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.

Monday, June 9, 2008


By Celeste Fine

Dear Steve Jobs,

Yes, we are all excited about how fast the new iphone is!! And it’s cheaper. Yay! But please, please whip me up an ereader (and could it also have the internet and my Outlook calendar?). I promise people still read books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and their own documents. It doesn’t even have to be called an ereader: call it the iphone and make the ereader an application for all I care! Just please, please give me something portable that I can read and write on!

Over the past year, I have been on a quest for the perfect ereading device. I have had visions of my scouring the world of electronics and uncovering the golden ereader: perfect size for my tiny hands; let’s me edit and email; touch screen; impressive battery life; memory, oh does it have memory for all of my manuscripts and queries. I have imagined my importing some obscure contraption you can only find through hearsay from a guy who knows a guy who works in the depths of North Korea or finding parts I can order online from around the world and are welded together like a transformer by some NYU graduate student. I imagine my heading to a publishing party after work, no dirty, heavy manuscript bag to pile with the others taking up three or four seats at the table. A few people would bring up the Kindle or Sony reader, and I would smugly pull out my perfect little reader tucked away in my purse, glowing like the Pulp Fiction briefcase (yeah, you want to know what was in that briefcase—my ereader, suckers!!)—a device no one knew existed or ever thought to use as a reader. People would see me reading on the train and wonder, what is that wonderful toy?

The thing is, I am not one of those people, who has read everyone of your Apple development packs or subscribes to Wired or any of that. I have the electronic foresight of a mild-mannered consumer. So what I want in laymen terms:

Size does matter: I want it to be about 7” by 3” and be all screen. It should fit in my purse and be able to be held securely in one hand. I could deal with one the size of a notepad, if it were light, and I could Velcro it into a trapper keeper, because I love trapper keepers. They keep things so neat and tidy. Ever thought of an itrapperkeeper, Steve?

Screen: I don’t care about the special ink screen. I already do the majority of my reading on a computer screen. And just as I was willing to give up the sound quality for my mp3’s, I’m willing to give up paper quality for the mobility and convenience of not having to carry hundreds of pages. I just want it to be about the same size as the device, so it is readable, and I would love to have a touch screen, like the iphone.

Memory: I want to be able to store at least 4 manuscripts at a time. More is even better. PDF’s would be great, but most of what I read is Word and I usually bring home 4 manuscripts/proposals at a time. I am sure there are more technical ways to discuss memory capacity, but in my world, this is how I measure memory.

Applications: I want to be able to edit these manuscripts since a good portion of my reading is interactive (not in the computer sense but rather the editing sense) for projects I am going to sell or have already sold and are getting in shape for delivery. So I want Word. I want email too, but if I had to plug the device into my computer and download the manuscripts, I could make do with that. And I would love the internet, so I can look up information for the proposals I am editing. But again, I could live without it.

Steve, I’m not haphazardly begging you for an ereader. I have enlisted help from some friends—some members of the Facebook generation, Mac heads, other agents, publishers from Scandinavia and beyond—to research the competition that is out there already, and there is so much room for you to come in and clean up. We have visited tons of stores and sites around the globe and scoured ebay. Here are some sound bites from along the way:

The Kindle: Let’s be real, Steve. It is so lame looking and retro (in a bad way). I just can’t believe in a million years that this is the best technology we can come up with. It is so Beta in a VHS world. (1.)

Sony E-reader: Philip Sane, our fabulous co-agent, swears by the Sony ereader if you don’t want to look at PDF documents, which are troublesome to convert. Maybe it’s my own prejudices, but I’m not hugely confident that Sony is at the cutting edge of these ereaders. And you can’t write on it. Why can’t I write on it?

The Iliad Ereader: I really like this one. It’s a lot more expensive, but the reviews are tremendous. But it seems like the writing function, which I love, is a little too Palm Pilot, but maybe I’m wrong. I’m leaning toward this one though.

The Tablet: For months, I was convinced I wanted a tablet. A little bigger than the ereaders, in the same price range, but the touch screen and editing potential would give me a lot more of what I want. But when I played with them at the store, I left feeling unsatisfied. They were just too big and kinda annoying to maneuver.

BUT THEN, Steve, on a site called, my techy friend found something totally cool: Next Generation OLPC.

Steve, could you make me one of these please—but iphone the heck out of it! Right now I’m rooting for Bill Gates, but if you make this for me, I promise, I promise I’ll trade in my PC for a Mac.

Best wishes,
Celeste Fine

1. Laney Becker just got the Kindle for Mother’s Day, and since she and I share an office and her first blog ever was such a hit, I thought I would bring her back for a guest appearance:

Me: Hi, Laney! How do you like your Kindle?

Laney: I love its portability. I love, love, love that I can transfer submissions from my laptop to my Kindle so I can read electronic manuscripts anywhere and everywhere...including outside in the bright sunlight! I love the fact I can easily access and download the first chapter of most books to sample for free.

Me: Any complaints?

Laney: I HATE the fact that there's no place along the side of the kindle that I can grab without turning a page. This is a *huge* design flaw IMHO. I'm still a little confused about how to take notes, access them, etc., and how to get the most out my Kindle, but that's just me. It's too expensive and am afraid someone is going to swipe it on the subway.

Me: Thanks, Laney. And congrats on the auction for Naseem Rahka’s new upmarket debut novel!

2. One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) founder Nicholas Negrponte unveiled the design for the foundation’s second-generation laptop, which isn’t really a laptop at all but a double-screened, fold-up electronic book!! And it is supposed to cost $75!!! The press release was only last week, so I don’t know much yet (would love to know if you know anything more about this device’s capabilities—I’m nervous there is no memory on it). But it’s not going to be available until 2010!! But there must be one—where is that one that little boy is holding?!! I must have it!! I just must have it!! Maybe the developers want some people to test it out?

3. If anyone has any thoughts on other devices that I should look at or how right or wrong I am about the Kindle, the Sony ereader, or the others, or any ideas on how I can get this fabulous OLPC today, please, please let me know.

4. Some other interesting readers: Hanlin V3 (mostly because I love this guy's accent) and the Livre.