Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Mystery To Me

We’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book pamphlet that we could drop off with the language arts teachers at a few local middle schools and high schools. The pamphlet would mimic our book club one with titles and blurbs for new, exciting releases (as well as long-selling backlist), manga we carry (I know where my bread is buttered) and a place to write in books required for classroom reading. I’m thinking that anything required for the classroom would qualify for a discount, payment could be given in check or credit card, and the books would be packaged and delivered to the classroom once they arrive.

I have no idea about the legalities of this, whether or not teachers would appreciate the effort, or that the students would actually show any interest, but it’s something I can work on when I put in shifts up at the calendar store. If nothing else it will let me use my knowledge of InDesign.

This pamphlet, and my memories of the Scholastic Book Club papers all those years ago, got me thinking about author promotion and reaching the bookseller half of the market. J.A. Konrath (whom I’ve never met, for those who keep on asking, and who has never come to my store as he had to cancel the West Coast leg of his tour) has a post up called The Great Bookstore Experiment where he asks for help figuring out the Mystery market, specifically whether or not anyone is buying Mysteries anymore. He talks about how chain stores carry only about 250 Mystery authors at any time, and how he never really saw anyone browsing in section.

I haven’t had a chance to comment over there (though intend to), but I thought he brought up some interesting points. In my opinion, Mystery appeals to a wide audience, but there is very little cross over within its sub-genres. The ladies reading Cozies aren’t like to pick up something Hard-boiled and vice versa. That said, I think Mystery as a genre does better in urban markets, especially in stores that are near courthouses. I think that combining straight Mystery sections with Suspense/Thriller, helps to draw in readers who might not realize that they would like a straight Mystery.

So what does this have to do with thoughts on the Scholastic Book Club? Simple, as a chain store bookseller, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to learn about the new and interesting Mysteries out there unless my company chooses to highlight them.

But shouldn’t I, as a bookseller, be seeking out these titles? Sure, but not every bookseller is going to come home and spend time on their computers surfing review sites and chatrooms when they are not getting paid, especially when they are not getting much more than minimum wage when they are at their jobs. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about their jobs or their customers; it just means they want to have a life when they aren’t on company time.

Can’t say that I blame them.

But what about when authors send out their flyers and publicity information? Doesn’t that reach the bookseller? Yes and no. Say you send me a flyer about your wonderful book. Maybe it is something you printed up on the home printer, maybe it is something you had done professionally, but chances are it is just your information—one writer, several books—and when I’m done reading it, I’ll probably toss it.

Which means the information you just labored so hard over got read by one person, me, and then tossed in the trash can because why would I want dozens of pieces of paper floating around my backroom?

Magazines and publisher catalogues, on the other hand, often get thrown on the lunch table for everyone to check out. We keep PW up at the counter so people can go through and order when they get bored.

So let’s say, that instead of everyone from the Killer Year (to use them as an example) sending out separate press packets, they got together and put together a pamphlet, an adult version of the Scholastic Book Club newspaper/magazine. Glossy or not, within the pages (color please, and yes, I know that’s a bitch to pay for) are the books with their back copy and maybe an article or two on Mysteries appealing to some such market or another. It doesn’t have to be big, ten pages or less would be fine, but it does have to look professional. And when it’s finished? Mail it out to all the bookstores and libraries possible.

At some stores it might still get thrown away, but at others it might end up on the lunch table for booksellers to read through and educate themselves. It may stick in their heads as they help a customer find another mystery they might like. It may make other booksellers or librarians go to the computer and order.

Maybe it’s been done to death (and somehow missed me), or maybe it won’t work at all, but it would be interesting to try. And it just might interest some bookseller enough to face out a book or two.



Sandra Ruttan said...

The booklet idea is a very good one. Individual press kits get filed, shelved, tossed eventually. But magazines/booklets - they get put on tables in lunchrooms and people look through them.

Robin Brande said...

What a great idea about putting together a multi-author magazine. I'm totally stealing that!

tem2 said...

We've thought about doing a multi-page brochure like that for the Class of 2k7 group of authors, but the costs add up quick when you're talking about color and mailing expenses. We're leaning now toward smaller pamphlets that we hand to our local booksellers or distribute at conferences like ALA and BEA, and keeping the detailed information on the web.

But I'd love to get your input on what might work best.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought about "marketing" to middle and h.s. librarians? They're the ones who meet with parent/community advisory groups and get approval for books/novels being read in classrooms, etc. They could probably save you a lot of time, too, and help you avoid brochures (that are put in teacher mailboxes) being tossed.

Good luck!
H.S. Writing Teacher & Freelance Writer

Karmela Johnson said...

Wow, what a fabulous idea! And when publishers see the success of its venture, it could even be a moneymaking item for the stores.


Eileen said...

I believe with costs rising and the need to reach as wide as possible, you'll see more and more writers banding together to do signings and promotion.

tem2 said...

Re: Marketing to middle school and high school teachers -- we'd love to figure out how to do this effectively. We're definitely trying to factor teachers into our plan as well as booksellers and librarians.

Kathleen Dante said...

RWA already does something similar with Romance Sells, which (I believe) is distributed to booksellers and librarians for free. You might want to consider getting it.