August 9, 2010

How to work with your friendly neighborhood bookseller, by Lelia Taylor

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:00 am

Lelia Taylor once owned an independent bookstore, and now blogs about her former life at Buried Under Books. Since Lelia’s bookstore used to specialize in mystery, sci fi, fantasy, and horror, she is committed to spreading the word about great genre books, and I recommend visiting her blog regularly to find new reads. Today she shares with authors her tips for working with bookstore owners and getting your book on their shelves.

Those Pesky Perils of Promotion
These days, even authors with the big houses have to do much of their own promotion. They might get some financial backing for tours and they do have the advantage of having their upcoming books in catalogs but, when the books actually come out, they still need to remind booksellers and the rest of the world that they’re available. Writers who are self-published or who are with small independent publishers have to work at it even harder but no author, not even the big names, can ignore the need for promotion at some level.

So, dear author, now that your pride and joy, your baby, is out, how can you approach the mean and cranky bookseller and talk her into carrying it?

Please, get my name right, not when you first call because it’s weird—I blame my mother for this—and I don’t expect you to know how to say it when we’ve never met but, after that first call, at least try to get it right or ask me. I promise I won’t be offended if you ask.
I’m continually amazed by how many people can carry on a lengthy email conversation with me and never notice how I spell my name. And if this bothers me, think about folks with so-called “normal” names that get misspelled, like Terry for Teri or Patty for Patti. The misspellings of my name have included Lila, Lela, Layla, Lee, and Lily. Can you come up with another one? That and $1.50 might get you a Coke (that sounded much better when you could say “That and 50 cents’ll buy a cuppa coffee”).

Know something about the booksellers before you make that first approach; not doing so makes them feel that you don’t know or care what will make them a good partner. Over the years, we’ve had many authors make the mistake of asking us to carry their books when those books don’t “fit” our store. You may have gotten our name and address from a source that doesn’t describe who we are, but a little bit of online research would show you that we specialize in mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror so we’re unlikely to carry your memoir or study of bugs (unless they’re very large and come from a distant galaxy far, far away).
More distressing, though, is the number of finished books that authors have taken the trouble to send to us, which we aren’t going to put on our shelves. That’s an awful waste of your money for the book itself as well as the shipping cost.

Include information about the book: title, ISBN, publisher, how it’s distributed, ordering terms if distribution is limited, retail price, number of pages, binding, the release date if it’s not out yet, and a brief synopsis of the story. I shouldn’t have to search the net for this information.
Get in an argument about POD. Print on demand is just a printing technology but, to some booksellers, the term is almost like a bad word and has come to mean self-published even though it is frequently used by traditional publishers. Unfortunately, if a particular store owner or manager thinks that POD is always a bad thing, you’re unlikely to change his mind. In the long run, you’ll be better off if you just accept his ignorance and move on down the road.

Speaking of self-publishing, there are many pros and cons, but most independent bookstores are willing to work with a local author. As long as you and the bookseller are both willing to acknowledge that there might be some “issues”, you should be able to work things out, and this doesn’t have to be to your disadvantage. Compromises can include selling on consignment, providing the books directly to the seller at a reasonable discount, agreeing to reduce the retail price if it’s unreasonably high, your publicizing that the book can be purchased at her store, your agreeing to meet with a book club, or even setting up a group signing (which is almost always more appealing to a seller than a single self-published author event).
Some authors set up their own publishing company but don’t publish anything except their own books. It may look better to have it published by Books Galore Publications than by a well-known subsidy press, but it’s still self-publishing. When the bookseller asks you who your publisher is, don’t wiggle around the truth. If he’s against self-publishing, your ruse isn’t going to work because it’ll only take him a few minutes of online research to figure it out and he’ll be tres annoyed that you tried to hide it. If he isn’t against it, you’ve done no harm by being honest and may have actually helped your case because you haven’t annoyed him.

