cranky phone

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!


About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. The scenario you describe is a tad confusing to me. Was it simply the sound of the author’s voice that put you off? Or did you already hate the book prior to speaking with the author? I truly don’t understand.

    • She was so belligerent she sounded drunk, Chris. And actually, her book did look good and interesting. I wanted to tell her how she was coming across on the phone, but I’m not good at direct confrontation, so I wrote this instead.

    • Surely you’re joking right? The humor here lies in the totally obvious irony that the very reason there’s only one copy for sale is due to the author’s inability to generate an interest in her own book; it’s like the saying “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
      The people who have power to make or break your success are the ones whose ass you kiss, whose attention you gain by being relevant and interesting and business savvy, not by being pushy and bitchy and excessively vocal about negative BS. 😉

      • A big part of me wants to believe that writing should speak for itself, that if it’s good, its goodness will be recognized and rewarded. That part of me is being quickly schooled in the facts of life. The fact is, the publishing world works just like any other social network. Ugh, right?

        • Good writing, much like anything in life, speaks for itself only when accompanied by common sense in the receiving. Hard Knock PhD you’re rockin, huh? Too bad about the implications that has over humanity lol

  2. Oh my god, the entitlement. I can’t imagine how you managed to remain polite through this conversation.

    I read somewhere that it’s a good idea for authors to drop by and offer to sign the store’s copies of their book. Is it weird to just appear at the store, pen in hand (ta-da!), or do authors call first?

    • For our store, you can go to the website and see if we stock your book– it will tell you how many copies we have on hand. But even for smaller indies, I’d say just go ahead and go in. If they don’t have copies, just say hi and compliment the store and have some info/blurb/review you can give to or leave for the buyer.

      Repeat after me: Averil Dean is an extrovert. Averil Dean is a nice, charming, extrovert.

  3. “I don’t even have a pen.” I’m dying laughing over here!! I love how polite you are, that the buyer is witness to it all, and that this woman is such a ridiculous, well, bitch!!

    I believe our real personalities are on display during moments of stress and frustration. Sure, we all have an unusual episode here or there, but I hate when someone acts horribly and is let off the hook with, “Oh, she was just stressed (or upset, or wanted so badly to win, or or or or or…). No. It’s like that Arthur Ashe saying: You should be as gracious in defeat as you are when you win. I bet this writer who called your store and threw her temper tantrum is sweet as a ripe peach when she’s winning and getting her way.

    • I read somewhere that before age 7 or 8, people are literally unequipped to lose. I see this when I play games with my kids. The six year old still screams and sulks and cheats her way out of losing, but the 12 yo has learned how to smile, shake hands, and say “Good game.” You know, I have felt like that caller felt a thousand times. It’s NOT fair! It really isn’t! It’s so, so unfucking fair. The trick is to scream it into the crook of your elbow and then figure out how to move forward.

  4. Anna,
    As with anything you are trying to sell…, it’s all about greasing the wheels, buttering the bread, and gilding the lilies…, isn’t it now? Vinegar draws no flies ! All squeaky wheels are annoying. I really notice the ones that run quietly and smoothly. These show quality.
    Was fun visiting your site.

  5. Love this! (and always, always be extra nice – and considerate – to whomever answers the phone. And actually listen to whatever that person has to say….and say something that shows you appreciate their time talking with you)

  6. GITH~ I love what you’re learning about selling books. Warming up for your future book sales! xxoo

    • My god, Lisa. I never really realized how many books there are in the world. The boxes come in, the boxes go out, billions and billions of careful, important, intensely personal words.

  7. Well, I was going to write a book over the weekend and not proofread it and expect you to buy 500 copies of it and display it front and damn center, dangit, but now I guess I’ll just take the weekend off instead. Okay, that’s not apropos, because you said her book wasn’t all that bad and chances are my weekend one would be 😉 , but I’ve got the attitude right, anyway! And I have a pen!!

  8. IS MY BOOK IN STOCK??? I have a pen and I’m not afraid to use it. 😉 I hate the phone. In fact, I have a full-blown phone phobia. There’s probably a word for that, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

  9. Life is simple. There are people who work with others to meet their goals and then there are assholes who think the world revolves around them. You can find them at the book store, the American Airlines desk, the help desk, or letters to congress. They are everywhere!. So just keep your center, continue on your current path and then you will not only be doing your job – – – but also be discovered as the great author that you are. Best of luck to your future.

    • I’m learning that most of the time, people are on my team. This lady really wanted to partner with me and get me on her team but had no idea how to go about it. I’m learning a lot, Wally!

  10. Todd

    Yeah, what Wally said.. ditto that.
    People like that remind me of my kid who doesn’t yet get that screaming won’t get him the cookie. You won’t help me if I berate you? Huh? Customers like that are stupid because they tell you what their hot buttons are. But when the seller does that it’s like Darwin’s wandering the marketplace: You’re too stupid to be nice to your customers; your customers evaporate; you starve. Doesn’t she know that you are her customer? Duh!

  11. Karin Baer

    On a bad day, I am that cranky demanding whiny person, ugh. My friend Sue used to say, we don’t come into this world knowing how to live, we have to learn. Some of us are just slow learners. We do learn from those who are centered and on their path, so try and be patient.

  12. You had me at cranky.

  13. I firmly believe that every writer should have a job that deals with the public. Look at all the story material just in this one phone call! Thanks for the laugh at the end of a day dealing with story material. Two more comments: I think Averil should go in and offer to sign; I for one love what she writes. And finally, I just finished ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed. Didn’t like it at all.

    • Averil should go in. Go, Averil!
      Everyone’s raving about Wild, even my closest friends. I haven’t read it but I am very curious. Your’e the first to say it wasn’t faaaabulous.

      • I got bored with all the contemplating and grieving, which sounds terrible. It’s not a book about hiking and shouldn’t be promoted as such. The scene with the horse I’m torn about. On one hand, it’s raised strong emotions, which is the goal of a writer. on the other hand, I don’t think so much horrible detail was needed, and the impact would have been the same. Added to that, like I mentioned, I’m not sure the way she used that scene to tie into where she was in the grieving process worked. I think it would have tied in better, and more effectively, without the gruesome details. I’d love to hear what your opinion is when you read the book.

  14. I’m amazed that you actually took the time to go and look for her book to see how it’s placed rather than tearing it off the shelf and running it through the shredder. I also love the “Who can I complain to?” question — as if she’s not already complaining to you, and as if you’re just dying to help her complain even more.

    Sometimes I love when the lesson simply boils down to “Don’t be an asshole,” because that’s one I’m fairly confident I can accomplish!

    • Truth be told, I’m still a writer in bookseller clothing so this whole thing has been a radical paradigm shift. I feel like I’m in a Trojan horse, peeking through a gap, and the view out there is not what I expected.

      It’s a simple adage, one we should all strive to live by, don’t you think?

  15. oh boy.

    a good tale.

    when our book comes out we will wrap it in the palest pink tissue paper and send it directly to you and enclose two delicious pieces of turkish delight so you can nibble at something sweet while reading it (if the book appeals to you, we completely respect your experience).

    hope that only lovely people call you today.


    _tg xx

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