Beyond the book itself, the rep's thoughts, and sales history (if any), what influences your buy? How much does a marketing plan, for example, sway your other instincts?
Remember, for frontlist we are buying six months or so in advance, so the only thing I really have to go on is the catalogue copy and rep. If it is a book that the pub has dedicated a large marketing budget to, that will be part of the rep's pitch. He might say something like "we're tremendously excited about this one, it is our lead title, we've had great reads from booksellers, so-and-so and so-and-so blurbed it" in which case, I'll probably get a stack. Or, "this might look dumb, but trust me, it is gonna be everywhere," and then I'll probably get a couple.
Post-publication, you are guaranteed brought in if you have a glowing review in the New York Times, my city paper's book section, NPR or Oprah. Also, post-publication, if a staff member reads it and is handselling it, I'll keep a stack. And if you are a local author and mensch, same.
For an author with a history, what (if anything) helps to overcome a lower sales history?
It is better to be a brand-new author with nothing but fresh-faced innocence, a big grin and a shiny new book, than to be a ho-hum writer with a few books that have lousy-to-meh sales histories. A new book has nowhere to go but up, and optimism from the pub can be high. It is much tougher to get excited about something that feels shopworn.
In my opinion, the only thing that will overcome a history of meh sales is a breakout book – either get a big promo push from somewhere, you gain a fan with an NPR show, you get a movie deal, you write a different kind of book, or you just somehow catch the zeitgeist. It certainly happens, all the time, but it is tough to predict what book will be the breakout, or why. Perhaps the why/how of a breakout is a question for the editorial side -- though I suspect that if anyone knew the answer to that, they'd be too busy counting their gold coins to read and respond to blogs.
What is involved in the decision to place a certain title cover-side-out instead of just shelving it (showing only the spine)?Sort of in this order: Newness, Quantity, Space, Cover Hotness, and Personal Preference. We tend to try and face out everything that we have more than three copies of. This is hardly a science – sometimes we just need to fill some space. While it is a fact that all books sell better on a shelf with lots of face-outs, sometimes and in some sections, there is just no room.
What is the average time that a title remains that way?Until we need more room on the shelf, or something cuter and newer comes along, or we sell down too far. One book does not a faceout make. [EA clarifies: a single copy of a title rarely gets placed face-out because it sits too far back on the shelf and is shadowed. And, understandably, booksellers want to promote most prominently the books that are taking up the most space (or money) in the store.]
What is the busiest time of year for books to be bought/sold?
Christmukkah is the busiest time from the retail end, of course. October is usually the busiest time for the events people. May is pretty crazy for buyers. Summer is dead for everyone, in my experience, though the store does pretty well with paperbacks and required summer reading.
How are author signings arranged at stores? Does it have to be through the agent/publisher or is it bad if the author tries to manage that him/herself?The "big six" publishers – Random House, Penguin, Harper, Simon, Hachette, Macmillan – and to a lesser extent, HMH, Scholastic and Candlewick on the kid's side -- typically set up author tours through their in-house publicists and our events coordinator. If you are an author with one of these publishers, please please speak to your publicist and get the OK from them before you approach any bookstore. It is profoundly annoying for all when an author and publicist are working at cross-purposes to one another. This is a quick way to end up with no event, and booksellers and publicists with grudges against you.
If you are local, or with a smaller pub, you should still ask the publicist, but you will probably end up setting it up yourself. (Advice about that is too long to go into here, and in any case can be found all over the net.)
Not exactly up your alley but is it bad to bring treats/food for either the employees or potential customers at a books signing?
I like to have treats at events, but every bookstore probably has different ideas about that. I would ask the events person, make sure they allow food, and that way they'll be prepped and have a table ready for you.
Remember, make it NEAT food, nothing that will get ground into the carpet, and light/clear beverages (white wine, sparkling water) only. As far as yummy treats for the staff – always appreciated, in my experience. We make minimum wage and are hungry!
What happens when someone (not me) calls up and special-orders a book (not mine) that's not on the shelf and then doesn't pick it up? Does that book (again, not mine) end up just being shelved? Or does it go back to (not my) publisher?
Someone places the order, someone else receives the order, someone calls you and finds a place to put your order on the hold shelf. There it stays for a week or two, while we spend staff time calling you and reminding you. If you don't pick it up or refuse it, it goes in a box under my desk. When I have time, I look through that box and decide what stays. 95% of the time, these books get sent back to the publisher.
If this is a short-discount or non-returnable title, you also get a voodoo curse put on you.If you'd like to know a couple of GOOD ways to get your book into the store -- with no voodoo curses -- I can tell you...