I have received several courteous and reassuring emails from James Daunt. Either he has been disingenuous in his communications with me, or he genuinely does not understand the nature of signings in bookshops for authors who do not have huge marketing machinery behind them.
He gave me his personal assurance that none of my events would be cancelled. Well, two have been cancelled this week, although I have also received three invitations to sign in other stores. Some of the events that are still being honoured are going ahead as agreed. Others have imposed a 90 minute limit. Why on earth would any author travel for an hour to spend 90 minutes in a book store where he might typically expect to sign a dozen books in that time? It is not worth anyone's while to hold an event like that. These events would only be viable for a well known author, who is heavily marketed, or a celebrity. Less well known authors will be forced to cancel any event that entails travelling any distance, and staying overnight.
Waterstones may claim they are not cancelling events, but they are making it impossible for authors to attend them.
Where we do turn up, can we seriously expect to be frog marched out of the store at the end of 90 minutes? How different all this is from the welcome bookshops used to give authors!
One of my local stores, where I have signed many times, told me yesterday, "We know we always sell loads when you're in store, but we're not sure if we're allowed to have any more events." Reality check, Waterstones, you are a SHOP. Why on earth would you want to reject a successful sales strategy? On what planet does that even begin to make sense? Only a planet that values celebrity over talent. Because this is not about improving sales figures. People buy books by famous authors like J K Rowling and P D James regardless of whether they meet the authors. Their appearance in bookshops is essential, creating a much needed buzz about the stores, in a mutual promotion exercise. But the real boost in sales comes from hard working dedicated authors who give up their time to mingle with customers, recommending books, including their own of course, and encouraging people to buy more books in physical stores. And those are the authors this new policy is excluding.
What can we do, other than stay at home building an online presence, and buy a kindle, or a kobo.