I just read this absolutely charming post by Jim Averbeck and it reminded me that I do have a story to share with you.
On Tuesday I went to Hicklebee’s to see Susan Patron. I went early in order to do my part for the economy and buy lots of books. While I was there, a teacher was there with his junior high book club. Valerie (one of the owners of Hicklebee’s) was showing the girls the famous autographed doors and bathroom. Every time an author comes to visit, they sign the wall. The girls were having finding the names of authors they knew like Meg Cabot and J.K. Rowling and Lois Lowry. Then one of them asked if she had Dr. Seuss and Valerie said no. She did have a Dr. Seuss story to share though and the girls brightened up a bit.
Then Valerie pulled a book off the shelf right next to where she was standing. She told them it was a fabulous book about a girl and her father. She said that would probably make them cry but in a good way. And then she said, in a rather conspiratorial voice, and the book was written by a woman by the name of Susan Taylor Brown who just happens to be this woman right here!
And with a flourish she pointed at me, standing a few feet behind her, and the girls did one of those collective gasps that made me feel like a rock star.
I was going to edit my previous post that started this conversation and add this information to it but maybe this will help keep the talk flowing. I can’t believe that more writers don’t have input/ideas/brainstorming to do on this topic.
Erin Dealey author of Little Bo Peep Can’t Get To Sleep and Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox shared a great idea about working with her local independent bookstore, Hidden Passages in Placerville.
She says, “With their permission, I put their book store linkon my web site so that people can order signed copies of my books through the book store. When they get an order, they call me and I sign it, and the book store sends it to the customer. This has happened often and I have signed books for folks all over the United States! “
What a great tip! I’m off to call my local independent, Hickleebees about doing the same thing.
Who else has a great bookstore tip to share?
Last night I attended a meeting for the local NCCBA, Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association. It’s always an educational experience for me. I really believe that bookstores and writers need to learn how to work better together. I go to the meetings to try and understand the bookstores and their needs and then to see how I can help or how SCBWI can get more involved. I want to find a better bridge between the two. There’s the potential for a lot of synergy.
Many authors think that once they sell that first book their local bookstore will set up big signing events. They envision lines of adoring fans that fill the store. They figure the bookstore will always have their book in stock, after all, they’re a local author. These authors are a bit surprised to find out that none of this is guaranteed (likely?) to be true. I’ve been doing research with both my local bookstores and bookstores in other states. One message comes through loud and clear, most authors don’t understand the bookselling business, and rest assured, it IS a business.
Some things for authors to think about. Not everyone is going to love your book. Hard fact of life. Some reviewers might like it and some might not. Same thing with booksellers, some might love it and some might just want to pass. Shelf space is expensive and booksellers want to stock books that will sell. As one bookseller told me not all authors are created equal and it is hard for the booksellers to respond tactfully to an author with a book that’s just not saleable.
One thing authors can do is lay the groundwork with the local stores long before you ever have a book in print. Get to know the staff at the store. Learn more about the customer base. Volunteer to help at store events.
Do take you book in to share with your local bookstore and let them know your availability for events. Leave them some promo material and let them know how they can get in touch with you. But learn to walk the line between assertive and downright pushy. I’ve heard some horror stories about authors who think they can bully a bookstore into carry their book (they can’t) and about one author who regularly visits a store and rearranges the current displays (which the store manager spends a lot of time on and is usually theme related) by plopping her books smack down in the middle of it all, ruining the effect of the display and earning the displeasure of the store.
Another bookseller told me that it is much easier to promote an author in the store when you feel like you have a personal relationship with them, you have time invested in getting to know one another. (Of course they still have to believe your book will sell.) That’s one reason I go to my local bookseller meetings; I want to get to know them and they need to get to know me.
Local independent bookstores are a dying breed. I hate that fact but it is true. Many authors go around thinking what can my local bookstore do for me? I wonder what might happen if we started thinking what can I do for my local bookstore?
Last night I attended a meeting of the Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association (a division of NCIBA). There was some frustration expressed, rightly so, from some of the booksellers. Some writers send bookstores info about their books and push the bookseller to promote the books but when the bookseller visits the author website, there is no mention anywhere of independent bookstores. No mention of the wonderful BOOKSENSE program which allows people to shop online, just like Amazon, but with Booksense the sales go through your local bookseller. Instead, said one bookseller, all she found were links to Amazon. She said she didn’t expect authors to only push the independents, but to at least have a link to Booksense right there next to Amazon. (for those who don’t know, Booksense also has an affiliate program.)
I asked some questions about what authors, authors who weren’t big name draws, could do to improve their relationships with the independent booksellers. They stressed the importance of keeping the bookstores informed of where authors are speaking so they will have books on the shelf. You’d think it would be a common thing for authors to do but evidently that’s not the case and booksellers aren’t mind readers. Shelf space is a premium and independent booksellers are working hard, long hours trying to stay afloat. Many booksellers had similar stories to share about being surprised when some popular books not only weren’t on the shelf but hadn’t been ordered for a while. Things fall through the cracks. To make sure it doesn’t happen to you don’t assume that your book will be in stock the week of your big event, keep the bookstore informed. One member suggested authors keep a list of who should be updated and every month send them a copy of their calendar.
One great thing our local NCCBA group has done in the past years is to develop the WIN guide, for the writer and illustrators network. For a small fee writers and illustrators can get one page in the guide that tells about themselves, their books and their availability to speak. The WIN guide is sold at independents throughout the region. The NCCBA also hosts, twice a year, a reception where they invite the media people and librarians from local schools to come mix and mingle with local authors. I’d love to hear about sorts of things other authors are doing to build relationships and gain exposure with, for and through the local interdependent booksellers.
This has been one of those weeks where, if I don’t count the time I spent at the dayjob, I’ve been immersed in all sorts of writing business/publicity stuff. I love it. Sometimes doing all the promotional stuff makes me feel more like a “real writer” than the writing does. I suppose one day I could get organized and not have a bunch of stuff that needs doing all at once but hey, where’s the fun in that? I would love to have some sort of PR brainstorming group that we could all share ideas and help each other when there was something new they were trying to promote. In the absence of that, I’ll ask a few questions.
What’s the best thing you have done to promote your book? What have you done out of the ordinary, other than mailing postcards, creating bookmarks, updating your brochure? What have you done that you won’t do again?
For my last picture book, CAN I PRAY WITH MY EYES OPEN? I wrote an article called 10 Things Your Child Should Know About Prayer. I sent it out to various newspapers as a press release type of article, all ready to drop into place in the newspaper. It worked and the article not only got a lot of coverage but I got some newspaper interviews as a result. Later I posted the article on my website and offered it to be reprinted for free. The book came out in 1999 but I still get letters every few months about some place that is reprinting the article. For OLIVER’S MUST-DO LIST I created Oliver to travel to schools and his blog to report his adventures. Only time will tell if this is a hit or not.
Writing progress: I saw Frankie the other night. I don’t think he meant to let me see him and I’m sure he didn’t mean to let me look right into his eyes, but I did, for a few seconds. What I saw nearly broke my heart. I tried to ask him about his sister but he ran away. Max is still with him, trying to keep Frankie safe and offering love in the way that only a dog can do. This poor kid needs a champion but he still seems to be so alone.