Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Public Service Announcement

Nothing, absolutely nothing, peeves me off more than when I’m having an irritating day and a publicist or a publisher calls to see how many copies of a book we have in stock. It’s not the calling part—I love to hear from publicists and publishers—it’s the tone of voice they get when they hear we only have a few copies of their author’s book in stock.

“Oh, I’ll make a note of that,” clearly comes across as “You’re not worth my author’s time” no matter what type of voice you use.

I know you are calling because this is an author you (the publisher) are nurturing, or you (the publicist) are shepherding around and you want to make the most of their signing time. I get that, I really do. But let’s face facts. You wouldn’t bother calling at all if this author was Patterson, Roberts, King, Connelly, or Jordan (who doesn’t travel because of his illness I’m sure, but this is just an example) because these are big names, bestseller names, and if a bookstore doesn’t have their newest in stock (barring any faulty printing runs or missed deliveries) the world must be ending. And if you do call (and as a publicist you probably would) it would be perfectly acceptable to expect that a small, mall-based store have ten to thirty copies of the new hardcover.

The key words here are “small, mall-based store,” bestseller and hardcover.

Barnes and Noble says “Our B. Dalton Bookseller, Doubleday, Bookstop and Bookstar stores are regional shopping mall-based stores that focus on the mainstream consumer book market, with a wide selection of bestsellers and general-interest titles.”

Notice that they do not provide a square-footage for each store like they do with their full-size B&Ns (average 25,000 square feet and carry up to 200,000), and why should they, they expect you to realize that most (if not all) B. Daltons and the others will never come close to a B&N store size; they’re mall-based stores, not mall anchor stores. The same goes for Borders stores vs. their Waldenbook, Borders Express (converted Waldenbooks), Borders Outlet, and Brentano’s stores. Sure there might be one or two million plus stores per state, but even those are only a fraction of the 25,000 square feet the average B&N or Borders takes up.

Whereas a B&N or Borders might have over 100 copies of the newest bestsellers scattered about their stores in different displays and 20 or more hardcover copies of that interesting, upcoming author that the publisher is pushing, a B Dalton or Waldenbooks/Borders Express just doesn’t have the room. I can make a perfectly lovely, required front of store display with three books (two for the table stack, one for the section). If those two books sell, then I’ll order more. If I know ahead of time that an author is coming into town and I think people will like him/her, then I’ll order more.

If you call me to find out how many copies I have of a certain title a week before the person is even due and town and then get put out when I tell you that I only have two, but I can order more, I may become so overwhelmed with feeling that I will reach through the phone and smack you. That tone lets me know that you’ve never worked in a bookstore and have no concept of space allotment. That tone lets me know that you have no concept of the bookstore you are calling, so let me make it clear:

If you are calling a B Dalton/Waldenbooks/Borders Express just assume that it is small from the get-go, so when they tell you that only have a few copies (since your author is not the aforementioned Patterson, Roberts, King, etc) you won’t give anything away in your voice. At this point, if you are calling with a week’s leeway, chances are that the bookstore can get copies from a local distributor thus increasing their inventory, so jump into your little speech about how great author X is, honored with such and such awards, beloved by PW Weekly, Booklist, whatever and let the bookstore when and where the author will be in town. The bookseller/inventory person will at this point respond with a “that’s nice” or say “Wow, that’s great” I’ll have to order in more copies. If they answer with a positive then say something to the affect of “We’re putting together a list of stores to stop by at to sign if s/he has time, would you like to be included?”

If they say yes put them on the list and then have someone publicist/publisher re-call the day before. Why? Because shipments get lost or come in damaged and books sell down faster than anticipated (quite possibly because this guy or girl is the next new thing). Still, signed copies are five times more likely to sell than unsigned copies and the true point of doing drive-by signings is to meet the booksellers so they will feel compelled to a.) tell people how nice your author is, b.) give him/her a shiny spot up at the front of store and c.) hand-sell like mad weasels.

