Sue Porter is owner of the Wirral-based independent bookshop Linghams and one of The Bookseller's Rising Stars of 2020. Here, she talks to us about spearheading the 'At Home with 4 Indies' virtual events programme during the coronavirus pandemic (alongside Carrie Morris at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, Emma Corfield-Walters at Book-ish in Crickhowell and Helen Stanton at Forum Books in Corbridge) and how to turn a crisis into a success.
Can you describe your career trajectory to date and how you ended up in your current role?
I bought Linghams five years ago after working in benefit fraud investigation for 23 years. I had no experience in bookselling, so I had lots of chats with booksellers up and down the country, including Booka Bookshop and Mr B's Emporium. I also attended a Bookseller's Association course and fell in love with bookselling.
How and why did you come up with the concept of 'At Home with 4 Indies'?
This was my crazy idea, just when lockdown hit us. I used to run a lot of real-time events. I was desperately trying to think outside the box and after a lunchtime brainstorm with my other half, 'At Home with...' was born. I approached my three besties Booka, Book-ish and Forum Books and we launched our events programme after lots of tech training sessions and calls with publicists and each other. We have had authors from all over the world dial in!
Start small, and then when you feel confident take a big breath and pitch for a big name. The rest is history....
How did you go about launching 'At Home with 4 Indies'? Were there any challenges along the way?
We lauched our first event with Jack Monroe on Facebook Live. Since then we have hosted 70 free events on Facebook Live. At first it was definitely community led, to keep everyone distracted for an hour and then hopefully, if they bought the book, they got further enjoyment. Our events have been viewed on Facebook 300,000 times. Sales were not great unfortunately, so again we needed to get our thinking hats on, which is where our whiz tech Emma came in. We all had virtual training on Zoom and went from strength to strength with growing book and ticket sales and authors engaging and shouting about the events.
There were huge challenges too — technology issues, the fear of losing our businesses, teaching people about the new way of working. We have formed an incredible friendship, and I don't think it would have worked without these girls. From late night calls crying with despair and hysterical laughter, it has been a huge rollercoaster!
The team behind 'At Home with 4 Indies' — (left to right) Forum Books' Helen Stanton, Linghams' Sue Porter, Booka's Carrie Morris, and Book-ish's Emma Corfield-Walters
What has the response to 'At Home with 4 Indies' been?
There has been a super response from publishers, authors and our customers, new and old. We more or less have at least one event each week, and sometimes up to three.
What are your future plans for 'At Home with 4 Indies'?
We are booked up until November, but obviously we may need to continue until the spring next year, so publishers should keep pitches coming.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of launching a new project during a crisis?
- Get a good network of support
- Utilise all your contacts
- Practice, practice, practice
- Start small, and then when you feel confident take a big breath and pitch for a big name. The rest is history....