ABCs of Things Authors Must Know When Working with Retail Bookshops and Retail Bookshops Must Know When Working with Authors

Patricia V. Davis

Patricia V. Davis

   

    by Patricia V. Davis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Booksellers:

As a responsible author, business woman, and former bookshop owner, I understand how tough times are for retail bookshops these days. Therefore I make it my duty to make sure that my author events are well-attended. I put a great deal of effort into every one of my book events to make them successful, not only for myself and my readers, but because I love retail bookshops and want to see them around for many years to come. I also consider it a privilege to be able to hold a book event at a retail bookshop and want the booksellers to come away from my events feeling financially rewarded and esthetically pleased by them. Having said all that, oddly enough, I’ve sometimes been shot in the foot during that pursuit by my very “partner” in the events ─ the bookshops themselves ─ whom I assume would want to sell as many copies of my book as I do.

I’ve had bookshops order boxes of my book for an event and then not be able to find where they’ve been stored, or if they’ve been shelved, where they’re located in the bookshop.

I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on beautifully designed posters and gone into the bookshop as near as one week before the event and not seen them up anywhere in the shop, nor does anyone know where those posters are when I inquire. Occasionally I’ve even discovered that there’s been no mention of my event in their email lists (to which I’ve subscribed, of course)  nor even on the bookshop website.

I’ve had readers contact me via Facebook to say they phoned the bookshop to ask about my book event and the sales clerks answering the phones knew nothing about it and so that was why they were contacting me.  I’ve had my name misspelled in fliers and on websites (sometimes even in shops where they know me very well) or given incorrectly when I’ve been introduced. Just for the record, “Patricia V. Davis” is women’s empowerment author and “Patricia Davis” is an aromatherapy author.  Patricia Davis and I constantly get each other’s emails from booksellers and one of my titles was misfiled on barnesandnoble.com under her name, which took months to have corrected. For the longest time I was told that my book, The Diva Doctrine wasn’t being stocked by Barnes & Noble. It was indeed being stocked; it just wasn’t possible for the individual outlets to find it in their computers until one enterprising sales clerk decided to look it up by its ISBN number. A number, by the way, which the customer ordering the book only was able to give the clerk because she’d used her iPhone to look it up right there and then on amazon.com!

I’ve had calls from bookshops saying they haven’t been able to order my book, even though the information on how and where to do so was given to them well in advance. I’ve had books not ordered in time for a book event, and so had to bring my own copies to sell.  

And most astonishing of all, considering the looming threat of online retailers, have even had the manager at one independent book shop across the country tell me in a reassuring way when I began to discuss advertising, “We’re not concerned about how many books are sold at our events. Whether it’s one or one hundred makes no difference to us at all.”  

(Hmm. I wonder if that manager is still working at that bookshop? In fact, I wonder if that bookshop is still in business?)

And so I offer here with respect and affection, a checklist of questions booksellers can ask themselves in order to insure that every book event, whether by a debut author or a NY Times bestselling author is as rewarding for the effort it takes to organize as it can be. It would be prudent for authors to read this list too, if only to understand the steps involved (and the mistakes that can be made) from a bookseller’s end when an author event is in the works.

 

BOOKSELLER LIST OF QUESTIONS

 

a)       Where is the event going to be advertised? Do you have a website, a monthly flier you mail out or have copies of for when your customers come into your shop, and/or an email list? Are there any book clubs or groups that meet in your shop that you can personally invite who might be interested in this particular title?

b)      Are you displaying the author’s book one month to two weeks before the event, along with a flier of information about the book and the author? Are posters (if any have been given to you by the publisher or the author) displayed at this time too, so that customers can become aware of and excited about this book event? If not, have you made up 8 ½ x 11 fliers about the event that customers can clearly see and maybe even take home with them or have you requested them from the author? Is the author’s names and book title correct on your website? Is there a hot link for the title so that customers can order it from you online?

c)      Are all floor sellers in your shop aware of the event so that if they receive a phone call about it they can answer questions? Have they been made aware of special details about the event, such as special guests, music, or refreshments, that might attract more attendees? (This can be achieved easily by sending an in-house email with the date and all the details of the event well in advance. If you have a large bookshop where lots of events are held, a weekly staff meeting to go over each event should not be too difficult to organize.)  Does everyone at your bookshop know the correct name of the author, the correct title of the book and where in the shop the title can be found in case a customer cannot attend the event but wants to buy a copy of the book, anyway?

