I’m going to wear a different hat today than I usually do. (You can’t see me, but I’m taking off my writer’s hat—the one with the red-pencil holder and the built-in chocolate and coffee dispensers—and putting on another hat right now.) I’ve just completed a two-year stint as a part-time bookseller at a lovely independent bookstore. Aside from the obvious bliss of having spent two years surrounded by books and people who love them, I also came away with a new perspective regarding authors and how they approach their close allies, bookstores. I found myself with an excellent opportunity to study both the good and the bad, and I want to share with you what I learned.
Really, everything I’m going to say boils down to one thing: always be professional. This rule applies to all authors, of course. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my observation that the majority of the authors I met who needed a helping hand in this area were self-published authors who hadn’t made the necessary effort to understand the business they were entering.
*Write a good book and have it professionally edited. I wouldn’t write this if it didn’t still need to be said. You want your book to be the best book it can be, yes? Someone’s eyes have to be on it other than yours, and I mean someone other than your best friend/mom/spouse/etc. You’ve spent zillions of hours laboring over every word of your book, and you have to know that your eyes at some point glaze over the words and can’t pick up every flaw, every mistake, every typo. You might even miss some structural problems, never mind your personal writing tics. (Did you realize that your protagonist twists her hair over her left index finger every time she gets anxious? That was effective the first two times she did it. But the next thirty? The reader wants to rip her hair right out.)
*Understand that the bookseller wants to carry your book. For some, this might be the most surprising point of all. You and the bookseller are in the same business: convincing the public that it should be reading great books (instead of playing Trivia Crack, taking selfies and goodness knows what else). If the bookseller has a quality product to carry and market, her job is easier. So if you, the author, can approach the bookstore with a superior product–your book–and present it in a manner that demonstrates you understand the business aspect of books as well, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship.
*Respect the bookseller’s time and process. You came in and asked how to go about getting the store to carry your book. You were told: speak to a certain person; call Dave, email Judy, send a copy of the book to Steve, wait two weeks because it’s the holidays and the store is swamped, etc. Follow these guidelines. DON’T follow staff around the store pitching them your book, especially if they’re trying to help customers.
*Know how to do a professional pitch. What? Why? How? If you’re asking any of these questions, you’re not ready. There are literally hundreds of articles online about pitching. Look through this website, other reputable writing and publishing sites, take a class, or simply ask Google how to pitch a book. Learn how to do a one-sentence logline, an elevator pitch, and a couple of follow-up points if either of the first two gain you an engaged audience. DO NOT run through the entire plot of your book, point by point. DO NOT launch into the story of how you came to create the book, unless that story is a no more than a couple of sentences and is essential to understanding what the book is about. Keep it short and very appealing. If the bookseller wants to know more, he will ask.
*Know your market. When the bookseller asks you who your target market is, don’t answer, “I don’t know. It’s very hard to categorize.” Lots of books cross genres, but the bookseller has to put it on the shelves somewhere. Telling her you don’t know makes the bookseller’s work more difficult and demonstrates you haven’t done your market research.
*Related to the last point: don’t say, “There aren’t any other books like this.” Yes, there are. A better strategy is to tell the bookseller how your book differs from similar books in its genre. Don’t know in which genre your book fits? See the previous point.
*Don’t begin any sentence with “I assume you” or “I’m pretty sure you” and end it with something involving the how great is the store’s desire to carry your book.
*Do be flexible. Whether you’re trying to encourage a store to carry your book, attempting to schedule an event, or make arrangements for something else, be as flexible as possible given your own time constraints. As in any other professional situation, a little give can go a long way. Remember how many other authors—both individually and via publishing reps—are competing for booksellers’ attentions.
*Don’t become angry or vengeful if the bookstore chooses not to carry your book. Yes, this actually happens. There are any number of reasons a bookstore might choose not to carry a book; it doesn’t mean the store hates you, or won’t carry local authors, or will never display a self-published book, or I don’t even know what else. It might be a reflection of the quality of your book. It might be one of any number of other reasons. Can you be mad privately for a while? Of course. Should you take public action and potentially damage your relationship with a bookstore and readers forever? Be smarter than that.
*Don’t say, “My book is a fiction novel.” Just don’t.
Remember: booksellers love books as much as you do, and they are always searching for the next book to adore and recommend to readers. Try to be an author who is easy to work with and who generates warm and fuzzy feelings in the bookseller whenever your name is mentioned. If you write a great book and make sure you are always prepared, professional and considerate, you’ll be able to establish a good working relationship that should endure throughout your career.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!