-ergy and the IBW message of celebration coming through loud and clear. Small did sure turn out to be beautiful.</p>