I’m learning a lot at my new job. The other day when I answered the phone, a haughty voice introduced herself (So-and-So, author of such-and-such published by BigPublishingHouse) and asked to speak to the store’s buyer. I put her on hold a second then got back on the line and began to give her the buyer’s name and email address, because I know the buyer prefers to be approached this way.
Lesson: Yes, it is a good idea to contact a store’s buyer, but not via cranky phone call. A carefully crafted email is the way to do it.
So-and-So interrupts me. “So tell me, how many of my books do you have in the store?”
I check the computer. “We do have a copy.”
So-and-So gasps. “One copy! I don’t understand. I sold out at your other store.” (She sold out because she lives in the same city as the other store and all her friends came to her event.)
“You can explain this to our buyer in your email. Maybe she’ll order more.”
Lesson: Be very nice to buyers. Your book will sell better if they’re on your team.
So-and-So’s tone is ratcheting up to whine. She clearly ascribes to the belief that the squeaky wheel gets the grease: “Tell her she needs to order at least thirty copies. And tell me, is it on display?”
I go check. “It’s faced out. It looks good.”
“Well, it should be center front. All the papers are reviewing me. You should have a big stack right in front!” (Many papers review many books. The buyer takes all this into consideration when she decides.)
“Well, that’s not exactly how it works. Our buyer knows our store and if we sell then we know we need to order more.”
Lesson: If the buyer thinks it’s a good match for her store, she’ll order more copies and display them prominently. She bases her decisions on sales, buzz, reviews, the preferences of the store’s customers, and years of experience. If you think the book will do well in her store, you’ll need to be professional and persuasive.
“But how are they going to buy my book if you don’t have it?”
“We do have it, but no one has bought it yet.”
“This is just not fair! It’s not fair at all! Who can I complain to?”
Lesson: The more your book sells, the more people will want to read it. That’s how it works. There’s a weird connection between interest and money spent. It has little to do with fairness, talent, or merit (although good social skills can’t hurt).
“Do you want her name and email address now?”
“Oh, I don’t have time for this. I don’t even have a pen.”
Lesson: As a bookseller and events coordinator, I rarely interact with publishers or publicists. I do interact frequently with authors who come in to sign copies of their book, do a reading, or just introduce themselves. The amount of legwork required of authors is mind-boggling and those who understand how bookselling works sell more books. These days, it’s the author’s job to promote herself, so she’ll have to learn how. The first lesson is that the bookstore will work with you but not for you.
“Okay then is there something else I can help you with?”
“What do you mean help? You haven’t been much help at all.”
When So-and-So realizes that I’m going to hang up she suddenly musters up the energy to find a pen and take down the email address. The buyer, who has been standing next to me for this entire conversation, thanks me for not making her take the call.
Lesson: The mere presence of a book in a store does not guarantee its sale. Every day, we send boxes and boxes of perfectly good books back to the publishers. Books don’t sell themselves. This book buying and selling thing is intensely personal. That’s right: it’s all about relationships. If the booksellers feel a connection to your book, they’ll make sure everyone knows. They’ll display it prominently, recommend it to customers, write enthusiastic shelf-talkers and have loud conversations about the good parts which can be overheard by everyone in the store.
BTW, Anthony Marra came in to the store the other day and handed me a free signed advanced copy of his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I’m halfway through and it’s absolutely beautiful. We have a big stack on the front table and I’m telling everyone.
What good stuff are you reading? Shout it out!