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?