Wandering through a couple of bookstores, I thought of the myriad of ways I'd 'come across' authors for the first time - and how several who later became "I'll read everything they write" favourites had been initially discovered through quirks of fate; noticing a news story or review, or the book itself displayed on a featured end, or in a bargain bin/table, or with a nice eye-catching front-facing, or even just because they happened to be near another author I was particularly looking for (e.g. several years ago I stumbled upon Mark Billingham's excellent debut, Sleepyhead, thanks to the fact I'd been browsing James Lee Burke's titles nearby).
There are so many books out there, and so many good and great authors and titles amongst them, that many haven't received the success or attention they deserve.
And while many things can't be controlled, some can - so as part of an irregular series on this blog, I will be 'mystery shopper-ing' some New Zealand bookstores, examining how well (if at all) they highlight, display, or otherwise offer NZ crime fiction to their customers. After all, if our own bookstores don't support local crime writing, how can we expect overseas ones to? To kick-start this series, I visited Whitcoulls' flagship store on Auckland's Queen Street (the one that has the giant sifty Santa outside at Xmas). Here are some of my findings:
- Whitcoulls has a dedicated crime section, as well as a dedicated NZ fiction section - both on the ground floor behind the bargain bins.
- Dorothy Fowler's debut, WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, as well as several Joan Druett titles, including her latest-ish Wiki Coffin mystery, DEADLY SHOALS, were prominently displayed with multiple front facings in the New Zealand section (GOOD/GREAT);
- Alix Bosco's recent debut, CUT & RUN, had two front-facings (multiple copies) on an eye-level shelf in the crime section (GOOD/GREAT);
- Vanda Symon's THE RINGMASTER had two copies (spine-facing) on a bottom shelf (thanks to her surname) in the crime section - if I hadn't been specifically looking for these, I wouldn't have noticed them (OKAY);
- There were no copies of any of Paul Cleave's books (international bestsellers), or Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD (#1 NZ fiction bestseller in March), to be found anywhere (POOR);
- When I asked the assistant about Paul Cleave's books, she seemed a little surprised they didn't have any, and then when she looked up on the computer, found that very few Whitcoulls around the country had any at all (e.g. the smash-hit THE CLEANER only had 1 copy in 1 Chch store, nationwide) (VERY POOR)
I also can't see any reason why NZ crime fiction couldn't be featured more - put on an end, or in the 'Recommended' sections etc. Or at least have a tag underneath with 'Local Writer', 'New Zealand crime' or something like that - or a copy of a small review, either in-house or from a magazine etc - that could catch a browsing customers attention. None of the NZ crime fiction even had had a "Whitcoulls Staff recommends" note, I think.
Little things could make a huge difference. So overall for Whitcoulls Queen St, I give them 2.25 out of 5. Shows a little promise, but needs a lot of improvement.