Friday, August 6, 2010

Advice from Bookstore Owners for Authors

Writers already on Twitter may already be aware of a regular chat every Thursday called #bookmarket, where booksellers, authors and others engaged in the business of publishing discuss the ways and means of placing books in the hands of readers.

The 8/5/2010 session featured three top bookstores discussing how small press and self-published authors can work with independent bookstores to everyone’s benefit.

The following is a recap:


The first thing they all said should be engraved on everyone’s forehead by now: *Do your homework.* Don’t blitz every bookstore for a hundred-mile radius with a copy of your book and/or PR materials without any regard for what kind of books they sell. More important, you need to do your best to find out who the correct contact person is.

Tattered Cover, for example, has a staff person whose specific job is to work with local and regional authors. Some bookstores include guidelines on their websites about how they want local and regional authors to submit PR materials.

Expect any PR materials addressed to the bookstore or “Dear Bookseller” to be ignored. How often do you respond to junk mail addressed to “Dear Occupant?” Nuff said.

Don’t waste your money on postcards and bookmarks and similar tschotchkes. Booksellers are swamped by this kind of stuff from mainstream publishing. If you feel the need to send something tangible, make it unique. If you can make it something that coordinates with your book, all the better.

Speak with booksellers face-to-face whenever possible, but don’t just barge in waving your book. Call or send an email first, and ask when it would be convenient for you to drop by.

If it isn’t possible, your contact should be as personal as possible. If the bookstore has staff reviews on their website, read them to see if any of their staff likes the same kind of book you’ve written.

If you can manage to go to the bookstore in person, don’t ignore their staff. Introduce yourself, get to know them. If the store has shelf cards with staff recommendations, read them. For indie bookstores, it’s not just about selling books. It’s about relationships as well. Develop one.

Many bookstores now host and/or sponsor reading groups. Some encourage those groups to include local and regional authors. Develop a book group study guide for your book and offer it to the bookstore as not just a printed sheet but as a digital file they can place on their website for download.

Never, ever, mention Amazon, your ranking on Amazon, your reviews on Amazon--well, you get the idea. For indie bookstores, Amazon is the Great Satan. It would probably be politic not to mention Barnes & Noble, either. As for ebooks, the most diplomatic route is to mention your book has done well in that format but that you’re anxious to make it an even bigger success in print.


Be prepared. If you want a bookstore to schedule an author event for you, bring a list of contacts you’ll be getting in touch with to promote it. Vague offers to contact family and friends isn’t enough. Provide them with a current photo (*not* a snapshot) and a synopsis of your book they can place on their website and/or use in advertising.

Think of ways to be entertaining. You might get a hundred people out to hear Stephen King read from his latest, but the rest of us need to come up with something interesting to attract an audience. If you have a children’s book, think coloring pages and games. For that matter, if you have an adult novel a word game or something like it wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you have a neat hobby or field of expertise, can it be incorporated into your presentation?

Another option, which we’ve also discussed, is having more than one author at an event. If you can turn it into a readathon, maybe even raising money for a local charity, all the better.

Posters are one exception to the don’t-waste-money rule. While not every bookstore will have space to display them, the booksellers at #bookmarket said they do make nice giveaways--and should you be lucky enough to run out of books they’re a nice backup for signing, too.

Bring food. Seriously. Cupcakes are a preference. Most booksellers will offer refreshments at an author event, and if you pitch in or provide it you’ll be very popular. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. For less than $100 and a Costco membership, you can offer little croissant sandwiches, cupcakes and fruit and veggies for 20-30 people, if you don’t want to do it yourself.

As you see, it’s all really courtesy and common sense. Booksellers are becoming more flexible as the industry in general falls further into flux. It's time for us to take advantage of it.

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