There are a lot of stores out there that might only start out stocking two or three copies of your author’s book, but they add up and so do their booksellers. By dismissing them you are dismissing the selling power of a huge chunk of your market. I guess that is why, despite this happening time and again over the years, this still has the power to annoy me. If signings were really just about signing books then authors would just sign at the warehouses and call it good. A drive-by signing is so much more than the act of putting pen to paper, and it irritates me that others--particularly those in the industry--don't seem to see it that way. A huge generalization, I know, but that is how it often appears, and why it bothers me still.


angelle said...

Etiquette question:

At my local indie (back when it was still open - sniff), authors often brought copies with them when they came, which they could provide to the bookseller at the standard discount.

Is this not done in chain stores? Is it not done at all anymore? As an author, I'd rather lug some books than have my publicist piss off a bookseller! Any thoughts?

Robin Brande said...

As an author, I cannot tell you HOW MUCH I appreciate this post. I'd rather hear ahead of time how not to piss off a bookseller than feel the icy reception and not understand why.

Thank you once again, BSC!

Deanna said...

I can't imagine having the audacity to expect any bookstore to carry monstrous copies of a book.

I've had a rough work day too (I'm a photographer who just got chewed for lightly airbrushing out a hideous five o'clock shadow on a husband so it would not be so obvious.) She wants new pix for free, like NOW. I keep reminding myself that the rare upset client is still worth not having a boss!

I loved the "listening over lager" phrase from Buffy's blog, but, barring that, we can at least "bellyache over blogs!"

Eileen said...

I'm with Robin- thanks for taking the time to help us understand the business.

Simon Haynes said...

I wonder how many of those 'publicists' are actually authors ringing to work out whether their own books are selling.
*Looks innocent*

lady t said...

this reminds me of a funny(well,to me anyway)story-when the film version of Battlefield Earth hit theaters,I recieved a call from Bridge Publications(they put out all the L. Ron titles). The conversation went a little something like this:

"Hi,this is Miss So and So from Bridge and I was just seeing it you had any copies of Battlefield Earth which is now playing in theaters this weekend*note the call came on Saturday*"

"Yes,we have two copies."

"Two?*pause*Have you sold any?"

*after checking sales record*"No,not yet."

"Where do you have them in the store? Are they up front and face out?"

"They're in the Sci-Fi section which is near the front and yes,they're face out on the shelf."

There was more of this and eventually the lady gave up while offering to send us more of L.RH's books. But that's not the funny part..the kicker was...

Bridge called us the NEXT day!

And by the third day they called us,my boss got on the phone to tell them to stop. Too bad they weren't as persistant in getting people to pay good money for that turkey while it was at the multiplex:)

Anonymous said...

Your point about drive-by signings being a way to meet bookstore staff is so important. I would want those folks to be my best friends in the universe.

By the way, BSC, can I take you out to lunch sometime? ;)

alau said...

Another etiquette question: How far in advance should an author call should she want to stop by for a book signing?

Marta said...

Hi, BSC, I get so much out of your posts about bookstore etiquette for authors. Had no idea my publicist could call up stores... After reading your advice,I somewhat reluctantly called local stores to ask about dropping in and signing books. The people I've talked to have been great -- from the small independents to the big chains. Even if they only have a few copies on hand, they say they'll display them more prominently. Best of all, I really enjoy my conversations with staff who are bright, informative and happy to promote a local author.

River Falls said...

Please, please, please don't take your anger out on the authors these callers are pushing. It's possible that it's not even the publisher-based publicist who's ringing you, but the media escort, trying to arrange stock signings for an author coming into town. If you only have 2 copies to sign, for example, the escort might want to spare an already exhausted author a 40-minute drive for what might feel like an exercise in humiliation. Authors usually never meet the escort until they step through the security gate at the airport, so it's unfair to punish the authors for someone else's actions.