The days when publishers handled bookstore relations for authors are long gone, if it ever really worked that way to begin with. Publishers, stretched thin and often baffled by new media, now outsource as much they can to the authors themselves, including publicity, promotion and bookseller liaison.
Booksellers get into this business because they love books — obviously — but authors are many and hours are few, so Linda Brown, Assistant Manager and children's book buyer of The Mystery Bookstore (and my personal friend) gave authors and aspiring authors some advice at a panel at Left Coast Crime on Saturday. I've added some of my own thoughts in italics, because this is important information for my clients. Authors and booksellers, if you have more to add, leave your comments below.
1. Recognize the fact that your book is one of thousands of books that come across our desk in a year. Linda and I were trying to guess how many new titles we see in a year, either in catalogs or in real life, and conservatively figured it was somewhere around 2,000. Ha. Bowker, the creator of the Books-in-Print database, says that traditional publishers released 47,541 new adult fiction titles in 2008, and that was down 11% from the previous year. Meanwhile, Bowker estimates that 285,394 print-on-demand (usually, self-published) titles were released in the same year.
2. Do not expect booksellers to recognize your face or automatically connect your name with your book. This is true even for some of the biggest names, especially those who use outdated or super-glamorous author photos. Booksellers are looking at the front of the book, not the back or the inside flap; also, see #1 above. Even if you're a bestselling author, you're probably not on TV or on the cover of People, and no one distributes Famous Author trading cards. (Although, come to think of it, that might be a business opportunity for someone.) Anyway, it's just good manners to introduce yourself, even if they're supposed to know who you are.
3. Do something that makes us glad to see you, and that is tied to your book. Linda says, "If your book has monkeys in it, bring us a laughing monkey toy. We are susceptible to bribes." She's not talking about payola — that would be illegal — but booksellers are underpaid and overworked. If you brighten a bookseller's day with a cookie or a toy or a packet of coffee with your book's cover on it, they'll remember you fondly and look forward to your visits.
4. Do not expect indie booksellers to spend a lot of money promoting your book with ads. An independent bookstore's advertising budget is tiny, and the kind of traditional advertising most independent bookstores can afford probably doesn't have much impact. The Mystery Bookstore reaches most of its constituents electronically; it sends out weekly and monthly electronic newsletters (which I write), and has an excellent, recently overhauled website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter presence.
5. Promote your event and or book yourself — bring warm bodies to an event — but give us a heads-up as to how many! Linda says, "We want to have enough books and cold drinks for your friends, family and fans." Worse than the book event where no one shows up is the event where everyone shows up, and the store runs out of books. When planning an event, treat the bookseller as your partner; if you know your entire office, extended family, sorority, etc. are planning to show up, let the store know ahead of time.