Sunday, 7 September 2014
WagTongues by Mary Smith
Authors – whether mainstream published or independent – have little opportunity to sell their books over the counter – over any counter. Last year, a few of us were grumbling about this state of affairs. Even the annual Book Festival, held in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book town provides no opportunity for local writers to sell their books unless they are in the main programme. A small number of the 60 or so local writers might be in the programme each year but it leaves the vast majority invisible to the visitors to the book festival.
Instead of bemoaning our fate some of us decided to do something about it and so, WagTongues was born. It is a collective of Dumfries & Galloway writers which organises pop-up bookshops throughout the region. It is a bit anarchic – no constitution, no committee, no bank account. All published writers living in the region can sell their books in the pop-up bookshop. WagTongues takes no commission so authors receive the full sale price for their books.
The first pop-up bookshop happened in Wigtown last year, on the last day of the festival. It had proved very difficult to find a venue but the Machars Initiative came to the rescue and offered their office space – not ideal, but central. Authors were offered reading slots during the day and the bookshop turned into a mini festival, an element which has continued to be an integral part of WagTongues.
The next time we popped up was in Dumfries when we had a two-day shop in a central venue, on the weekend the Christmas lights were switched on so there were lots of events going on around us. It was a great success – apart from selling lots of books, people who would never in their wildest dreams have attended a poetry event were enticed in and discovered poetry could be fun, witty, and entertaining, authors were interviewed about their work and WagTongues started to become known and talked about.
Soon we were being invited to attend festivals and had a fantastic two days at Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival where we popped up in an old newsagents shop. This month we have three pop-up shops – one down and two more to go. The one we have just done was across the border in Carlisle when WagTongues was invited to pop up at the first Carlisle Book Festival. As it was in the library we couldn’t have our usual mini festival of readings but we had ‘Ask the Author Anything’ in which visitors could ask authors questions about their writing – or anything at all really as I realised when I heard author Margaret Elphinstone say: “Oh, that’s Auntie Barbara!”
Another part of the WagTongues experience is ‘The Poet Is In’. Visitors can describe a momentous event in their lives, drop it in a box and one of the resident poets immortalises the memory in poetry. It was a good day, even though sales were lower than usual – we suspect because people come to libraries to borrow, not buy books.
WagTongues has also been invited to take part in one of Dumfries’s newest festivals, the Nithraid – a boat race from the sea up to where the salt water meets the fresh in the River Nith. WagTongues will have a pop-up book-stall. The final event will be back in Wigtown on Saturday 27th September, which is the first Saturday of Wigtown Book Festival where there will a wide and exciting range of publications, a complete mini festival of readings and talks.
WagTongues is growing and is proving to be a fantastic showcase and sales point for the writers who live and work in Dumfries & Galloway – a beautiful region in which to live and work but which has no independent bookshops – and provides an opportunity for writers and readers to interact.
Are there any similar book-selling collectives out there? It would be great to compare notes.