Ear Trumpets and Alternative Bestsellers

Before we get on to our ‘alternative’ bestsellers (NB these ARE real ones, just our own, rather than taken from trade lists; take note, Kellyanne Conway!), we want to share a gloriously mad telephone call with an aged and rather deaf customer, Lady X: it went something like this…

{ring ring}
Hewie {picks up telephone}: John Sandoe Books, good morning!
Lady X: What was that? My grandson? Did you say you are my grandson?
Hewie: No, we are the book shop! Sandoe’s!
Lady X: What? Did you say the butcher’s?

Etc. Delightful. This reminds me that one of us tried to purchase their mother an ear trumpet for Christmas. Something lightweight in faux tortoise shell perhaps…

In terms of value, our highest sellers during 2016 were our Cuckoo Press special editions of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. They were sold out by the summer; if you could find a copy for sale now in either format, it would probably cost you £1000+… We’re so glad and proud to have been able to do this edition but it seems unlikely that we’ll be allowed to publish the rest of the series. We hope to do something else soon, though.

Among our Christmas bestsellers, the clear winner was Minoo Dinshaw’s superb Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman. Figures were higher than they might have been because we sold books at Minoo’s terrific launch party at the Polish Club, but it continued to sell throughout the autumn.

Not surprisingly, the highest selling novel was Robert Harris’s Conclave, the-belles-of-st-triniansbut the splendid dark horse has been Ysenda Maxtone-Graham’s Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979, published by Slightly Foxed. It outsold all books here in 2016 apart from Minoo’s, and has even outstripped that in the subsequent weeks. A late starter, published only at the beginning of November, a full six weeks after Conclave, Ysenda’s book had a clear run at full gallop and, to the amazement of all, caught up with the Harris. For the last few days before Christmas the two books matched each other sale for sale, but by the 24th December Terms & Conditions had pushed into the lead by a handful of copies: a triumph for a small publisher (who had to manage quick reprints, something they are unaccustomed to) as well as for Ysenda herself. (Photo from The Belles of St Trinians, not illustrated in the book).

Theoretical FootOther bestsellers that reflect our reading tastes include Tom Bullough’s wonderful The Black Prince of FlorenceAddlands, Francis Spufford’s Gold Hill, Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, M F K Fisher’s The Theoretical Foot, David Szalay’s All That Man Is; for non-fiction Philip Mansel’s Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of a World City, Hisham Matar’s The Return, Philippe Sands’ East West Street, Juliet Nicholson’s A House Full of Daughters, Catherine Fletcher’s Black Prince of Florence and Teffi’s Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea.

ngari-wall-paintings-elephantAstute observers of John Sandoe’s will have noticed that this book has featured in the ‘Window Box’ of our website over the last few weeks. It is there that we have sold many of the copies, which brings us to our most exciting development in the last few months. michael-renton-the-sun-and-the-moonWe were never confident that we would sell books directly from our website, but we felt it was necessary to upgrade it anyway and create the option for direct orders. As it happens, since making this facility live for our Christmas catalogue, we have seen a very pleasing amount of traffic. Our ‘Remarkables’ page is also worth keeping your eye on because we add things regularly, and we reckon it’s unlikely that the books you find there will be widely publicised by other shops.

Besides bringing an immediate increase in price to books published outside the UK, Brexit had the unfortunate effect of causing one of our staff to leave: John Owen had always thought he’d like to live in Germany, so clearly he had to go as soon as possible. Fortunately he stayed with us until the end of December, seeing us through what proved to be the busiest Christmas we have ever had at John Sandoe’s. He has moved to Berlin, and we look forward to welcoming a new member of staff in the next few weeks.

We’re intrigued by what’s been happening on Instagram lately. In the autumn, Boojum and John started posting gorgeous pics on our own account, and some kind visitors have been posting about us too. In the last few weeks, several people have mentioned that they found us through Instagram, and our followers have tripled in the last few days… Where will it lead?