Last night I attended a meeting for the local NCCBA, Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association. It’s always an educational experience for me. I really believe that bookstores and writers need to learn how to work better together. I go to the meetings to try and understand the bookstores and their needs and then to see how I can help or how SCBWI can get more involved. I want to find a better bridge between the two. There’s the potential for a lot of synergy.
Many authors think that once they sell that first book their local bookstore will set up big signing events. They envision lines of adoring fans that fill the store. They figure the bookstore will always have their book in stock, after all, they’re a local author. These authors are a bit surprised to find out that none of this is guaranteed (likely?) to be true. I’ve been doing research with both my local bookstores and bookstores in other states. One message comes through loud and clear, most authors don’t understand the bookselling business, and rest assured, it IS a business.
Some things for authors to think about. Not everyone is going to love your book. Hard fact of life. Some reviewers might like it and some might not. Same thing with booksellers, some might love it and some might just want to pass. Shelf space is expensive and booksellers want to stock books that will sell. As one bookseller told me not all authors are created equal and it is hard for the booksellers to respond tactfully to an author with a book that’s just not saleable.
One thing authors can do is lay the groundwork with the local stores long before you ever have a book in print. Get to know the staff at the store. Learn more about the customer base. Volunteer to help at store events.
Do take you book in to share with your local bookstore and let them know your availability for events. Leave them some promo material and let them know how they can get in touch with you. But learn to walk the line between assertive and downright pushy. I’ve heard some horror stories about authors who think they can bully a bookstore into carry their book (they can’t) and about one author who regularly visits a store and rearranges the current displays (which the store manager spends a lot of time on and is usually theme related) by plopping her books smack down in the middle of it all, ruining the effect of the display and earning the displeasure of the store.
Another bookseller told me that it is much easier to promote an author in the store when you feel like you have a personal relationship with them, you have time invested in getting to know one another. (Of course they still have to believe your book will sell.) That’s one reason I go to my local bookseller meetings; I want to get to know them and they need to get to know me.
Local independent bookstores are a dying breed. I hate that fact but it is true. Many authors go around thinking what can my local bookstore do for me? I wonder what might happen if we started thinking what can I do for my local bookstore?
Great post! I’m still pondering your earlier email. It’s very related the events of my week, an SCBWI meeting (on Wed.) and a local bookseller event (tonight).
Lots of stuff to think about. I promise; I have not forgotten!
Thanks, Kim. You know I enjoy brainstorming with you. And if we could all pool our knowledge and energy about this business. . .
I have to comment on this post! I’ve been a bookseller, and now I’m hoping to one day be a published author. And while I never worked in a large market like NYC or Los Angeles, our store did get our fair share of best selling authors (Chuck Palahniuk and Christopher Moore being two of our favourites) for signings and publicity. It didn’t hurt, either, that our location is just down the street from a well-loved independent bookstore.
Our local authors must have been well-groomed because they were always sweet and helpful and came to sign back copies of things frequently. Maybe that’s what happens when you live in a city not known for it’s authors. Now we did have a few authors who relied on their publicists to do all the work for them, and they were sometimes a nightmare to work with — demanding and having no grasp on what we, as a business, could or could not do for their client.
More importantly, though, I’d like to comment on the power of a bookseller for an author. Every day people say something to the effect of, “I’m looking for a book for this type of person, what would you suggest?” This is a powerful tool for authors, and they may not even know it. As a fan of two blossoming YA authors, I know that I’ve been able to hand-sell several copies a month for them (and they don’t even know it!). Now, this is one person selling a few books in a small market, but think of that same person doing something similar in a big market. It’s not Oprah, who we all know is an authors best friend, but it’s a powerful resource that doesn’t take much effort to acquire.
