The True Value of your Biography Section

Biographies and memoirs are a mainstay in the bookselling world – they can connect with readers in a way unique from other genres, building a personal bond with the reader based on shared experience, personal interest (and/or obsession), historical fascination or any number of other connections. The pure variation of lives and experience committed to paper has the power to draw new and diverse people into a shop, offering new ways for booksellers to connect with a wider community.This week The Read talks to Anna Hunt from Marsden Books, Carole Beu from The Women’s Bookshop, as well as Dylan Sherwood and Marcus Greville from Unity Books Wellington about biographies and their audiences, sales and customer base.Birds of a featherBiographies sell best when kept together as often a customer is looking for a theme rather than a specific title. ‘People often ask for ‘a bio’ without knowing what they want’, says Carole, pointing out that being able to peruse their interests at their leisure is key for their customers.Unity Books groups by NZ, historical, literary, and contemporary, for exactly the same reasons notes Marcus Greville. But new or especially popular biographies get front of shop privileges, be it on Unity’s ‘pyramid’, The Women’s Bookshop’s famous ‘purple block’, or Marsden’s window.When asked for examples of biographies that have done well for the shop and ideas of why those in particular stood out, an abundance of titles were offered up – more than half of them by NZers. Diana Wichtel’s Driving to Treblinka, Tom Scott’s Drawn Out, Adam Dudding’s My Father’s Island, and Emily Writes’ Rants in the Dark, to name but a few.While none of the respondents named the same international titles as those that had done well for them, Anna Hunt goes to great lengths to search out titles that she can get behind for her customers: Plot 29 by Alan Jenkins, Lucky Lupin by Charlie Mortimer, and Citizen Clem by John Bew.Carole points towards store favourites The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein, Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, and Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford. And Dylan and Marcus mention Outsiders: Five Women Writers that Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon, Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, and Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, which Marcus states is ‘Symphonic in it’s smutty humour and linguistic beauty!’These titles are incredibly diverse in subject matter, speaking to the importance of recognising the interests of your local community.

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