Tips for local authors

“So, you wrote a book–now what?”

This is one of the best articles I ever read (thanks to Shelf Awareness for pointing it out this morning).  Written by David Unowsky, who has a similar position as I do at a bookstore in Minneapolis.  The timing is actually great for me, as I’m in the middle of setting up our Local Authors Day and so I’ve been thinking a lot about ways I could improve the store’s interaction with local authors.  (For me, this basically means any author whose book was not published by a publisher whose name I recognize, including small legitimate publishers as well as self-published books, books from vanity presses, and print-on-demand titles.  This is not because I take these books less seriously, but because it changes how I have to set up and publicize the event.)  I feel that there are a lot of misunderstandings about independent bookstores and their relationship to local authors, and this article goes a long way to clearing them up.  Sentiments with which I particularly agree:

“On average, I get about two calls or e-mails a week (100 per year) that start out like this: ‘Hi, I’m Joe/Mary Smith and I’ve just had my book published. I hope you’ll consider carrying it in your store and that you’ll also consider hosting a reading and signing for me.'”   This is almost an understatement, I think 100 a year is actually a little low.  This doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing–there are plenty of books and authors we love who we first met this way.  But it does mean that I have a set way I handle these requests, and I tend to get peeved when people try to push another way on me.

This was my head buyer’s favorite line: “The first thing to understand is this: bookstores are not public service organizations.”  Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.  She and I both feel that part of our mission is to be a place to host work from the community.  But we can’t be that place if we’re not making money.

I really could just post the whole article in here with an empathetic yes.  It is well-written and no-nonsense and lovely.  His discussion of the economics of the whole thing is especially well done and crucial to understand if you are an author who wants your book in a bookstore.

But the conclusion is the best part, and simply must be quoted in full: “Once, I gave this advice when speaking to a group of self-published authors. One of the authors said she didn’t know any booksellers to talk to. ‘What should I do?’ she asked. I suggested that when she goes to a bookstore, she could strike up a conversation with one of the booksellers there and ask them for their opinion about her book idea. She then said that she never goes to a bookstore. ‘I do all my book shopping on Amazon.com,’ she replied. In that case, I suggested that she should place her book for sale with Amazon and have her reading there. ‘But how would a reading on Amazon work?’ she asked. ‘Doh!’ said I.”

This hit home especially for me, because I actually have the following policy: if an author tells me in their cover letter, on their website, etc, that I can buy their book on Amazon (or on B&N.com, or so on), I stop right there.  I don’t read any more of the letter, and I definitely don’t bring in the book.  In fact, many local authors tell me that Amazon is where they prefer that I get the book.   Which tells me something very important: they don’t care about independent bookstores enough to know that amazon.com is our most direct competitor, and I don’t have time in my events schedule or space on our shelves for authors who don’t care about independent bookstores.

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2 comments so far

  1. zoewinters on

    Question on the Amazon issue. You’re not actually upset about the book being stocked on Amazon (cause just about every book is stocked on Amazon), but the fact that they aren’t referring you to a legitimate distributor like Ingram to stock their books, am I correct here?

    I don’t blame you on the offense. If you couldn’t get their book through Ingram or Baker and Taylor for your store, why on earth would you order it from your competitor and lose profits?

    You aren’t running a charity organization.

  2. bookavore on

    You are correct, yes. I don’t begrudge a book being stocked on Amazon at all, authors need to make money as well as I do and having your book on Amazon is currently a part of that. Like you say, I don’t think an author could even “unstock” their book there, and I wouldn’t ask them to do so.

    But I do get upset when authors don’t seem to realize that Amazon is my most direct threat as an indie store, and asking me to order from them (or, in an instance that I know has happened at my store and at others, tells customers AT A SIGNING WE ARE HOSTING that the book can be procured cheaper at Amazon)–I mean, that is just absurd. I’m not running a charity organization, exactly, glad you understand!


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