Sunday, March 1, 2015
I work in a bookstore. A writer working in a bookstore. As if that weren't good enough, I work in an independent bookstore. Cherry on top? It's a successful independent bookstore. Wanna spit at me yet? Because it's a successful independent bookstore run by a wonderful, open-minded, generous married couple who are dedicated to enriching the community through creating a great environment for their employees, as well as providing a friendly space for discussion and debate.
Okay. I'm done.
*whispers* There's also always wine in the fridge. And sometimes donuts. *ducks*
Since we're a local, we like to have a section devoted to local authors. At beginning, when we opened, we kind of worked with a "hey, sure we'll buy a couple of copies" policy, but when it became apparent that there was a LOT of interest, we switched to a consignment system. Most of the local authors we work with are delightful folks. We even try to periodically have a "Love Your Local" night where we get a handful of authors in to talk about their work.
And then...there are other local authors.
1) Approach politely and at an appropriate moment. One would think this first step would be a no brainer, but this last Christmas season, when the shop was crammed to the gills, we had at least 2 or 3 authors turn up wanting some of the boss's time to discuss getting their book on our shelves. If you're trying to speak to a bookseller who's trying to answer 6 customer questions at the same time on a busy Saturday in December, then you're barking up the wrong tree. Find out when the shop's down time is. And once you're there, ask a bookseller about the shop's local author section and how the manager/buyer prefers to be approached. (email, letter, in person, etc.) And, although it seems like it's another no-brainer, being polite and friendly is much more likely to get you in the door rather than being entitled or demanding.
2) Take a little time to learn about how bookstores do their buying. Anyone in the trade can tell you that the margins are TINY. Find out how the store YOU want to approach does their buying, especially when it comes to their local section. If you're selling your work through Ingram or another service, take the time to research pricing. If an indie can't make any money selling your book, they're not going to stock it.
3) Find your niche. A lot of indies thrive by specializing- tailoring their collections to the tastes of their communities. Make sure that your work is right for the indie. If you're writing unicorn cyberpunk thrillers, you might not find a whole lot of success approaching a shop whose collection runs more toward global issues. Take time to browse a shop's collection before approaching. Get to know how it's curated and by whom.
4) This one is important. And I know, because we have had run-ins with more than one author on this subject. It is not the job of the shop to sell your book for you. Unless it's otherwise specified in some kind of contract, once your book is in the shop, you are entitled to shelf space. That doesn't sound like much, but in a small shop where space is at a premium, it's a lot. Want more exposure? Tell your friends and family. Put it on your blog. Tweet it, text it, talk it up. Secret weapon? Booksellers. Try to get one of them to read it, because when we find something we like, we will hand-sell the hell out of it.
We have had people come in complaining that their work isn't visible enough or they believed there would be some kind of featured display in the window or in prime real estate in the front of the shop. Remember those margins I talked about? They're even smaller on your work than on NYT Bestsellers, so unless there's a special event or feature that you've discussed ahead of time, your work will most likely occupy a space in the 'local authors" section which may not be as visible as some of the other stock.
5) The biggest thing? And it shouldn't really need saying, but obviously it does: Just don't be a douche. I mean, that's good advice when trying to sell anything, really. Examples of douchebaggery that we've encountered? Authors offering unsolicited advice on the running of the shop. Authors who make repeated phone calls to ask about their book and whether or not it's out on the shelf. Authors behaving like divas. Authors believing they are above the consignment system. And so on and so on.
I've been so pleased to see the looks on some author's faces to see their work on a shelf in an honest to god shop. It's amazing. It's what all of us ink-slingers hope for someday, myself included. Just don't stumble at this last hurdle.
Indies are your friends. Do your homework. Be a good guy. And hopefully, you'll find your way into this awesome community.
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