If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, hopefully you’re familiar with Perpetual WIPs, a series I ran for a while with different editions that asked a bunch of industry folk a bunch of questions and posted the answers anonymously. This newest edition is a slightly altered take in two ways: 1) it’s not anonymous, and 2) instead of posting everything in groups, it’s gonna be one interview at a time. The better to soak up the valuable knowledge!
Because here is a thing I’ve noticed as an author: how to deal with booksellers and indies is something many of us are still clueless about even after years of publishing, especially if you are…shall we say…not your publicity department’s top priority. And so, I got a bunch of fabulous booksellers to help clear up the answers to the most frequently asked questions I see on the topics of their jobs and how best to work with them as authors.
If you missed the earlier posts, check ’em out here! To see a new perspective, read on and get to meet author-bookseller Emily Lloyd-Jones of Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books!
What kind of opportunities does your bookstore offer for discovery of new authors? (e.g. Events, “blind date,” carrying swag, etc.)
We hold events for new authors. We have a small basket for chapter samplers and we’ll put those out for customers to take. We carry all of the Indies Introduce titles. (More on that, later.)
And on a personal note, I try to read at least a few chapters of every debut ARC that comes to me. As both an author and a bookseller, I know how excruciating it can be to promote one’s self as a newbie in the industry. So I try my best to check out titles that might otherwise fly under the radar.
Preorder campaigns – what helps them actually work?
In my experience, having an existing fanbase. We’ve run a few preorder campaigns, and the most successful ones are when an author is well-established and has very dedicated readers. Cool swag helps, but reader loyalty seems to be the key.
What tips do you have for authors who want to hold a launch party at bookstores?
Bring cookies for the booksellers. Just kidding! Sort of. Most of us do love snacks.
My advice would be the same for any author who wants to hold an event at our store: get in touch early, be polite, make sure your books are readily available to order, have a hook that will draw customers into the store—or have a huge family/friendbase that will fill seats.
Launch parties aren’t that different from regular events. If you have certain foods/drinks you want to bring, talk to the bookshop. If you have an idea of a theme or what you want to do, you can discuss that, too. Some people want more of a reading/signing and others want a party. We’re open to both.
How do/should people go about setting up panels/events at your store? Does someone at the publisher need to do it or can authors arrange them themselves? And what makes an exceptionally good event?
We’ve set up events with both publishers and with authors directly. Both have worked out well. We have an event coordinator and he’s the one to talk to if an author is interested in doing an event with us.
If there is an author who wants to do an event at our store, the key is that there’s some sort of draw for the local community. The events that do really well have presentation or entertainment built into them. We once had an author give a talk on the history of cheddar to promote his book—and we had a cheese tasting! It was a lot of fun and was very well attended.
My advice for authors looking to set up events is this: think about what will draw readers to your event. What makes your event memorable?
On the more practical side, please arrive early. Stay in contact with the event coordinator and let them know if your plans change. And please always be understanding if something goes awry—sometimes things just happen and no one can predict them. The best event authors are ones that are both flexible and cheerful.
Someone walks into the store and says, “I feel like I’ve read all the bestselling [insert your favorite genre] books but not much else; what would you recommend?” Once you’re able to breathe again, what recs do you throw at them?
My first question is, “Okay, what was the last book you truly loved?” Because YA is more of an age-range than a true genre, teens can want a book about anything from hard-boiled mystery to contemporary romance to mermaids. So I always establish what sort of book they’re actually looking for.
My current recommendations include THE BEAST IS AN ANIMAL by Peternelle van Arsdale, RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy, LITTLE & LION by Brandy Colbert, and THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee.
What does your typical day look like?
This depends on the day of the week! One thing I love about being a bookseller is how variable my schedule can be. On some days, I’m in the front of the store selling books, checking out customers, and taking orders for books we don’t have on the shelf. On other days, I’m in shipping—where I receive books from publishers and distributors. Other days, it’s data-entry time and I’ll be sitting in the children’s section, working to keep our purchase orders up to date. And on other days, I’m in the back of the store with sales reps talking about which new releases I should purchase. I’m also the official cat wrangler, so if the bookshop cat needs to be taken to the vet, I’m the one that gets to haul him there.
There are a lot of tasks that go on behind the scenes to keep a store running smoothly.
If an author in your area (or at a conference) had fifteen minutes with you, what should they be asking you?
“How can I help you sell my book?”
