Writer Twunts

Writer Twunts ask “What have you published?” meaning “Is your novel on sale in bookshops?” If your novel is not on sale in bookshops Writer Twunts assume you are not a Writer. As you are not a Writer you are irrelevant to them.

Writer Twunts email the bookshop you work in and ask why you aren’t stocking their novel. They come into the shop and ask the same. They DEMAND you stock it. If you have a social media profile they will add you on Facebook and Twitter. They will only ever communicate with you to ask why their book wasn’t in the shop when they came in.

Writer Twunts will actually send emails that say “I don’t think you realise who you are dealing with.”

Writer Twunts like you to organise events for them. They will have a long list of things that Have To Happen at the event. They will act as if they are famous. They are not.

(Famous Writers tend to be polite. Famous Writers usually say thank you for your support. Some send chocolates or cards or copies of their new novels to the bookshop. Writer Twunts send in nothing except their ego.)

Writer Twunts will send passive aggressive tweets saying “Thanks for stocking my book. Why isn’t it front of store though? Could you fix please?”

Writer Twunts will complain that you only have 3 copies of their book in stock.

Writer Twunts imagine that if their book is in the bookshop, then people will buy it. Writer Twunts will blame you for not prominently displaying it when nobody buys it.

Writer Twunts will loudly announce that they are a writer as if you have never met one before. As if you aren’t friends with many, many wonderful writers, none of whom are twunts. They will expect you to be dazzled.

Writer Twunts think it’s ok to fill your twitter/facebook feed with endless self promotion.

Writer Twunts will ignore you for most of the time. When they want a review, or an event, or their latest book in store, they will contact you, without embarrassment, and expect you to be happy to help them.

Feel free to add your own experiences of Writer Twuntness in the comments.


Working in a bookshop one quickly becomes used to customers mispronouncing names of authors. Sometimes the name is so far from the original it’s a challenge to identify the correct author without embarrassing the customer. Understandable though – if you don’t hear the name spoken how will you know the pronunciation? (Though I find it hard to believe the guy who asked for something by Shacky Spee Are A had never heard Shakespeare’s name said aloud). It’s more embarrassing for a bookseller to get it wrong, I think. We’re supposed to know, aren’t we? I tend to approach names I’m unsure of with some gusto in the belief that if I say it confidently enough, people won’t challenge me. There are some names I seem to have to say a lot, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose enormous popularity means I get asked “Who wrote…” at least once a week, with Adichie being the answer. Writing this I googled “How to pronounce…” and am relieved that it seems I have been doing an ok job of it. Conversely I was surprised when listening to the radio some time last year to hear Don DeLillo pronounced De Li Low and not De Lie Low as I had been saying it. The shame!

I was reminded of this last week when I read a tweet from Chris Power saying  “My god, I’ve been pronouncing Joseph Roth as ‘wrath’, not ‘wrote'”  – yup, me too!

At work my colleague and I discussed more surprising pronunciations.  Did you know that Herman Hesse is apparently pronounced Hesser? That Vikram Seth is Sate? That Robert Louis Stevenson is pronounced Robert Lewis Stevenson? (Incidentally my colleague assures me that Jekyll as in Jekyll and Hyde is pronounced Gee Call.) Sebastian Faulks is apparently Folks.

I’d love to hear of others too – for the sake of bookseller pride I need to know.


I used to write about some of the stranger, funnier, or more demanding bookshop customers I had. They were always very popular posts and I enjoyed sharing them. Then a couple of pals told me another bookseller/writer had begun blogging about her customers and asked how I felt about it. I said I didn’t have ownership on amusing anecdotes, and I felt not much of anything about it. I couldn’t see that it was any kind of a problem. Then this person got a deal to publish a book of these ha ha customers. We have some mutual bloggy/writer pals but we’re not acquainted in any way. I haven’t read the book or her blog. Yet I stopped writing my own bookshop blether because I became self-conscious. I suppose I worried that people would think I was copying her (yes, even though I have blog evidence that I was doing it way back when.) Curious. 

Anyhow, I’ve just been tidying my desk and come across piles of notes. One includes an exciting message to myself:

Wince at the light
How do you know
How do I know

You may be surprised to hear that this note has not unlocked my novel. In fact I have no clue what it means at all.

Other notes are things I’ve jotted down about customers. All true.

Scary man shouts that the order I’ve just given him can’t be his as he was told it would take 3 weeks and it’s only been 4 days.

A man grabs my hand and kisses it. He leaves a wet patch on my skin and I feel sick.

A man hands my colleague a book. Colleague zaps book and asks if customer would like a bag. Customer shakes head. Colleague asks if he has a Waterstones card? Would he like a stamp card? Customer shakes head and doesn’t open mouth. As customer leaves he leans over desk, opens mouth to reveal a froth of plentiful white saliva and spittle, and gurgles, “Goodbye”.

Customer asks for a copy of “The Girl With the Dragon Toe”.

