Sunday, February 05, 2006

Doing My Homework # 4: Getting to know your (bookstore) neighbor

On the “And Now We’ve Reached the Question and Answer Portion of Our Presentation” column (which is still open to questions) anonymous asked:

How can authors get to know independent booksellers in cities other than their own?

S/he asked this question before many of the others I’ve answered, and I know it appeared that I ignored this person in their anonymity, but that was not the case. I only hope that this poster is still around to read the answer. I had a pretty good idea, but it took me awhile to sit down and do the research.

The American Bookseller Association’s website has a membership directory divided by state and province (yep, Canada gets some love too) and then further divided down to cities. By clicking on the link for your desired locations, you can get a listing for any independent bookstores in the area.

As an example, let’s use Pasadena, California. By clicking on the link for California, and then over until I found Pasadena, I can see that there are six independent bookstores that associate with the ABA. After reading the descriptions provided I know that most of these stores specialize in a certain type of book (psychic phenomenon, travel, technical), so Vroman’s Bookstore seems to be my best bet if I’m an author of genre fiction. With this knowledge, I would then write them a letter about my book and how I think stopping by the store would be beneficial to us both, and send it off. Be sure to include the information on how to contact you (via phone, email, etc).

You’re only out the time it took to write the letter and the cost of postage (if you even send it by mail at all, there’s always email).

Do not send a form letter that is completely devoid of anything specialized to the store if you want their attention and patronage. I realize that form letters are time savers, and the majority of the letter can be form, but you have to show these people that you paid attention to their store’s preferences instead of just blithely blitzing everyone in their area.

Any booksellers reading this, do you agree or disagree? How would you prefer to be approached by an author looking for some love?


I didn't forget about the A Bit on the Side cover post; I just decided it was easier to add my thoughts and such to the already existing post. Looking forward to your response as always.


Eileen said...

Any suggestions to help make a reading/signing a success? As my book has a psychic in it- would it be a bigger draw to have someone there reading tarot cards-or does it just feel cheesy? How can an author help bring out the crowds?

Bookseller Chick said...

Hmmm, I don't know. Signings are so odd because you have to build a following. It doesn't happen over night. Most chain bookstores might freak at the idea of having a tarot reader there (simply because it might offend customers), but if you are signing at an independent then it's something you need to talk to them about. Crowds come with hype, so I think the best thing for you to do is to get highlighted in your local paper (know any journalist friends who'd liked to write an article?), and then provide some nice signage for the bookstore you plan on attending.

I'll think on this more and get back to you with a more thought-out answer.

MaryJanice said...

My first book tour is this summer (June, to promote UNDEAD AND UNPOPULAR). There are a million books on getting published, but few on what to do after you sign the contract. What is good "touring etiquette"? What do you like to see in an author coming to your store for a tour, and what do you dislike? Any tips would be wonderful; thanks, and I promise not to dump my kids on you for four hours while I disappear into the Orange Julius stand.

Ron Franscell said...

I like a lot of things about you and your blog ... but one of them is the big, fat, gray quote mark. How do you do that???

jarvenpa said...

Being now cozily nested in a used/rare bookstore (and not having to worry at all about author tours) I can smugly sit back and recall my past--I used to manage a bookstore that was in a rural, but educated area, carried new books, and did author dealies sometimes.
What I found (Eileen, are you listening?)worked for signings and readings and such was enlisting the help of the author in compiling a likely list of people who might want to come. Now, of course this works best if you are (or have) a local author who has local friends, but if the store does mailers (mine did) and you have an intelligent, sensitive manager (yes, I was) you can come up with such a list, based on knowledge of book preferences and so on. You send these nice people handwriten (2 t's? one? god, I hate spelling) invitations by mail. Need not be elaborate, but they must be at the very least hand addressed. And you put little articles in local papers, and posters, if you can, spots on the radio, and so on. But the real key is that personal touch. And then figure--if you are fortunate, unless the author is, say, a sexy movie star--that you will get about 10% of those you mailed to to come to your event. Phone calls are also, sometimes, okay, but can backfire (you must know your clients).
Of course, if you are a blatant outsider simply come to enlighten the local yokels you will have to figure out how to seduce your bookseller (actually,or metaphorically). Tis an art.
I did resent the persons who hopped in on a busy day and had a stack of their self published bad book that they wanted to sell me and asked if maybe they could have a signing. (now, if the books had been great, I might have been less sour--but even so, I would have appreciated a preliminary letter, and perhaps an arranged appointment to talk over tea.
Oh--in arranging an author appearance/reading/signing--give yourself at the very least a month's prep time.

Lisa Hunter said...

Thanks so much for your post. I'd been wondering about this exact thing. I have a book (coming out next fall) that would be well-suited for independent bookstores -- particularly those in artsy/resort towns. Now I know how to find them! Thanks again.

Ron Franscell said...

I occupy this rather odd niche: I am both a daily newspaper editor and a trade-published author. I am sympathetic to the promotional predicament of authors, but also a gatekeeper for what's news (and what isn't.) Those two sensibilities collide when a local writer sends his press release about a new book.

The main elements of a good newspaper story will be local relevance, timeliness and impact.

In a market area of some 350,000 people, we get 1-2 notices of an authentic trade-published book by a local writer every few months ... but we get roughly 1 per week from self-published writers at AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and others. These releases are always seeking reviews and/or publicity about signings.

Do we treat them differently? Yes. We simply deem self-published books -- by virtue of having circumvented the strict filters of trade publishing (which can be too strict and too commercial, admittedly) -- as lower quality products. Not always, but generally true.

By the same token, we deem trade-published books as having survived the rigors of having found an agent, an editor who'll risk a publisher's money, and legitimate distribution -- as well as the expectation our readers will be able to find it in major bookstores.

What do they get? We don't trash the self-published books, but rarely do they get more than one paragraph, and it's usually in a "story" about other self-published books. And we name the animal: We say in print it's self-published. And we never review it. (If you're self-published, not local, and the book is not of local interest ... don't waste my time and your postage.)

The trade-published local author/book generally gets much more: A story, possible review, a fair punch on a local signing. Why? We presume the rigorous filters of the trade tested its mettle.

Not every paper has a trade-published writer in charge (and some probably have self-published authors in charge), so policies vary. As a book-reviewer who's written for some of the biggest book-review outlets in the USA, I also know that the likelihood of a self-published book getting a major review is next to nothing unless it becomes a news phenomenon on its own.