Sad but true, the most difficult place to sell a book is in a bookstore. Your book is surrounded by its competition. The bookstore is the war zone, so to get your book noticed, you need a battle plan. More importantly, you need an ally like Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice.
What does it take to work effectively with a bookstore and convince booksellers to want to work with you? Kelly has provided James River Writers and its members a list of the good, the bad and the brilliant things writers should keep in mind when working with booksellers.
Kelly’s Rules for Making a Great Impression as a Writer in Fountain Bookstore
Make an appointment
Random House makes an appointment and respects my time, so should you.
Educate yourself on industry standards
Here are some general ones that are standard across most of the booksellers I know nationally, including us:
- Minimum markup is 40 percent, non-negotiable. We can’t make any money on less than that. This means that you get 60 percent. Discuss this with your publisher so you actually make a buck.
- I’d really prefer to get your book from a wholesaler. Consignment is one more piece of paper and it shows a degree of professionalism if you are carried by at least one wholesaler, preferably two. (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bookazine are examples). Again, make sure the terms are such that your book retails for at least 40 percent over cost.
- All books must be returnable. Everything is on consignment here, whether it’s from the new “Borg” Penguin/Random House down to your one title. All titles have to “pay rent” (sell enough to take up space on the shelves).
- We like a book to sell at least once a month to stay on the shelves. We make exceptions for local folks or authors who have been particularly nice, but that’s the turnaround we’re looking for these days and it’s pretty common in a frontlist store (a store that carries mainly new titles).
- We really prefer you have the price printed on your book. It’s not absolutely necessary, but we prefer it. (ISBN is NOT optional.)
- If you are a small press author, be aware that larger presses give me a marketing budget and you probably don’t. Even if I sell no books at an author event for a major publisher, I will be compensated to some degree for my efforts to promote the title. It’s one of the biggest reasons we started doing the Small Press Sunday events. That’s how we can make it exciting and not lose money, hopefully for all of us.
- Know what a “reporting store” is. If you are building a career where you need to know numbers — especially if you’re with a small, boutique press, a mid-size independent or one of the big six — make sure your numbers count. Build that career by insuring that every sale is counted toward Nielsen Bookscan and New York Times reporting.
- If your book has a niche, by all means forget about Bookscan/NYT and self-publish and market.
Don’t show up unannounced, unless you’re bringing presents
And even then, expect to wait. I may not have time to talk to you today, but I will try. Of course, if you make an appointment (see tip #1 above).
The bookselling business operates on deadlines, just like conventional publishing!
I have deadlines to turn in critical orders, make pitches for large scale events, and do payroll. If I’m interrupted during any one of these tasks, I may go psycho. Just another warning.
Respect my job and your place in it
Authors, customers and staff (in short, people) are the most important components of my business and the part I value most. (Books are nice, but book people are amazing!) Keep in mind how many relationships I have to maintain. We deal with over 200 author events a year, and each one of them has the author, a publicist, a marketing director, a sales rep, the fans, the media, and about 5-10 other components to oversee. This is why …
Events should always be booked at least eight weeks in advance, preferably 12
I have events booked through November of this year right now.
Don’t accuse me of being a bad bookseller because your book doesn’t sell
This is a great way to end up in the sideroom and off the shelves. This happens to me about 10 times a year.
Don’t ask me how to get an agent
I don’t know. JRW will help you with this.
For the love of god, don’t hand me a pile of manuscript papers and ask me to read them this weekend
Especially if I’ve never seen you before. If you’re a regular customer, you might chance it, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t.
Don’t send me links to Amazon telling me to read all your reviews
It’s unprofessional to use a listing with my competition to express your legitimacy as an author. If anything, it turns me off. Send me to your own site or an Indiebound link that shows you are at least aware of the independent selling channel.
Don’t compare your book to others by saying you are “better” than other writers
You don’t know if I’m best friends with that person. The book business is very small and very, very chatty.
Be a customer of my bookstore or the indie in your town.
You want me to support your career? Help me with mine or my colleagues. Here’s what you can do:
- Buy stuff.
- Come in with your friends and family.
- Send people to us.
- Engage in our social media in a way that is supportive to us and we’ll do it back. (This does not include posting on our Wall: “YOU SHOULD BE CARRYING MY AWESOME BOOK BECAUSE IT IS BETTER THAN EVERYTHING ELSE IN YOUR STORE!!!” with a link to Amazon.)
- Say nice things about us online and we will say nice things about you
- Share other people’s stuff online a LOT more than you share your own. And, say thank you when they share your stuff. And, dont be mean!
Respect my time
See above …
Author Jenny Milchman recently brought a gift for me and a second gift to give to a customer. She also bought a gift card from me to put in it for a favorite customer, AND she made an appointment to stop by!!!
Offer something different for an event or promotion
- Venue – Have your event near your peeps rather than expecting them to come downtown (some people won’t, and you know who they are)
- Giveaways – Lydian Netzer made cute “gratitude robots” out of construction paper with her kids to send to bookstores. Meg Medina provided free Cuban food at one of her events. LynDee Walker pushed the daylights out of autographed copies of her book on our website prior to a recent signing.
Show awareness of the book world at large, the regional trade associations, national trade associations, current issues in the book world
A simple subscription to Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade is a good start. We all read it because it’s a great aggregator of everyone else’s stuff. If you want to look super-smart, we all call it “the Shelf.”
Be nice, be humble, and be grateful
In all your dealings with everyone in the industry, keep these things in mind. It doesn’t mean you can’t be diligently and aggressively promoting your work. But it is a very small industry with a very long memory. It may seem huge, but it’s really not and most people are pretty nice. Give them a chance to be.
Kelly Justice is the owner of Fountain Bookstore, a locally owned independent bookstore in historic Shockoe Slip. She is currently president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and serves on the technology advisory council for the American Booksellers Association.