You certainly have great suggestions with volunteering and getting to know the staff. They’ll appreciate your efforts, but more than likely they’ll push your book as well because they like you. Seriously. I’ll pass over an author, who might be a big seller, in favour of an author I’ve read that I liked or had a good experience with. Though, I should admit that I’m no longer working in a bookstore. They don’t pay enough — sadly. Still, I’m an avid reader and I have friends who are still “in the biz”. We’re constantly making suggestions.
So, there’s a mite of what I’ve been thinking about after reading your post. 😀
God, this is excellent advice.
Thanks, Brent. Alas I seemed to have posted on a slow day because I don’t think very many folks have read it. Sigh.
You know, one thing I thought, or just assumed is that bookstores would automatically stock my books. Some of my books weren’t even stocked at my local stores until I went in and asked/begged them to carry them.
What a great post! I was at Borders last night and started talking to a teen who was browsing the YA with me. I gave her a few suggestions and she ended up buying one of them. I can definitely see how having a good relationship with people who work in a bookstore can help sales.
Jeez, I don’t think that we are a “dying breed”. I think of it, rather, as a period of flux during which independent bookstores must evolve… or we will be a dying breed.
When I was a kid (age 12) and got my first job in a bookstore, I didn’t understand why we didn’t carry certain books, or why we had to return certain books, or why we couldn’t just donate the books that didn’t sell instead of destroying them (which is, yes, what happens to massmarket books). Now, eighteen years later, the stars are out of my eyes.
* If a book won’t sell, for whatever reason, I CAN’T STOCK IT. I will special order it for people, and if more than one person special orders it I will order one copy for the store. Without sales numbers to back up every book in the store, the accounting office tends to get very cranky. VERY CRANKY.
* If a really terrible grotesque book antithetical to everything I believe in is selling well, for whatever reason, I HAVE TO STOCK IT. People that come in saying “you don’t have The Sexy Bible According To Hitler that was just on Good Morning America because you hate Hitler!” are crazy. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if I hate Hitler, YOU are the one with 30 bucks willing to shell out for a book about Hitler, by God I’ll get that book for you!
* If I know an author personally OR am very familiar with their work (or have met, or am on a listserv with, or have read great reviews of other books they have written)… basically if (for whatever reason) I LIKE an author, I am 1500 times more likely to handsell their book. Sorry, strangers, it’s true. I can’t handsell things I have never heard of.
* Ahem. The opposite is also true. Divas, entitled schmucks, jerk-os in general… ummm… I will go out of my way NOT to recommend your books. Petty? Maybe.
* EVENTS. Sheesh. I’ve said all this before, but nobody believes me. Let me put it to you this way: Customers are half-blind. I could (and have!) put massive posters and displays all over the store and in the window… people won’t even notice. I could (and have!) advertised in the paper, on the radio, or whatever… people won’t even notice. The ONLY way for an author less famous than, say… Louis Sachar… to guarantee butts in chairs at the event is for YOU to invite them. I don’t care WHO you are. If you are local, have a massive mailing list, are willing to MAKE SURE that LOTS of people come to your event, I will host it for you and I will make posters and I will have stacks of your books. I promise. But if you don’t do your work, and we don’t sell any books… well, that would be embarrassing.
Also realize that the breakdown is something like, for every 300 people you invite, maybe 40 will show up. So get cracking on that mailing list!!
This is a really big topic and I didn’t say a fifth of what I was thinking. If you have any questions or comments, feel free.
Thanks!! This is all really helpful. And reassuring. I have gone out of my way to befriend my local (and not so local) booksellers (not that hard…they are great people…book people!) I try to help them any time I can.
I have organized readings, baked brownies, bought books in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can sit back and wait for a handout of good, free publicity. I know I will still have LOTS of work to do for my own book. I have come to see that being nice counts…and being helpful counts…and not waiting for someone to do your work for you is essential.
My mailing list starts today!!!
This is all so fascinating!
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you — for this great post and all the helpful comments that follow it.
My first book is due out next year; I have a lot more ideas now, having read this site.
Ruth — ruthexpress.com