“Mom, I’m Next To Stephen King!” Your Book On Shelves, By Lauren Roy

Ta-da. Mixing it up today with a guest post from Lauren Roy, AKA “Falconesse.” She’d like to say some things to you about getting your book on actual, non-digital bookshelves. Note that Lauren’s talking about any book, be it self-published or otherwise. She is, of course, a bookseller — she’s writing you from the trenches, you see. Feel free to ask her any questions you see fit to ask!

You’ve published a book in dead tree form. Congratulations! Now you’re thinking, “Hey, I’d like to be on the shelves at Joe’s Books.” (We assume, for the sake of this exercise, you’ve passed the test in this post.)

So, how do you make friends with your local independent bookstore and get some of that sweet, sweet shelf-space?

Be part of the store’s community. Shop there. Attend events. Be a friend to that store because you genuinely care about it, not just so they’ll carry your book. Booksellers know the difference.

Offer returnability. Most bookstores buy books on a returnable basis, and at a 40% discount (or greater, if they’re ordering direct from the publisher). If you can’t offer this, buyers will likely balk — if your book doesn’t sell, they’re stuck with it on their shelves and will have to cough up the cash for it. It’s not a good arrangement for the store. You might instead have to work with the bookstore on consignment.

Talk to the right person… In my bookstore days, lots of would-be authors came in and pushed their book on whatever register monkey they could corner first. Usually said monkeys were high schoolers who weren’t making ordering decisions.

Ask to talk to the book buyer… at the right time. If the store is a holiday madhouse and the staff is running on caffeine and fear, now’s not the time to pitch to the buyer.

Yes, I said pitch. You’ve got about thirty seconds to make them want to read your book. Be professional. Be polite. Learn from this.

Have a sample copy available. Publishers create buzz through the help of Advanced Reader Copies. These are released 3-6 months(ish) before the book hits stores. They look like this:

Stuff of Legends

You’ll need to give a copy of your book to the buyer to read. If you don’t want to part with a dead-tree copy, be willing to email them a .pdf, or stick the book on a thumb drive.

Give them time to read it. Your average bookseller’s ARC pile looks like this:

ARC pile 1

Okay, I lied. More like this:

ARC pile 2

Only taller.

Don’t expect them to drop everything to read your book. It’s fair to follow-up (nicely!) if you haven’t heard back in three or four weeks.

Don’t say the A-word. Not asshole or asshat. Amazon. I’m sorry to say this, but if you’ve self-pubbed through CreateSpace, chances are your local indie will pass on carrying your book. It’s like suggesting the mom-and-pop cafe down the street buy their coffee from Starbucks.

Promote the store on your website. Speaking of the A-word, don’t just link to Amazon. If you want your local indie to support your book, send readers their way. Link to them and to Indiebound.

Stand out in a good way. Booksellers get approached by writers all the time. They will quite possibly be ready with a “no” before you even get started. If you’re wondering why, give Chuck’s article another read. Now imagine people who haven’t read that coming in, looming and tittering, or swaggering in with the hard-sell, badgering buyers to represent something that’ll sit on the shelves gathering dust.

I can’t promise you success. It is an uphill climb. But if you keep these things in mind, you might just increase your chances at getting on the shelves.

Additional tips for the commercially published:

Do offer to drop in and sign. If your books are already on store shelves, and you’d like to do a stock-signing for your friendly local bookstore, that’s awesome! Booksellers will love you for it, and if they know you’re John-Hancocking those bad cats, will probably find a way to display them as autographed copies.

However, don’t assume the whole staff knows who you are. While I could probably have named several local authors in my bookstore days, that doesn’t mean I recognized them on sight. Especially since most writers don’t visit their local Glamour Shots every time they visit the mall. Once, a woman came in at closing time, grabbed a stack of books, then brought them up to the register where — without a word to me — she snagged a pen and started writing in them. When I asked if I could help her out (silently screaming What the fuck, lady?), she put on her haughtiest tone and said, “I’m the author.”

If you have a publicist, loop them inespecially if you’ve arranged a signing with the bookstore on your own. There might not be very much that they need to do, but it’s good to keep your team informed. Also, (and this is where I put on my day job hat), if something goes wonky, you’ve got more people looking out for you. Events get listed in publicity reports. Sales reps look at those, or get an email from the publicist saying, “Hey, your store is hosting Joe T. Author in two weeks.” The reps get in touch with booksellers to make sure their orders are in and arriving on time, and can help troubleshoot any stock/credit/shipping issues that crop up. You’ve got a support team at your publisher. Let them help!

Let the stores know what you need. Need a glass of water, a cup of coffee, a certain-colored pen to sign with? Do you want a designated staff member standing by to take pictures for fans, or to write their names on a post-it so you don’t accidentally write Kristen when they spell it Kristin? Do you need someone to play bad cop if a fan’s monopolizing your time? Whatever makes a signing go smoothly for you, tell your contact at the store and they’ll make it happen.

Thank the staff. They’re probably already gushing over you, but let ‘em know if they did a good job, too. It’s always nice to hear.

Booksellers and authors make great partners. Hopefully these guildelines will help you turn your friendly local bookstore into your friendly loyal bookstore.

Lauren Roy spends her days surrounded by books and her nights scratching out one of her own. She has just done the math and realized she’s been in the book industry for more than half her life — back in her day, they sold books barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. Her rambles about bookselling, writing, geekery, and her inability to nurture houseplants can be found at falconesse.com.  She is represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Agency.

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