Monday, June 30, 2008

Customers Are Already in Our Good Book (and other advice from a bookseller)

One of the things any publicist worth her salt will tell an author is to 'make contacts' with his or her area bookstores. "Just go in and say hi," I generally urge my authors. "Booksellers love it when you let them know you're local!"

I recently realized that the last time I asked a bookseller what they do and do not love was most likely in 1999, when I was working at a (now-closed) indie bookstore in Kalamazoo, MI, and deciding on pizza toppings with colleagues. With a mind to rectifying this situation, I asked the lovely Jessica Stockton Bagnulo to give us some pointers for how best for authors to win the affection of their local bookseller. (I'll be talking with a librarian and reading series coordinator in the upcoming weeks as well.)

Jessica currently works as the events coordinator at McNally Robinson in NYC, and she's on quest to open her own bookstore in Brooklyn, which you can help her with by clicking here. She's also the brains behind The Written Nerd bookseller blog AND the sweet t-shirt pictured on upper left. Because she's clearly now the hardest-working person in show business (R.I.P. James Brown), I'd really recommend following all of her suggestions below. Just a note: all of the boldface below was inserted by me.

AG: What is most effective for an author to leave behind with a bookseller? Is leaving a book at a store full of books just a ridiculous idea?

Bringing a reading copy with publisher contact information is a good idea. Include the publisher's press release inside if you like. If you bring in just a press release, bookmarks, folder full of glowing reviews, etc., it will probably get lost, accidentally or on purpose. We have a lot of books, but books we'll make room for -- almost any other piece of paper gets tossed, unless it's something we've asked for.

Be polite and clear about who you are and what you want.
Don't ask if we're carrying the book, then reveal you're the author. Let us know you're the author, and ask for the buyer (not necessarily the manager). If you say that you're an author, that you have a book that you wonder if we carry, and that you'd like to give us a copy for the buyer (or whomever might be interested), that's usually perfect.

You should be aware of how your book is distributed
, if asked: direct from the publisher, through a distributor like Small Press Distribution or Perseus, and/or from wholesalers.

One great thing to do is call the store in advance and ask if you can speak to and/or drop something off for the buyer.
Then when you do come in you can ask for them by name, or leave something with their name on it. And even if you're trying to contact a bookstore not near where you live, mailing something to a a specific person is always better than mailing it general delivery.

Most of this is just common sense and politeness, along with a small bit of awareness of how bookstores work. One thing that always helps? -- letting us know that we're your local bookstore, and that YOU SHOP HERE. If we recognize you as a customer, you're already in our good book.

AG: Are there times of day or days in the week that it's best for an author to stop by?

Never last thing before we close, when we're busy setting taking down the store and in a hurry to go home. Not Saturday or Sunday in the middle of the day, when we're most busy with customers. Quieter times -- mid-morning to late afternoon, and especially weekdays -- are the times you'll have the best chance of finding someone who's not too busy to really give you their attention.

AG: What should authors NOT do? For instance, is it good for you to know that the author is game for in-store appearances, or do you prefer to hear that from the publishing house? Do you want to hear about blurbs or planned upcoming reviews, or is that too much information?

If the bookseller you're talking to seems interested in looking over your book, feel free to tell them a little more about it -- the plot, themes, other books it might compare to, reviews, etc. Timing is very important with this - if the person you give the book to is quite busy with customers, don't monopolize their time.

The worst thing (I think) an author can do is to demand an answer on the spot. "Do you think you'll stock my book? Do you think I can do an event here?" It feels confrontational, and puts the bookseller in an awkward position, even if they're disposed favorably toward the book. Just make yourself and the book known and let the bookstore make their decision on their own time. Feel free to follow up.

As the events coordinator, I kind of dread having authors come in and ask for me -- usually, if their book is the sort of thing that would be a good fit for us, the publisher has already contacted me. But it's not unheard of that I'll arrange an event directly with an author, and here's how it usually happens:

  1. They introduce themselves to someone at the store and ask if they can contact the events coordinator.
  2. They send me an email about themselves and the event. (Even if I talk to them in person, I'm going to tell them to send me an email!) If I don't write back, they follow up with a phone call (and another email, and another phone call... I can get super busy and need reminders!)
  3. They're aware (or open to the possibility) that we book events three or four months in advance, and don't expect to arrange something for next week.
  4. They have a good mailing list of their own, and/or friends and fans that live in the area that they know will come out for an event.
  5. They fit with the overall vibe of our event series. (One can find this out by checking our website for past events, or picking up a flyer, or attending events...)
  6. They're willing to consider a joint reading, a panel discussion, etc. if their book might not be a big draw on its own.
  7. If we can't fit them in for whatever reason, they are gracious. That's big points for next time, and increases the chances we'll stock the book anyway.

The gracious thing is actually the overall kicker. The way an author speaks to people can be as much of a factor as their book itself in whether the store is going to get behind it (why else would publisher author dinners be so effective)? Don't be pushy, don't be apologetic -- be gracious. And write a great book. =) Then your publicity efforts will be able to have the best possible success.


Janet said...

Thank you very much for this post. Very useful information.

Ami said...

Glad to know it's helpful! Be sure to stay tuned for the reading series coordinator and librarian interviews.

Kim & Ed said...

Nice post!

Looks like we have alot to learn...

Haste yee back ;-) said...

This post's three acres off topic... but I ran across something on another blog that's interesting, at least to me, since I've stuck my years of age/experience/lunacy/maturity on the Internet for all to see - and maybe I'm not attractive as a client as per this particular stupidity - now question.

Is there ageism in Publishingdom?

Please don't say "Oh, just write a good book!"... 'cause we could ruminate what's *good* 'till May Bell's got her pups raised!

Perhaps ya'll can let this rattle between yer collective ears and truss up a blog on it?!?!

Haste yee back ;-)

Barrie said...

Very timely post for me. I have a 2k8 post, a few ARCs and some indies to visit. Thanks!

The Writers Canvas said...

Great information in this post! Thanks for the tips!


Wilfred Bereswill said...

As a brand new author, I appreciate the information. Very timely.

"As the events coordinator, I kind of dread having authors come in and ask for me -- usually, if their book is the sort of thing that would be a good fit for us, the publisher has already contacted me."

I'm finding working with a small publisher has some obvious hurdles that fly in the face of what was said here. Plus buying those promotional trade paperbacks puts a dent in the budget.

Thanks, Ami.

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