A woman says she’s been harassed by building society staff who called the police when she told them she would smash their windows. She says she always gets in trouble because of her anger. She asks me if she should go upstairs for a cup of coffee or go to church and sit quietly with a cup of tea. I recommend tea and quiet. She asks if I can find her a man. She has a black eye. She says she drinks too much and doesn’t know how she got it. She says I am a nice person and asks where I work. I tell her “Here, in the bookshop,” and she says she thought I must be a professional carer as I’m making her feel so much calmer. She leaves smiling.

A man asks me to recommend a book. I ask what books he has previously enjoyed and he shouts, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.”

A skinny man talks with the slowest speech pattern I’ve ever known. He maintains constant eye contact, monotones, does not smile. 

An angry woman asks if we sell books on how to control anger.

Bookshop baloney

This Christmas seems particularly GRRsome to me. Not sure why, perhaps it always does. At work on Saturday my irritation felt like a nagging toothache. I don’t think it showed though – at least, not to the customers. 

I work on the first floor and am often puzzled by how many people are surprised to hear the book they want is on a different floor above.
“You have another floor?”
“Yes, we have five floors in all.”
“That’s ridiculous!”
Ridiculous? Really? 
“On the next floor?”
“How do I get there?”
“We have stairs,” I gesture with a sweep of my arm. “Or a lift just here.”
“For god’s sakes.”

So many people so cross that there are more floors. The coffee shop on the third floor? Tsk. Reference on fourth? Tut. How do they cope in department stores?

Then there are the people who ask “Where can I find so and so?” I look it up on the computer and confirm that we have a copy, or several.
“On the next floor up, on the left. You can ask the assistant at the counter and they will show you.”
“Right. Thanks.”
And I watch them head down the stairs and out of the shop.

A man handed his book to me to scan and it set off our alarm. Deactivating the tag requires me to rub the book over the desktop where the machine beneath does its duty. 
“Don’t rub my book.”
“I’m sorry …”
I sympathised, I like my books pristine too. The book doesn’t get damaged though. He paid the £9.99 with a £10 Waterstone’s gift card. I told him he had one penny left on the card and handed it to him.
“Where’s my penny?”
I repeated that it was on his card.
“Don’t you dare try to cheat me out of my penny. I know my rights. Where’s my one pence? I DEMAND my money.”

A regular customer comes in. I haven’t seen him for a while. He travels for over an hour on the bus to visit us but he’s ill, and his illness has worsened. He’s not sure he’ll be able to keep  coming. Then another man tells me about the disease that is killing him. 

My colleague took a phone call from a woman wanting a poetry book that she thought might have a blue cover. Yup, that’s totally not a bookshop myth, it’s a thing that happens regularly.

A guy asked me for a Kindle Voucher. Erm… nope, not gone be selling one of them.
“That’s like asking for a Starbucks Gingerbread Latte in a Costa Coffee,” said another customer. 

Then she said…

A woman came into the bookshop a year or so ago. She spoke really fast.
“You got that book about Madeleine McCann? That one about Madeleine McCann? You know, the book about the little girl, Madeleine McCann?”
We told her that Madeleine by Kate McCann was due to be published in May 2011. She returned the following week.
“You got that book about Madeleine McCann?”
The woman continued to return intermittently, always repeating the same questions, always getting the same answer. Eventually the book was published. A few months passed until the customer came in and made her usual request. Triumphantly a bookseller fetched the book and placed it in the customer’s hands. She barely glanced at it.
“No, I don’t think that’s what I’m after.”

A self-published author asked if we had her book. I was pleased to say yes and take her over to the shelf where her book is a face out with a local author sign highlighting it. She was unhappy. She said she wanted her book in the window. I tried to explain that we have many, many books. I could not have been more patient. She flung an arm out and one of her nails left a long scratch on my arm.
“I am old,” she said. “You should put my book in your window. Now what are you going to do about it?”

A woman approached the counter with a book from our 3 for 2 offer.
“Have you got a copy of this book without a sticker on?”
“I can just take the sticker off?”
“I would like one without a sticker on.”
I peeled the sticker off.

Ye Olde Bookshoppe bits…

If you say “Where are your guide books?” with a Scottish accent it really does sound like “Where are your gay books?” And if you ask this question in Brighton, which is known as the gay capital of the UK, we will have a lot to show you.

Kazuo Ishiguro and Haruki Murakami are two different people. I know! Pesky similar sounding Japanese names, eh?

Shakespeare wrote plays. (He’s rather famous for it actually.) That’s why his writing can be found in our “Drama” section instead of “Classics.”

We have copies of the for-a-very-good-cause-and-containing-lots-of-excellent-writers-that-I “know” “100 stories for Haiti” on sale and appearing in my short story display case NOW!

WHOOOOOOSH is the sound of the gorgeous McSweeney’s 33 selling very swiftly (also in my short story display case, unless it’s gone already!)


