Home » Bookstores » Overcoming Authors’ Reticence. Or, How to Make Bookshops Love You and Your Book

Overcoming Authors’ Reticence. Or, How to Make Bookshops Love You and Your Book

27 June 2013

From State of Independents:

I do sympathise with anyone who is horrified by the prospect of promoting themselves to bookshops and readers but I’m here today to tell you what bookshops need from you in order to sell your book and to share a few of the awful encounters I’ve had with authors – names have been changed to protect the guilty though, so don’t worry. What you have to bear in mind, more than anything, is that finding good books to sell is as essential for bookshops as breathing is to you and I and that we need to work together to do that.

Publishers big and small have fewer reps out on the road talking to booksellers and I know that there will be thousands of books that simply pass under my radar, so we need authors to bring their books to our attention. One of my raisons d’etre is to discover great books – it’s a wonderful feeling to have someone come back to the shop to tell me that the book I pressed into their hand changed their lives. It’s why I’m a bookseller.

Lovely books and lovely authors make bookselling a great way to make a living. And books and their authors are not inseparable – there are books that I only take one copy of or ignore altogether because the author is vile and there are books whose authors are so talented and charming that we take multiple copies and put them face-out, on the table, in the window etc. We’ve often joked about having a Lovely-O-Meter and where authors sit along it, but joking aside, being nice gets you an awfully long way. Never, ever forget that, whether you’re the top of the best-seller charts or just dreaming of when you can give up your day job to write full-time.

. . . .

So, why would I choose your book? Roughly 135,000 books are published in the UK each year. My shop stocks around 3,500 titles, depending on the time of year. Even if we ignore the truly awful books that are published, that still means that I don’t have space for all the books that are worth stocking. Therefore, I have to be really picky. Every single title in our shop is hand-picked. I know my customers and their tastes and I’m always looking for lesser-known titles to surprise them with. Books that are half-price in the supermarkets or cheap-as-chips on Amazon aren’t, with some exceptions, particularly attractive to me. My customers typically buy a lot of books but few buy exclusively from me and so my stock has to be unpredictable, comforting, challenging, entertaining, quirky and reliably high quality. And I like to be able to recommend books that they may not have seen elsewhere. But my aim is to sell books – if I can’t sell a book then it isn’t worth wasting space in the shop on it and I don’t stock books just to be nice to writers. It’s a harsh economic world out there and every book in the shop has to earn its place on the shelf.

. . . .

When you befriend one bookshop you befriend many, because booksellers are among the gossipiest people on earth. We love to talk about books – after all, none of us are in this game for the money or the glamour – and when we get together we talk about books we’ve loved, books we’ve hated, books that that came out of left-field and pleasantly surprised us and authors who’ve been a joy or a disaster to work with. Seriously, when it comes to the last of those, half a dozen of us can spend a riotously cheery hour and several glasses of wine swapping horror stories.

Link to the rest at State of Independents and thanks to Catherine for the tip.


8 Comments to “Overcoming Authors’ Reticence. Or, How to Make Bookshops Love You and Your Book”

  1. Now they need us?
    It’s all about them. It’s always about them.
    After awhile getting used for their benefit isn’t as much fun as they insist it is.

  2. How writers can be difficult, obnoxious or horrible when you are selling their book, just beats me. I would be so honoured if somebody stocked my books, promoted and sold them. There’s no place for self-importance in this world. Writers should treat booksellers like gold.

    • It’s amazing how many people make horrible salesmen–for a product or themselves. That’s a fact anyone who has worked in a call center or otherwise dealt with the undifferentiated mass of the general public can attest.

      Simply being professional, or polite, gets one a lot further than a boiler room hard sales approach. You’d think more people would have figured out that fact for themselves.

  3. Reticense with an S?

  4. A writer has to learn that every time you step out of the door, you’re on.

    My local bookseller told the story about the romance writer at the RT convention, walking around with her entourage and acting unpleasant. She may carry her books for her fans, but she doesn’t handsell her.

  5. I’d love to think independent booksellers all over the U.S. talk amongst themselves about undiscovered gems. Due to geographical distances, I’m not sure this relationship among booksellers is as cozy here.

    As far as selling SP trades into these stores, I’m wondering if handing out free ebook cards for the booksellers to give away, soliciting feedback from customers, might not be a viable method for both building w-o-m and convincing the store to carry your book. Has anyone tried this and gotten good results?

  6. Perhaps worth mentioning this was written in 2011. I wonder if Vanessa has changed her mind since then?

    Perhaps also worth wondering what percentage of paper sales in – say – midlist genre are actually made by the small indie stores.

    I suspect that number is not big enough to justify the time and effort involved in personally courting the hundreds of indie stores in the UK and the thousands in the US.

    (Gossipy? Who really believes booksellers tell each other to stock unknown authors who are nowhere the big lists?)

    Yes, you will get some stock space – probably on short-term consignment. No, you probably won’t get more sales than you would from promoting yourself online.

    But I’d be happy to be proved wrong about this. If someone has some numbers to share, that would be great.

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