Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where's My Book?

1. I was sitting in on an author's talk at a recent conference. The author in question (who is a darling) mentioned that she has a standing relationship with her local bookstore: she links to them on her website, and they carry everything she's ever published, and people know that they can find signed copies there.

My thoughts: "That's swell. Unusual, but swell."

... And then I noticed everybody else in the room writing this down with fervor. And talking about what a great idea it was.

Oh, the humanity.

2. And then, just this week, I get an email from one of my authors complaining about how she'd been into a little bookstore in North Carolina somewhere while she was on vacation, and her brand new book wasn't there! They hadn't even heard of it! Was our marketing department doing nothing?

3. And all this reminded me of an author friend of mine who sometimes complains about how her local bookstore doesn't carry any of her books, even though they know she's local.

Important Principle: shelf space in bookstores is real estate. It isn't parkland, open to all. Shelf space costs the owner money, so the books on each shelf have to make money.

Yes, many booksellers like to support local authors. But here's the thing: keeping books on the shelves that do not sell uses valuable real estate for no gain, which in bookseller terms means financial loss. Because they're paying rent on every inch and square foot of that store.

Which means that every book in the store needs to be earning money by being bought regularly.


1. If you are a very well-known author with a fan base that does a lot of collecting of signed editions, then you may indeed develop a fan-bookstore to carry all your works. But don't hold your breath.

2. Are you vacationing in some out of the way place, and happen into some adorable little bookshop? And they don't carry your book? Consider that it's because they know they wouldn't be able to sell it there. Who knows their clientele better, you or them?

3. Has your local bookstore stopped carrying your books? Consider that it's because your books did not sell. Bookstores carry local authors' books if they can support the local author financially. The bookstore will not carry your books for moral support.

This industry is full of nice, supportive people who want to help each other. But you'll get the farthest by knowing when you're asking for help, and when you're asking for something that won't help at all.


Anonymous said...

Well, I believe that I heard the same, or similar talk. The point is not that everyone has to have an annex in their local store, or a shrine, the point is that if they pick ONE STORE and let the store know they are doing it, there is a greater likelihood that the store will actually carry the book.

1) If the author in question drives traffic to THAT ONE BOOKSTORE, ie, they are her local, people buy stuff off the website, her friends and family direct people to that store, etc etc - then it is worth the store's while to keep her books in stock. I am absolutely NOT suggesting that every bookstore turn into a one-author-wonderland, like Tomie De Paola's local bookstore. And I would never suggest that a store keep stock that is not moving - but the point of this relationship is, it is recipricol, and it keeps the author from having to link to Fucking Amazon.

2) Well, that is just ridiculous. See above, one store, near you, not bitsy stores in nowheresville.

3) THAT is ridiculous, too. But I know why it happens. People don't hold up their end of the bargain, and then they bitch about the book not being on the shelf. That's their own problem.

Speaking as a buyer, who has to look at these numbers constantly, even if the book only turned 4 times a year, that would justify keeping it on the shelf always. And if you were truly driving traffic there, it would sell more than that.

I get a little irate about this. But really. The local-author/bookseller relationship is a two-way street. YES, the bookstore real estate costs. So make it worth their while, for crying out loud. Be a regular customer, SPEND MONEY THERE, be a mensch, and tell everyone else to shop there too. Have them supply the books for your offsites and school visits. Be available when they want an author to drop in on a bookfair, &c. Make them love you, and I guarantee that they will do their best to help move paper.

Why would I possibly NOT want to help my local awesome authors, when they provide me this sort of stuff?

Susan at Stony River said...

That's exactly what I got from the frist part of the post---that the bookstore was so good to her and *she was good to them*, so yes, a nice supportive relationship. Sounds like good business.

Anonymous said...

I'm not naive enough to think that just because a book of mine got published the world should care. There are tons of authors, tons of books, not all books are lead titles. That's life. But, this brings up a nightmare of a situation last summer when my YA book was newly out.

Turns out no one bothered to tell me that a major bookstore chain didn't opt to buy/stock/sell my hardcover-from-a-major-publisher-book. So on its release day, I got up, excited, and eagerly walked through my city's six major bookstores: finding NONE of my books on the shelves. (After I'd just told, oh, I don't know, fifty or sixty people, "MY BOOK IS GETTING RELEASED TOMORROW!")

Heartbreak city, I tell ya. I didn't know who to be angry at first -- the chain for not purchasing/stocking the book or the editor/agent/publicity person for not deeming me worthy enough to even TELL me my book hadn't been picked up.

After a week, I decided to be proactive, and had a heart-to-heart with the store manager of ONE of those six bookstores -- the one where shop at most. I explained my book wasn't picked up by the chain, but the book was returnable (meaning if they didn't sell, the bookstore could return them to the publisher, which is not the case with all books). I even showed her the good reviews it got from major review sources (SLJ, etc...) The store manager very sweetly said she'd absolutely stock it, looked it up on the computer while I stood there, took down all the info... and lo and behold... she lied. I never saw it on the shelf, ever. Not even after I busted my ass getting it mentioned in the local paper.