No, really. Help us. If you have a perfect elevator pitch, tell it to us. We can use it. If your book has a local angle that we can use, let us know. If a bookseller is interested in your book, ask your publisher to ensure that we get an ARC or a comped finished copy. If you’re self-published, make sure your book is available through distribution channels.
Anything you can do to help a bookseller sell your book is wonderful!
Authors walking into your store and offering to sign stock: excellent or awful, and why?
Excellent! So long as the author is friendly and polite, I love when this happens.
My advice is to look for your own books first, to make sure they’re actually in stock. Because it’s ridiculously awkward when an author walks up and is all, “Do you have my book?” and we have to answer “No.” There can be so many reasons why we don’t have the book, and none of them are personal. Sometimes they’ve just sold out or it’s an older title that we had to return or perhaps the subject matter simply wasn’t for our store.
So, find your books on the shelf, gather them up, bring them to the front counter and politely offer to sign them. We’ll put a nice “autographed copy” sticker on the front, and everyone is happy.
What are some best practices for working with bookstores that authors and/or publicists might not think of?
If you’re a debut author, ask your publisher to submit your manuscript to Indies Introduce. Two panels of booksellers read these books to find twenty (ten adult and ten children) titles that they think are the best new voices. Publishers then offer special terms on these books for participating indie bookshops. It’s a great way for new authors to be discovered.
Also ask your publisher to send you to local bookseller association events. These are smaller than Winter Institute or Children’s Institute, but I have found many titles I wouldn’t have otherwise read at smaller events. NCIBA—the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association—holds a fall and springtime gathering so booksellers can learn from one another, talk to publisher contacts, and meet with authors. There are other organizations around the country—figure out the one your local bookshops belong to, and pitch these events to your publisher.
Get ARCs to booksellers early. Yesterday, I completed my buy for new children’s books from Penguin for next spring—and it’s October. We order months in advance, so it’s in your best interest to get booksellers copies of ARCs as soon as they’re available.
And, lastly, because I know this is getting kind of long, on your website or social media, don’t have your only purchase links go to Amazon. We see that and it’s always disheartening. If you’re able, please find a local bookshop that you can direct readers to—and if you can develop a partnership with that bookshop, all the better. If readers know to shop at a certain place because an author has signed copies or directed them to that bookshop—we notice that, too.
Turnover on the shelves: what’s your policy? How long before a new release is given the boot, and what can keep books longer than the standard shelf life?
This depends on the genre because some of our sections are smaller than others. For example, adult hardcover fiction has a much shorter shelf life than say, mystery. We have more space in mystery, so we can afford to keep books there longer. If a book sells—great! We’ll keep reordering it.
In the YA section, my usual time limit is eight months. If a book doesn’t sell a single copy for eight months, it’s usually time to return it to the publisher.
What have you noticed in terms of trends that sell, both regarding content and cover design?
Trends are impossible to predict. We’ve had books I thought would sell collect dust on the shelves. We’ve had books that I thought “never in a million years” go huge. Readers’ habits cannot be predicted. If you’re trying to write for a trend, don’t.
As for covers, they matter. I won’t lie. If they’re gorgeous, more readers will pick them up. But I have also seen terrible covers sell because they have staff recommendations attached to them or because a reader picked it up, handed it to a friend and said, “You have to read this.” Good reads tend to float to the top, regardless of their packaging.
Covers matter but the content matters more.
What store do you work at and why is it awesome?
I work at Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books in the historic village of Mendocino, California! We celebrated our 50th anniversary a few years back. We’re also right on the ocean, and we can whale watch from our cash register. It’s the most beautiful view in the world.
We also have an adorably cranky bookshop cat called the Great Catsby.
Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. When she was twelve, her cousin gave her a copy of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and triggered her lifelong addiction to genre fiction. She went on to read all the usual suspects (Tolkien, Lewis, McCaffrey etc). When she wasn’t immersing herself in someone else’s fantastical world, she was usually creating her own.
After graduating from Western Oregon University with an English degree, she loaded up her car, wrestled her cat into a pet carrier, and drove across the U.S. to Philadelphia. She enrolled in the publishing program at Rosemont College but spent far too much time in coffee shops working on a novel when she probably should’ve been writing her thesis. Once she managed to finish both, she again packed up her car (and a very disgruntled cat), and drove back to the west coast.
She currently resides in Northern California, where she works as a bookseller/children’s buyer for an independent bookshop. There’s a lot of coffee involved. When not selling books, she’s busy writing them. She is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.