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. [Read more…]