d)      Might you have a small yet visible space in your bookshop to display the titles of local authors who have held events at your shop recently, or who have an event scheduled? Can this space list the upcoming events of these authors? If this isn’t possible, can a list of upcoming events along with the authors’ names, titles of their works , ISBN numbers, date and time of their events, be generated in a Word document weekly for your sales clerks to check when a customer comes in to inquire about them?

e)      Does your ordering department know how, where and when to get the title? Do you have contact email or telephone number of the author in case there is a problem? If you haven’t worked with this particular distributor or wholesaler before, does your ordering department know to contact the latter well in advance of any book event, so that the books will arrive in a timely manner?

f)       Last but not least, for you alone ─ to insure that your time and money has not been wasted─ can the staff member who was supervising this event tell you if this was a successful event? How many copies of the title were sold? Did the event generate any additional traffic and business apart from those sales? Did this particular author have a good rapport with attendees? Did attendees enjoy the event and feel it was worth two hours of their time? (After all, these are your customers, too, not just the author’s readers.) Was the author rude to your sales clerks or gracious? Is it worth your time and effort to work with this author again in the future?

As for authors, you’re not off the hook when it comes to making your own book event successful, either. The days are over when an author could show up at the designated bookshop, ask, “Where do I stand?” then read, sign books and be on her way. In today’s publishing world authors who want to eventually become bestsellers, or at the very least be invited back to a retail bookshop a second time, should be able to answer the questions below.

 

AUTHOR LIST OF QUESTIONS

 

a)      Is this my first book? If so, where is my nuclear fan base located? By “nuclear fan base” I mean your group of friends and family who you know with certainty you can rely on to attend. Discern where most of this fan base is located and choose a bookshop that’s close enough to make it easy   for them to attend. When my first book, Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece was launched, none of my nuclear fan base who I knew I could absolutely count on to attend had to travel more than 10 miles for that launch. (The only exception was my family, who lived further, but would have traveled to the moon to be there.) So, don’t pick the “in” bookshop, pick the one that closest to your nuclear fan base that holds book events,( which you can check by visiting the shop or the shop’s website.) Investigate where this might be at least six months prior to your book’s release date.

b)      Once you choose the closest bookshop, ask yourself: If I were this bookshop owner, what would I need from a debut author who wants to have an event at my bookshop? This is a question few if any authors think of asking themselves. With 3 million new titles per year, why would your local bookshop choose your new book and allow you to use their shop to hold a launch instead of another author?  What will they get in return for ordering your book, advertising your event on their website or in their newsletter, paying personnel to assist you with your launch and permitting you to take up space in their shop for two hours or more? In this day of high costs and dwindling profits for retail bookshops, you as the author have to consider all of the above. Can you guarantee a minimum of 20 copies of your books sold? ( Even if you have to buy them back from the bookseller yourself?) Will you do everything you can to advertise your event, including announcements on Facebook, Twitter, evites and emails out to your list? Will you spend one full day to write out advertisements to all of the online local “events calendars” such as Patch.com, Eventful.com and all the local newspapers? Will you search for and contact neighborhood book clubs? Are you in any local writers’ groups that can help you pass the word along? What about any local groups that might have a special interest in your particular title? ( With Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece ) I sent invitations to every local Hellenic Association or Greek Group I could find.) If you can present a “business plan” for the event to the bookshop events planner and do so well in advance of when you wish to have the event, you have a much better chance of getting them excited about having your launch at their facility.

c)      Now that I have brought in friends and groups, what can I do to bring in others? To an author, any stranger = a potential new reader. To a bookshop, any new reader = a potential book sale.  What can I do to make my event fun and unique so that even people who might not know me or my work might be tempted to come into the bookshop for my launch? The more creative you get the better chance you have of drawing in people. To see some ideas I’ve utilized in the past and to see some well attended events, check out the photo gallery on my website.


AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST:

 

d)      How can the bookshop order my book? The most vital information every business-savvy author will have on hand when she’s talking with a bookshop is the correct ordering information. Who’s the wholesaler/distributor of the title? What are the terms, meaning discount to bookshop and payment schedule? What is your publisher’s return policy for booksellers? How long before the event does the bookshop need to order the books for them to arrive on time for the event?

If you’re thinking, “Shouldn’t the bookshop know this?” you’ll learn that often they don’t. I’ve had bookshops say they can’t “get” my book, can’t “find” my book, and can’t open a retail account with my book publisher(s). Even before your book is published you should make a call to your publisher and get the information above so you can pass it on to bookshops, just in case. If your book is self-published, you need to set reasonable discount terms with a bookshop in order to encourage them to carry your book. Reasonable terms include at least a 35-40% discount off cover price and full right of return after three months if the books don’t sell. If they’re not planning on carrying your book as part of their stock, you’ll need to offer a consignment deal for any event. This means you bring your books in, they get an agreed upon discount off the cover price on every book sold and you leave the event with whatever remaining unsold books from the books you brought in. Arrange with your publisher to receive an author discount of at least 50% if you plan to sell the books yourself to bookshops. A smart debut author knows it’s not the amount of money she makes on each title, it’s how much volume she moves and how many new readers she garners. Remember that you’re not selling fruit, (though it sometimes may feel that way) you’re building your name as an author. And the only way to do that is to make sure you move your published works to as many readers as possible. This includes not organizing an author event out of hubris, but to sell books.

_____________________

PATRICIA V. DAVIS is the author of the bestselling Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece, and The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know. Her latest work and first published fiction, “Chopin, Fiendishly” appears in Tales From the House Band: Volume I.  Patricia holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and Education, and is the founder of The Women’s PowerStrategy Conference. This article is excerpted from Patricia’s upcoming book, written with Gilbert Mansergh, with the working title, PowerStrategy Publishing! The Paramount Guide for Authors, Publishers and Booksellers On Leveraging Industry Change.

 

Comments

  1. Having just gotten off the road, this is one right-on, filled-to-the-brim checklist. Thank you, Patricia. Every point rings true to my experience.

  2. Bookstores are slaves to their inventory system (or lack thereof) and their on-site staff. Allthough booksellers may not even know where my novle The MArvelous Journals of Miss Virginia Pettingill is located in the store, have invariably found the book buyers for the same store to be engaged, informed, and interested in authors. (listen to two frontlist buyers from the Copperfield’s bookstores to see what I mean, click on Broadcast Guide to Gift Books at http://krcb.org/featured-radio-shows/word-by-word.

    But, as Patricia points out, the buyers are not the ones in charge of stocking shelves, entering inventory on the computer, working with authors or setting up displays or putting the listing in the newsletter or helping with the event (before, during and after). Those things are often handled by someone else in the company (especially the web stuff).

    This is also true when you are co-hosting your signing with a writers group or other volunteer group. The president (or speakers committee chair or whatever) may love you and your book, but if they (or you) don’t get the publicity material in the correct format to the newsletter editor, or publicity chair or whoever) it’s’ not going to appear in a timely fashion.

    Bottom line, ask questions—Who needs What by When and in what format (Word, jpg, pdf, whatever?)

    There are no shortcuts. It’s almost guaranteed in bookstores and volunteer organizations, that by the time your next book comes out, the “usual suspects.” will already be someone else.

    • Thanks, Gil. The fact that most people if not all who work in the industry are interested in what they do for a living doesn’t really have a bearing on an author being proactive to be sure that things go off well. It’s wonderful when people enjoy books, but bookshops need our help in staying afloat, not only just by our purchasing books from them, but in helping making their events (and thus ours) a success. In the case of book events, a little micromanagement doesn’t go amiss. ; )

  3. Excellent article! Like writing, independent bookselling is a labor of love. The indies that have survived are eager to do whatever they to help authors, especially since the future of publishing is self-publishing. In a business as complex, uncertain, and subjective as publishing, nobody has a monopoly on truth, competence, or virtue. Authors ought to consider joining the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. It’s been predicted that in five years, B&N will join Borders. Indies are the future of print bookselling.

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