Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Working with Booksellers

Another Read Through Bookstore
Many indie authors never do print books, so they don't build relationships with booksellers. I always do print books. Even though I sell considerably more ebooks, I know that a part of those sales are because booksellers recommend my books. 

I LOVE bookstores and booksellers. People who run bookstores do so not because they think they will get rich from their venture. They do it because they love books and hope to make enough money to live while getting lots of good reading time.

My print books are carried in my local bookstores and I've built good relationships with them to keep them there and recommending my books to their customers. So, it always makes me sad when I hear from a bookseller about the difficulties in working with indie authors. 

For the most part, I don't think that indie authors go out of their way to be bad partners. I think many people simply don't know what the expectations are. So, I thought I would share what works for me.

Booksellers Are Very Busy People

We all know that there are very few chain bookstores left and the chains that do exist aren't easy to get into. It is the small, family-owned bookstores that are willing to work with indie authors. Not only to actually stock their books (usually on consignment until a proven sales record is established) but will even provide author events (book signings, readings, talks) for indie authors.

These booksellers are usually owners of small bookstores--often selling both new and used books--with little to no staff. This means they are really busy, often working way too many hours, and barely making a living. Even though they love books and authors and their community, they have limits too.

So, put yourself in their overworked and underpaid shoes and ask these questions.

  • Would yow want authors showing up at the store without an appointment, asking to set up a book signing or to carry their books?
  • Once you have set up an event for an author,  how would you feel when the author calls several times a week or just shows up and asks questions about what you are doing for her?
  • Would you want authors demanding (even if it's a nice demand) that the bookseller do more advertising for the upcoming event they've scheduled for you?
  • Would you want authors demanding that you order all their books, including their backlist to be available onsite for your signing and to be sure to include all those books in all announcements and PR?

Obviously, the answer to all of these questions is a big NO.  You may be reading this and thinking, "Who would do that?" Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who do. And here is the key, booksellers talk to each other. Do you want to be THAT author who is difficult to work with and takes up too much valuable time? Or do you want to the author the bookseller tells all her friends about because she likes your book and you are actually helpful, professional, and think as much about the bookstore's needs as your own?

Yes, the bookseller is happy you are signing but he/she knows that the chance of making any money off this event is slim. Even well-known NYT Bestselling authors rarely bring in a big crowd to a booksigning. When it is your average mid-listi indie author the risk is even higher that few people will show up.

One of the ways that booksellers help to draw in more buyers is to not have single author signings. They prefer to have two or three people at once with the hope that it will triple the outreach. Consider that when discussing a potential event. Who else can you bring with you who will add to the fan reach?

If doing events is so much darn work, why do bookseller's even bother with authors? Especially indie authors with little to no following? The reason is because he/she genuinely likes books, and therefore most authors, and many of them have a policy to feature local authors.

It's An Equal Partnership

For those of us of a certain age, we still remember the days of authors getting big book tours from their publishers, a nice PR campaign, and a PR person interfacing with booksellers at each stop. Those days are gone, if they ever really existed, except for the superstars.  And for indies those days have never existed.

A partnership means the expectation is that both parties will share the work, and therefore the reward or lack of reward. It means that you agree to a specific date to get together and discuss what YOU plan to bring to this partnership. Unless you can guarantee sales, the bookseller is doing this as a gamble and he/she will not have a lot of tolerance for someone who is unprepared or unprofessional.

Your plan should minimally include:

  1. A description of your mailing list and how you are going to contact them about the event (e.g., I have 600 people on my mailing list, about 100 of them are within driving distance of the store. I will send out a special email to all of them a month in advance, followed by a reminder two weeks in advance.
  2. A social media marketing blitz including dates and times that you will post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or wherever you post. This allows the bookstore to know to keep an eye out and share your posts. You will, of course, do the same with their posts.
  3. A list of PR outlets you have a relationship with and can send a release to. The bookseller will also have her list of outlets. If the two of you work together, you might be able to really come up with something unique--something then the general press release.
  4. Advance planning for newsletter information. If you put out a newsletter, perhaps you'd like to include an interview with the bookseller prior to your event or some other way to make him/her shine. At the same time, you can volunteer to write a guest post for the bookseller's newsletter that will go out prior to the event.
  5. A description of your unique "angle" on the event so the bookseller can plan for that. Are you going to dress as one of your characters? Run a raffle for a gift basket? Giveaway a free book or something else? Read from your book? 
An event partnering with Kobo, Jan's Paperbacks, and 18 authors. All authors made it to top 50 on Kobo, the bookstore had best sales day ever, and authors worked hard to cross-promote each other and the bookstore. More can be better.

Other Ideas

Tonya Macalino Reading at Bards and Brews
Events don't always have to be at a bookstore. Partnerships with your bookseller can incude other venues. Here is one called Bards and Brews, a partnership with Jacobsen's Books at a Wine Store across the street and sponsored by Northwest Independent Writers Association.

A different kind of reading event involved five authors, five different genres reading for only five minutes each and then participating in a Q&A with readers.  Coordinated by author Ripley Patton with Another Read Through bookstore this event is good for drawing readers outside of one's genre.

I'm sure you can think of other ideas, but the key is to bring them to the planning meeting. Then both of you can decide what will work best with the bookseller and his/her customers and perhaps build a long term relationship with more than one event.

Stick to Your Commitments and Keep the Bookseller Informed

After the planning meeting, get to work on your end of the bargain. Update the bookseller by email as you begin to execute your part of the plan. DO NOT try to micromanage the booksellers part of the plan. He/She has done this lots of times and has procedures in place. If the bookseller needs your help, she will ask.

When the date comes, show up early (not two hours early, maybe half an hour or twenty minutes) to assist with anything you can.  When it is over thank the bookseller in person (be sure to stay and help with clean up as needed). It is also good to send up a follow-up thank you in a week or so and let him/her know how much appreciate what they did. You should do this even if only one person shows up to your event.

It is up to you to be a really good partner with the bookseller. Then TOGETHER you can both be successful. Maybe you won't have a great first event, but if you are a good partner you will be remembered and included in a future event that may be more successful.

Consider getting back together with your booksellers once per quarter and just checking in. Seeing how things have gone, seeing if there is something more you can do to help. This is a long-term relationship. If you want to sell books in bookstores, you have to work at it. 

There are lots of books competing for the booksellers time. When it comes to deciding what to feature, if you were a good partner then your books will get their turn in the sun--even if you aren't a bestseller for that bookstore.

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