Turns out it’s hard to get a book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher into bookshops, and it doesn’t help if the author’s a poet and the book doesn’t have a spine. I didn’t expect booksellers to be clamouring for copies of The Flower and the Plough, but it still made quite a change from seeing five-figure orders coming into the production department and being able to identify most of the books on the WH Smith’s bestsellers wall as from Orion. I felt like a trained corporate administrator reduced to the status of a bum.
After many rejections from some nice independent bookshops I’d approached, things started looking up when the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford agreed to take a couple. The Albion Beatnik is exactly the kind of place I’d imagined the book in: cosy and full of obscure titles and character. It’s the kind of bookshop you’d visit if you just fancied buying a book, any book.
I also sent some to Quimby’s, a very cool-sounding bookshop in Chicago which specialises in ‘unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and independent ‘zines.’ I like the idea of my first publication going ahead to places I might visit one day. If I’m ever in Chicago I’ll definitely swing by Quimby’s, because it looks like a treasure-trove; check out this statement from the founder:
“I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.”
I salute you, Steven.
My friend Helen then suggested I try florists, which was a complete masterstroke. It’s not as though I expect every shop in the country to stock my books, but I do really want The Flower and the Plough to have a real-life presence. I want it to attract people who might not usually make a beeline for the poetry section of a bookshop, and until Rachel or I are household names the only way people are going stumble across this book is if it’s displayed in shops, facing forwards. It’s a tactile, beautiful object and the poems are so fantastic that I think my main hurdle is getting people to pick the book up in the first place; once they’ve looked at a few pages they’ll see how wonderful it is.
I emailed some independent florists asking if they’d like to sell a book of love poems alongside their flowers and a few replied saying yes, they would love to give it a try. Libby Ferris Flowers is a gorgeous, friendly shop in central Norwich, which my aunt recommended to me. Daisies is the fanciest flower shop in Oxford, up in Jericho. I remember going there once as a student in a frantic search for red carnations. Zita Elze Flowers is a magical greenhouse-style grotto near Kew Gardens, which looked all the more magical when I went to deliver the books in the snow last Friday.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I went into Magma in Covent Garden, where I used to go on my lunchbreak when I was looking for birthday presents. I was lucky enough to speak to a man who turned out to be the owner and he agreed to give it a go too, and to display the book in the gift shop instead of in the Magma bookshop where it would just get lost.
So I’m thrilled. I count my blessings like Pokémon and I feel very lucky that the Emma Press’s first book is on sale in six real-life shops. What’s more, these are six gorgeous, independent shops run by people who are passionate about their business and willing to take a chance on a small, hopeful, poetry press. The best kind of shop, then, so if you’re passing by any one of them, do go inside and take a look.