And now, the only reason I go into that bookstore is when I have to pee. If I'm out shopping or eating lunch, I'll drive a few miles out of my way, pee there, peruse their books, buy NOTHING, and then go to the bookstore half a block away and make a purchase. It's a little passive agressive, but it makes me feel better.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing EA -- most authors would be keen to these most excellent points you have made -- which seem to fall under the banner of, Expect Nothing, This Industry Is Tough -- if only their editors, agents, and in-house publicity person would tell them this, before their book was published.

For a new author it really is a rightful conclusion that if their book is a hardcover release from a major pub house, that it might end up on bookstore shelves.

There needs to be realitic conversation between editors and their clients about sales numbers expected and where and how a book might get stocked, or not stocked. That would solve a lot of author paranoia.

Christine Fletcher said...

I absolutely agree with anonymous 1:15 (what ARE you doing up so early in the morning, anyway?) :)

The author's relationship with the local bookseller is a two-way street.

Ask your neighborhood bookseller if he/she'd be willing to host your book launch party. Then work with them to make that party a success (ie, sell a lot of books!)

When you need copies of your own (for contests or whatever), see if you can buy them at discount from your local bookseller, instead of your publisher. (Yes, the discount won't be as much...but the books count against your advance, and the bookseller makes some money).

If you are asked to an event at which you can sell books, see if your bookseller would like to handle sales, instead of doing it yourself.

Buy books there instead of Amazon.com. Go to events they hold for other local authors.

One of the enormous national chains declined to carry my book. That's a blow, for sure. But at my local indie, the book is their #2 bestselling hardcover (just behind one of the Harry Potters). And that wonderful bookseller was instrumental in making my book a regional bestseller this spring.

Most of us don't hit the national scene overnight, if at all. It starts in our own neighborhoods. Not to mention, your local bookseller is probably a very cool, lovely person that you'll be glad to get to know!

Debbie Barr said...

*writes this down with fervor*

Anonymous said...

If you were a first-time author lucky enough to have your book stocked in good quantity, how long is your window to start moving copies before the balance get sent back? This is what is stressing me out in the real-estate analogy. "Who is this bum in the penthouse? He hasn't paid rent in two months! Throw him out!"

It sounds crazy, but could having ten copies per store be more dangerous to a first-timer than having two?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1, aren't you supposed to be on vacation?

Chris Eldin said...

One of these days, I want to be anonymous. Esp #1.

I guess I really am naive, because I picture giving book talks at every book store in a 100 mile radius. I even want to bring the food. My fantasies go much deeper, but let's leave it at that.

There are other avenues of publicity for authors. Some of it free. And fun. Begins with a B and an R and rhymes with ook oast.
:-) (My fingers have a mind of their own! Sorry!!)

Vodka Mom said...

that is great advice, as usual.

i'm still waitin' on the call, let along bookstore shit.

Sam said...

I'm surpised by all the negativity about what can be such a happy relationship.
Independent bookstores and B&Ns, both, have been very kind to us. Hosting signings, displaying the books. I'll be thanking them in the acknowledgements of my next book.
And the friendships we've made with booksellers have been great! They're book lovers, too, after all.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 12:32 has a good point. B&N is notorious for ordering too many copies (at high discounts) then returning them, which is very damaging to publishers' inventory and a book's sell through rate. This is not good for publishers or authors. Being in a B&N is not the end all be all to success. And perhaps that is the thing editors should share with their authors. There are many measures and degrees of success; not one size fits all.

Also, editors don't always get title by title updates about which books are definitely selling in which stores and/or have the time to update every author on every title on their list with said info (that they probably aren't even getting). Sales does early projections, but they are just that and not always shared.

Anonymous said...

As a bookseller (yea indies!), I have to agree that relationships whether local or national, count. We have some local authors who come in and ask for their books pretending to be someone else. They don't learn our names, they don't even realize they have been talking to the same person for years. They just want to know how many books we've sold, and why not more. As a result, their books are not high on my rec. list. Likewise, two years ago I fell in love with a YA and handsold the hell out of it. When I heard the author was signing at a book festival I was working I couldn't wait. I told him how I promoted the book and the number of my regular customers who loved it as well...and he was one of the rudest authors I ever met. I don't jump to recomend that book like I used to.

Likewise, I have relationships with authors, national and local, who talk to us, shop from us, tell other people we know our stuff, and I want to support them. Two way street.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat bothered by the last Anon post. It's awful that the author was mean, and I'd probably hate the guy too, but shouldn't there be a separation between the book and the author?

On the other hand --
The idea of me chatting up the staff at a bookstore, while schemeing in the back of my evil mind to turn that "relationship" into a cash flow by them handselling my book makes me feel ill. Maybe outgoing people can do this. I'm not that outgoing.

While I shop mostly at one specific bookstore near my house, I've never metioned to anyone there that I'm published. The employees are BUSY. And I've worked many sucky retail jobs -- I recognize that underpaid, overworked gloss in their eyes. I simply cannot imagine that the high-school aged girl manning the cash register would care.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2 (9:32): It’s not true revenge unless you’re peeing in the stacks. That’s what teaches’em to love your writing.