The International Writers Magazine: Books set free
BookCrossing for beginners: how not to do it if you want to be successful
Recently I decided to log on to the BookCrossing site again (www.bookcrossing.com) and take a look to see if anyone had by any lucky chance registered a copy of a children’s book that I’d love get my mitts on. (It’s called Holiday at the Dewdrop Inn by Eve Garnett in case anyone was wondering).
I’ll explain the web site briefly for those BookCrossing virgins out there. This is how it works: you just register the book/s that you no longer want, write some blurb if you choose and give the book a star rating. The system automatically generates a BookCrossing Identification Code (BCID) for each book. When you decide to release your book you can either print off a label to fix in the book or simply write a note to attach. You post release notes online about the location and the time at which you will send your book into the wild blue yonder. In theory eager readers could be on the spot to nab just the volume they’ve been waiting for by using the advance information. On the other hand a passer by may have a delightfully serendipitous find. You may also choose to leave a registered book somewhere and post the details later. If the finder then logs the BCID on the home page, the original owner can track the book’s journey. If you are looking for a particular title you can also do a search of the registered books and arrange a book swap through BC’s message system (a controlled release).
The BC site looked a bit different since the last time I visited; there’d obviously been a revamp, but imagine my amazement when I realised that the last time I had released a book into the wild was in July 2008. Where had all that time gone? What had I released? Why had I stopped doing it? And more to the point, where had all those books gone that I had so trustingly let go? I should have guessed that it had been some time since I last logged on by the fact that I had trouble remembering my password. Mind you at one point I was also misspelling my own name which didn’t help the situation. But I digress. The point is this: I put the children’s book title on my wish list (actually the only item on it) and bravely resolved to give the BookCrossing thingy another go.
I joined the BookCrossing phenomenon in a fit of enthusiasm in 2007 after hearing about the site from an American acquaintance. It sounded like a brilliant idea for the book enthusiast with distressingly large piles of books lurking around and I couldn’t wait to get going. The only tricky part was selecting some books that I was willing to part with in the interests of the wider community of book lovers. I cautiously picked out a couple and registered them as ‘available’ and then worked out a list of possible places to leave them to await kind new owners. As a regular public transport user I felt sure that the most logical place was on a bus, tram or train. Park benches are tricky due to the vagaries of the Irish weather (though you could encase your volume in a plastic bag, but then that might deter a prospective reader from investigating; not everyone is that nosy). Cafes and restaurants could be good; also waiting rooms of one sort or another (people might appreciate a lucky find at a dentist or doctor’s surgery). I never got around to trying the hairdresser though that could work too. I was particularly proud though of one of my ideas, the Patrick Kavanagh bench on the bank of the Grand Canal in Dublin. I left a book for him to mind for me one sunny day in 2008.
But the sad truth of the matter is that only one person has so far picked up one of my book crossings and registered the find on line. And that particular book had gone no further on its travels when last I checked. The Patrick Kavanagh book was picked up (I watched from further down the towpath) but the finder didn’t log the book. So much for my fantasies of watching my former books travel the globe. To be fair though my book release statistics aren’t brilliant so I suppose I can’t really complain. I was browsing through the release statistics pages and was staggered by the volume of books that some people manage to release. The numbers are akin to amounts you might sell if you ran a bookshop. For instance one BookCrosser has released around 36,000 books since joining in 2007, and has also managed to catch in excess of 2,000 books. These are truly industrial quantities of books. It makes my handful of releases look truly puny in comparison. However, these releases seem to be done through an Official BookCrossing Zone, which would indeed account for the high numbers. And of course the stats aren’t really the point anyway. The idea is to spread books around and encourage reading and literacy. And to have fun doing it!
I decided to dip a toe in the water once more and see if I could up my vital statistics somewhat. Cue a protracted hunt round the house for any book/s that I could bear to part with. I regularly do my own form of BookCrossing by posting unwanted books to my family (all without the aid of a website) in the UK so I was short of options this time round. Eventually I found a couple of titles that I thought I could weed out. My plan was to release one locally on my usual route to work and do a second one during the course of an upcoming weekend away in Gibraltar. I had always intended to have a bit of fun with releasing books on various holiday locations, but had never actually got around to doing it. This was my big moment; I was moving up a gear and going global (well, European anyway). I duly registered my books and entered prospective release details to alert any book searchers out there.
I have to report mixed success on both efforts. The first book was supposed to be left at my local tram stop at 9am. Unfortunately I discovered the book still to be in my bag as I foraged amongst the clutter for my lunch later that day. I made amends by leaving the book by the ticket machines on my way home. Not ideal but it was the best I could do. I’m sure it must have happened to other BookCrossers (surely?). I entered a rather pathetic ps. on the web site with the updated time of release (3.20 pm) just in case anyone had been playing close attention to my earlier post and felt rather aggrieved. Actually I did stand on the platform for a while in the afternoon waiting to see if I could spot anyone taking an interest in my book. I even let one tram go by so that I could keep watch. I did see a group of teenagers take a look but they weren’t impressed and put the book back. I guess they had looked at the title (Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse) and hoped for a racy read. I decided it would be just too eccentric to stalk my released book any further and went home to await developments. To my disappointment, but not to my surprise no message telling me that my book had been caught popped into my inbox.
A couple of days later I was en route to a family wedding in Gibraltar with a copy of the Kite Runner stashed away to release at our hotel the following day. I registered the book and posted release notes in advance of the trip. The plan was to leave the book in the hotel lounge at midday. Well, obviously things were not going to go exactly to plan. I had forgotten that we were going to do some sight seeing in the morning, so I brought the time forward under pressure of circumstances. I have come to the conclusion that it would be a better idea to release a book and then post details later. That way nobody would ever know about any hiccups in timing. Also if I spot a more imaginative location than my original idea, I can just switch to plan B and demonstrate a bit more flair.
I’ve quoted a few release and caught statistics above but based on my own experiences and researches into released books in the Dublin area, it seems to me that an awful lot of books either don’t get picked up at all or are maybe picked up by people not interested in registering finds. Not that I have done a detailed analysis, that’s just an impression. The web site does admit that as yet the ‘caught’ rate is quite low (around 20 -25%). As I said above, one of my books was registered as a find but has travelled no further and the finder hasn’t participated in any other BookCrossing activity. It is entirely possible that some of my books have languished in a lost property box ever since I optimistically set them free. But now that I’ve got the bit between my teeth again I will continue to experiment with locations and see whether I might yet strike lucky. Of course the other side of the coin would be worth looking at; I could go on my own book hunt if I keep an eye on releases posted in and around my area. Meanwhile, I must just get that book I promised to send my mum into the post. At least that form of BookCrossing is totally reliable (unless the parcel gets lost in the post of course) if not as cheap to operate and I’m guaranteed feedback. Happy book hunting folks!
© Chris Mills September 2010