It’s a busy day, the small staff is trying to help more customers and do more projects than is humanly possible, and New Author flags someone down.
“I just published my new book and I’d like a signing next Saturday. How many copies do you want to buy? I’ll give you ten per cent off the cover price.”
Insert screeching record-needle scrape.
Bookseller gingerly takes the book that’s been thrust in their face. The cover art is... “interesting”, the title font looks hand drawn, and at first glance the bookseller has already found three grammar errors on the jacket copy. There is no barcode nor a price, and the spine isn’t centered.
“So how many copies do you want to buy? I’m a local author!”
Some version of this happens frequently at the store where I work. We have a fairly large local author selection, because we try to support our community. A fair number of those books hurt the appearance of the section because of bad covers; many cause confusion with staff when hand-written price stickers fall off in humidity; and some customers walk away from the entire section when they find books riddled with errors.
This makes most bookstores wary about working with “local authors” or “indie authors.” Most traditional authors don’t contact us; we get their information from publishers. Some newer authors with traditional publishing houses do contact us—usually after first contacting us via email or on the phone, as our website suggests (ALWAYS check bookstore websites for preferred communication about selling books or doing events)—and that interaction is usually simple:
“Hi, I’m a New Author, and I’ve got a book coming out in a few months with Publisher, would you be interested in hosting an event? Here’s the information on the book.”
New Author hands Bookseller a bookmark, sell sheet, card, or Advanced Reader Copy. Bookseller can easily order books from a distributor or publisher at their usual discount of 45-55% off cover. There is plenty of time for the bookseller to promote the event.
You’ll notice I’ve tied my examples with events. An event sells books. While most people who go into bookselling love books, they can’t be a bookseller without making money. Bookstores have limited space. A book on a shelf needs a reason for people to get engaged. An event is meant to get readers engaged. So, if you want a bookstore to consider carrying your book, see if they’ll consider hosting an event for your book.
Here are the most basic things a book store needs to consider your book event:
- A quality product. It’s painful to say, but too many books have poor covers, have not been edited (or have been poorly edited), have misaligned formatting, and/or are missing basic information a bookseller needs. While we’ve worked with some presses who also have these issues, this is mostly a problem with self-published books.
- A means to make money by hosting this book event. Can the bookstore order your books at a profitable discount (as mentioned above, usually 45-55% off cover)? If your books are ordered through a publisher or distributor, can the bookstore return unsold copies? Are you willing to sell within the bookstore’s consignment parameters (usually 30% off cover, often with a flat stocking fee)? (This also means, for authors setting their own prices, that it is important to consider the bookstore’s cut.)
- A minimum of a two to three month lead time. Many local publications want press releases weeks or months before an event. Many local calendars need time to approve listings. The bookstore wants to include the event on their mailing list, blog, and social media several times. Books about sales often cite a person needing to hear about something multiple times to remember. There needs to be time to create, print, and distribute flyers. The bookstore needs to make sure it has sufficient staffing. The more time to plan, the better chances of having a strong-selling event.
- An idea of what you, the author, will do to promote this event. Will you share our event listing? Our blog posts? Retweet us? Tell your fans to buy your book at our store? Invite friends and family to the event? Will you get your friends, family, and fans to share, retweet, and talk about the event? Don’t expect the bookstore to carry all the promotional weight. The best events we’ve had, hands down, are the ones where the author was involved in the promotion.
- Have a press kit ready to send or easy to access on your web page. A good press kit includes:
- Bios of varying lengths
- Short book descriptions
- Cover images that can be used in flyers and online
- Author photos that can be used in flyers and online
- Answer emails in a timely manner, usually within 48 business hours.
- Share, retweet, and promote the event along with the bookstore.
- Do not call the bookstore every day or every week for updates on the event or sales.
- Be friendly, fun, and approachable at the event.
- Have readings from your work ready and practice them.
- Do not yell at the bookstore staff if few people or no one comes to your event. Believe me, we already feel bad—and it is a financial loss for us because we do spend staff hours and funds promoting and marketing.
Boiled down to a “simple” answer, if you want a bookstore to carry your book, be a professional the bookstore wants to work with. Success of your book and book event is a success for the bookstore. When thinking about approaching a book store, have in mind what will make this partnership fun and profitable for all parties involved.
Find out more about Trisha at www.anovelfriend.com.
Annie's Book Stop of Worcester is at 65 James Street, Worcester, MA, and will host authors from 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM with scheduled readings, Q&As, and snacks through the day.
If anyone is interested, shoot Trisha an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (both come to the same place; one is easier to misspell than the other).