Order some of your own supply of books through a local independent if you can work out a deal that’s favorable to you. We always offered to do this at a cost to the author just a little more than what it cost us to get the books so we made a small profit (our only real added expense being occasional shipping charges). Doing this accomplishes several things. First, it drives up your sales figures which is always a good thing. Second, if you’re with a royalty-paying company, those royalties will be increased while, if you order your copies directly from the publisher, you probably won’t get any. Third, it builds good will with the bookseller.
Don’t let the cold shoulder get you down. If you’re like every other author I ever met, you’ve experienced rejection and you’ve survived it, maybe many times on your way to holding that finished book in your hands. You and I might start out by annoying each other, but you know what? We need each other. And you can keep a private,(very private) list of those booksellers who have really yanked your chain—said list to be viewed with great amusement when you become famous and can pick out a few for your own brand of rightbackatcha.

Remember, that after all is said and done, the phone calls, and emails, and snail mails, and more than a little of what will seem like begging and pleading, will be well worth it. Every sale I’ve ever made as a bookseller has made me smile, has made me feel really good, and I don’t mean because of the financial transaction. Every shelf that displays your book is going to make you smile and feel really, really good. So follow these tips and enjoy.

Once upon a time, Lelia Taylor took the quixotic leap and left Corporate America with its benefits and every-other-week paycheck for the nonexistent financial power of co-owning and running an independent bookstore. No one ever accused her of making a brilliant decision back then, especially after the current recession shut the store down, but she sure has had a good time along the way—and has never been sorry. Indie booksellers are peculiar that way.


  1. Hey, Leela!! Heh heh heh just kidding!! (Do I get my $1.50?) :) Lelia, you provieded some really excellent tips here. It surprises me how many things I take for granted as “common sense” really aren’t, to many people. My rule #1 is don’t send to anybody, or take yourself seriously, unless your work has been in a drawer for at least a year, and you’ve spent that year researching the marketplace. THEN you edited, taking at least another 6 months. AND you take any/all comments in your rejections quite seriously, as coming from people who know a whole hell of a lot more than you do about the business. My 2 cents!! Can I have my Coke now? ;) *hugs* to you and keep up the good, if stressful, work of informing writers! It’s a tough biz.

    Comment by Savvy — August 9, 2010 @ 10:33 am

  2. Name-spelling is all the more important in this internet age. When I was arranging a reading at the university where I work, the university bookstore liaison claimed she couldn’t supply books to sign because my book was not in any catalog or available through B&N. I suspected she was spelling either or both of my names wrong (which happens to me all the time), so I suggested she search the title–which also came up with nothing. It was tense. I didn’t want to insult her by accusing her of misspelling, but I knew my book was available. I said it should be in the Berkley catalog. She snapped back she’d already tried the Berkeley catalog (U of Berkeley, not Berkley, imprint of Penguin). At that point, I said I was looking at the B&N web site and it was there. It turned out she had spelled “American Fuji” as “American Fugi.” She didn’t apologize, but she did order the books. By spelling the mountain like the popular apple variety, she had made my book invisible. I was surprised at how readily she was willing to regard me as a fraud rather than check her trifecta spelling errors. ( I must say, though, that most booksellers I’ve talked to have been the nicest people and usually pre-disposed to help authors if they can.)

    Comment by Sara — August 9, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  3. Wow, Sara, that must’ve been awkward. Sounds like you handled it well–the “Lelia way” :)

    Savvy, you will know how to handle all these sitches for sure!

    Comment by jenny — August 9, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  4. Taylor’s comments are common sense — it’s amazing how often authors forget such things. Nobody tells you when you start writing that the hardest part of the business is the marketing. Publisher Karen Sayed once advised a group of writers: “If you’re shy don’t get into this business.” Marilyn aka: M. E. Kemp

    Comment by M. E. Kemp — August 9, 2010 @ 11:58 am

  5. Oh my gosh, Sara. That’s awful. I would think everyone knows how to spell Fuji! :|

    Comment by Savvy — August 9, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

  6. This is fantastic advice and some I’ve never heard before. Thanks for this, Lelia!
    Kaye, who lives in Taylor, but has never heard the name Lelia

    Comment by Kaye George — August 9, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  7. That’s hard-nosed advice, Marilyn, but probably good to hear. How do people find our books if they don’t know us?