Blooming irresistible if you ask me.

Five bits of blether

1) I subbed a few bits and bobs last week; the first time I have done so in what seems like an age. I got my first acceptance of the year today. It’s for a tiny bit o’ word play, nothing big or clever, but I am pleased. It’s a start.

2) This week there were less people coming into the bookshop and brandishing out of print books that they claim to have received as unwanted Christmas presents. The whole exchange/refund thing becomes an awkward business in January. Sometimes you get people coming in with a big glossy hardback that they assume was bought at full price. Without a receipt we will offer an exchange for the price we sold the book at during December. Telling someone that their sister or whoever actually only paid £8 not £16 always makes me squirm. And the person trying to exchange an out of print book? Did someone buy them a gift from a bargain bookshop or are they just trying their luck with an unwanted book they had on their own shelves? Either way it makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

3) I apologise to the man who asked for the erotica section. I really didn’t hear you. I didn’t mean to make you shout “I want erotica” that loudly.

4) I apologise to the man buying the butt fucking anthology. The price on the back was in dollars and I had to type the isbn into my computer to get the price in sterling.

5) Radio 3’s The Verb is running a short story competition judged by Janice Galloway. The winning entry will be read out on a future show. No bucks, no trophy, but plenty of kudos, no?

This month is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Anton Chekhov, doctor, playwright – and master of the short story. He wrote hundreds of them, often very quickly, and many have become enduring and influential classics: The Lady with the Dog, Kashtanka, and The Kiss to name but a few.

As part of Radio 3’s Chekhov season, The Verb would like you to send us an original short story of 1000 words, using one of the following Chekhov titles:

1. The Lady with the Dog
2. Difficult People
3. The Lottery Ticket

Please don’t call your story Difficult Dogs, or The Lady with the Ticket! These will not be considered. You don’t have to use the same characters, or setting – you don’t even have to have read the original story – but we will be awarding points for a certain Chekhovian spirit. Please check our terms and conditions, below, before sending your entry to:



The Verb,
Room 7045,
Broadcasting House,
Portland Place,
London W1A 1AA

The closing date of the competition is 5th February.

A just for fun no prize at all (just a warm, smug glow of being right) little quiz

In the bookshop we have CCTV, an alarm system, and a full time Security Guard. We stick security tags in books that we think are most likely to be stolen. My colleague urges me to tag books by three fiction authors in particular. Anyone care to guess the names of these most likely to be pinched writers?

Edit – Our fiction floor is separate from our Sci fi and fantasy books, our crime and horror novels, and our young adults and children’s fiction.

Using and schmoozing…

I was introduced to a writer recently at a social event. The person making the introduction said something like “Harvey meet Sara, she’s a writer too.” At which I squirmed a little, feeling much further down the rung than this man who has a published collection of short stories. I hadn’t heard of Harvey before I met him, and we don’t stock his book at my bookshop, but I knew he had been published because he had a copy of his own book tucked under his arm.

Anyway, his eyes bounced off me rapidly and he walked away without a word.

A while later he returned beaming.
“Susan says you work at Waterstones?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Ah, lovely…waffle, waffle, waffle.”
I smiled politely, did the chit chat thing for a short time, and then made my excuses. It’s something I am getting rather used to. Writers have to do a ton of publicity and self promotion these days, nobody can blame them for seizing on a possible opportunity, but it does leave a slightly unpleasant taste when they have been so clearly dismissive of me before learning I’m a Saturday Bookseller! Yup, a Saturday bookseller. As in one day a week. And if I get schmoozed for working one day a week in a big bookshop what on earth must it be like for the powers that be?

When I next went to work one of the managers had a chat with me. He’d been put in an awkward position because Harvey had rung the shop, asked to speak to the manager and then said that he’d spoken to me and I had asked him to do a signing at our branch.


Cheeky fucking bastard.

Harvey will not be appearing at our store, neither will we be stocking his book. It’s not one that we would stock anyway, although if a customer wants a copy we’d happily order one.

What makes me curious is what Harvey thought would happen if we did organise an event for him. He is an unknown author with no press or publicity that I could find. No good reviews of his book, no reason for people to come and hear him read unless they are the sort of person who sees a sign in a bookshop saying “Harvey Doodah will be reading from his collection at xyz” and think, ooh, lovely, I’ll pop along. (Very unlikely.)

It seems fundamental to me that writers having words printed in a book does not automatically lead to sales. One needs reviews, publicity, goodwill, promotion and so on. And people skills probably help too.

Person comes into the bookshop and says…

1) Person comes into the bookshop and says “I have written a book. Who do I get to publish it please?”

2) Person comes into the bookshop and says “I am an author and I am prepared to do an event here.”

3) Person comes into bookshop and says “I was in here a few weeks ago and saw a book on that table over there. It was browny red I think. What was it?”

4) Person comes into the bookshop and says “Three for two? Oh that’s typical, it’s the cheapest one that’s free. Tut.”