Newham Bookshop is a small, independent, award-winning book store nestled between a pharmacy and an estate agency on a busy main road. Founded in 1978, it has established an important foothold in the east end borough of Newham and its wide range of eclectic books reflects the diverse community that lives in the area.
I spent a scorching Friday volunteering there to gain some experience in how a bookshop is run. This was motivated by my recent application for a dream job as a bookseller in the Maldives.
Some things I did/learned:
Relationships with customers, such as schools, are of utmost importance. Those who purchase a large order receive a 15% discount. If a customer requests a book the store doesn't have, the book is ordered in.
Newham Bookshop promotes new books through social media, mostly Twitter, as well as posters on the shop window and books displayed around the counter. They don't have a strategy for promotion or displays (although larger bookstores do) and this works for a small, independent bookshop which already has a strong presence in the area.
Books are bought via a representative who visits the shop and goes through the latest releases with the manager.
Unsold books are returned to the supplier, whether it’s a publishing house (e.g. Hatchette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House), or a wholesaler (e.g. Gardners Books), and initiated through a website called Batchreturn. Some returns are rejected for various reasons (e.g. too soon or too late to return) and when this happens, the bookshop gets directly in touch with the representative who manages the returns request.
Libre Office is used to produce invoices.
Stock take is done once a year at Newham Bookshop. In larger stores, this may be more frequent such as two or three times a year.
A large part of Newham Bookshop is the events they do. They are always inviting school children in for reading sessions and authors for book signings and setting up stalls at conferences. The shop recently donated some books to the local hospital and received a thank you letter, saying how the books had made a difference to the patients. Vivian decided to get in touch with the suppliers and request more books, and the day I was there, the store was in the process of packing and delivering these books to the hospital.
But what makes Newham Bookshop really special is its core values of establishing and maintaining an authentic connection with the community and promoting a love for literacy. The bookstore does all it can to accommodate its customers, including selling books that explore themes relatable to the diverse east London community and are written by local authors. Perhaps the most important aspect of running a successful bookshop is knowing your audience and building a business around them.
I returned to Newham Bookshop a week later for my second day of work experience. In the afternoon, a lovely family visiting from Pakistan dropped in. The mother had grown up reading and loving classic literature and wanted to expose her three children to them - two of them were in their early teens. I recommended some of my all-time favourites, including To Kill A Mockingbird.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most widely read modern classics in the US and UK and explores racial inequality which unfortunately still exists today, but is one of the reasons why the book is so important and relevant.
The story is narrated by six-year-old Scout, adding a layer of innocence and touching on people's humanity in a deeper way. This, along with the modern English, makes it more accessible to young readers. And like most classics, the book can be re-read many times throughout a reader's life and as they get older and wiser, they uncover another layer of meaning to the story, making it a timeless work of art.
The family left the store happy with the recommendation and a handful of other books. I thought it was a privilege to have been the one to expose them to such a wonderful book that would bring them a certain type of joy throughout their lives.
I spent the rest of the afternoon picking V's brain about being a bibliophile bookseller. She recommended reading The Sunday Times bestsellers list (the oldest and most influential book sales chart in the UK), the culture page on various newspapers and book bloggers to keep up to date with the latest books on the market.
Working at Newham Bookshop has stirred something up in me that had been asleep for a long time. Last Friday, Louie Stowell, author of A Bad God's Guide's To Being Good, came in for a book signing. We spoke about her lifestyle and it inspired me to continue writing fiction - something which had come to a stop for a few years. Everyone wants to publish at least one book in their lifetime. It's one of those romantic goals we have and I'm no different, apart from the fact that I do write full time for a living - it just happens to be factual news articles about nature. Being around books and exploring all the gorgeous book designs made me feel really good and I realised I had not been around creativity and art in a long time which I missed.
V mentioned another local author had donated a box of her books to the local hospital. I opened the box to find it was a collection of new releases by best-selling Bengali author Kia Abdullah. I had met her about three years ago at a book reading at the Idea Store in Whitechapel. Her thriller Take It Back was a gritty, chilling story of sexual assault and I felt it captured the ugly side of the south Asian community in Tower Hamlets really well. I admired Kia for writing such a story which could have easily become controversial. This also reminded me of my love of writing fiction and gave me a new-found motivation to try and finish writing a novel I had started five years ago, and start writing loads of short stories which may lead to the epic classic I aspire to write one day.