    Kaye-who-lives-in-Taylor, welcome to Suspense Your Disbelief, thanks for reading!

    Comment by jenny — August 9, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  8. Savvy, I’ll buy you the Coke myself—none of us in this business have an easy time of it and, sometimes, a little tasty caffeine helps ;)

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 9, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  9. Sara, that’s just plain idiotic, not that she was spelling it wrong but that she wouldn’t listen to you. Maybe I run in the wrong circles but I sure wouldn’t think of an apple before the mountain! Then again, I never heard of this apple variety. Not a southern thing, maybe?

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 9, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  10. Hey, Marilyn! Karen is so right but it doesn’t apply just to writers. Booksellers can’t be shrinking violets, either, and most of us aren’t—in fact, it was sometimes a bit of a struggle for me to keep my mouth shut when I really wanted to, shall we say, express myself.

    I think my favorite bad signing event was the guy who sat at his table reading his own book. In two hours, he never looked up once. Never did decide whether he was abysmally shy or just arrogant.

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 9, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  11. Thanks, Kaye—I hope these tips will be useful ;) The really ridiculous thing is that I have a distant cousin who has never said my name correctly. Now, how sad is that?

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 9, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  12. Jenny, thank you for having me here today. I’d like to offer a guest blogging spot to anyone here that’s interested—I have dates open starting in October so give me a shout at cncbooks1 at gmail dot com if you want to sign up.

    I love this site, Jenny—you do a lot of good for your fellow writers!

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 9, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

  13. Lelia, you are such an engaged and engaging blogger, it was a pleasure to host you! Everyone, take Lelia up on her offer to host. Buried Under Books is a great resource–and I love to read anything posted there!

    Thanks for stopping by today, everyone.

    Comment by jenny — August 9, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

  14. Thanks for the tips, Lulu! (Just kidding!) Please know that authors are very, very grateful for all that booksellers do to connect books and readers.

    Comment by Kathleen Ernst — August 9, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  15. Mm! Tasty, tasty caffeine is what this business runs on! :)

    Comment by Savvy — August 10, 2010 @ 8:19 am

  16. All good tips, thanks, especially since I’m moving from print books into the digital/pod arena. It’s a different ballgame.

    Comment by Nancy Cohen — August 10, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  17. Hi Kathleen and Nancy, welcome to the site. Glad you found Lelia’s tips as helpful as I did!

    Comment by jenny — August 10, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  18. Thanks Lelia for the succinct tips. I’m a new author with a small publisher so I was prepared for an ongoing marketing campaign but you provided some additional tips for me. I must admit my “dead body” cookies are proving to be quite a draw. Who couldn’t use a cookie when they’re reading?

    Comment by Cindy Sample — August 10, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  19. Ooh, I like that one, Cindy! Do you have a picture we could see? Going to look up your debut now…

    Comment by jenny — August 10, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  20. Kathleen, Lulu says thanks to all authors who support us in return ;)

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 10, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  21. Hey, Nancy! Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. This whole ebook thing is turning the bookselling world upside down and I fear most of us sellers will not survive. Lots of pundits talk about how we just have to “embrace the future” but they lose sight of the fact that only the most financially stable—not a common state of affairs these days— will be able to afford the changes.

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 10, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  22. Cindy, cookies are always a good thing. We used to fight over the cookies Joanne Fluke would send us ;)

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 10, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

  23. Thanks again, Jenny, and everybody who stopped by. Don’t forget—guest blogging opportunities await you at my place if you’re interested and you don’t have to be published!

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 10, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

  24. Leila, Thank you, thank you for the excellent advice. I copied someof it into my publicity advice file for future reference. And thank you, jenny for posting this! You’ve done a great service for us all.

    Comment by Donna Fletcher Crow — August 10, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

  25. Your welcome, Donna—I hope some of it will come in handy ;)

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 11, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  26. I can’t believe I spelled it “your”—of course I meant “you’re”. Sigh.

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — August 11, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

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