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.
Preorder campaigns – what helps them actually work?
A very strong social media following is key. I’d suggest working with your local bookstore to offer personalized, signed books. Make sure they can accept web orders – that’s essential! (and always link to them anywhere you’re linking to your book!)
What tips do you have for authors who want to hold a launch party at bookstores?
Choose a store that is hyper-local to your home base of friends & family. If you’re a debut, no one knows you – it’s up to you to bring a crowd. The bookstore will of course promote your event to their customers, but many stores host hundreds of events a year and competition for people’s time is fierce. Also, it’s *really* important to remind your friends that they need to buy a book at the event or pre-order it through the hosting bookstore. Nothing is more of a bummer than for a store to host a launch and have people walk in with books having bought them online.
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?
Both! All events need to go through the publisher’s publicity departments eventually, but I’m not opposed to well-organized author-arranged tour pitches. Keep in mind that books from all panelists need to be new and readily available from an established publisher. Exceptionally good events are ones where a reasonable number of people attend (20+), we sell a good number of books, and everyone (audience, authors) goes home happy.
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?
Ooooof. So many books! On the MG/YA side I’d recommend Caela Carter’s Forever or a Long, Long Time & Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay. On the adult side I’d say Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach & Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body.
What does your typical day look like?
As co-owner and the buyer for both our stores, most of my day revolves around ordering: restocking books that have sold, meeting with publishers’ reps & ordering the next season’s frontlist, and deciding what books to return. I also buy much of the non-book product we sell in our stores: toys, games, gift items, and more. In addition to that I host many of our store’s events, in-store and offsite, and help organize the back-end office that keeps our stores running.
If an author in your area (or at a conference) had fifteen minutes with you, what should they be asking you?
How can we work together to sell more books?
Authors walking into your store and offering to sign stock: excellent or awful, and why?
This depends! I always prefer an author to give me notice (and ask permission) if they’d like to sign stock. A minimum of two weeks notice is ideal so we have time to order in a few extra copies of your book. And a bookstore might graciously decline if they don’t think your book is right for their customer base. Of course, if you’re just browsing in a bookstore and see your book – ask to sign it!
What are some best practices for working with bookstores that authors and/or publicists might not think of?
Be patient with us and remember that we’re working with a lot of other authors as well. We want to sell your books, but we also have a lot of other work on our plates.
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?
Totally depends on the book, but I’d say for a new hardcover I give it at least 5-6 months before it’s returned for not selling. Paperbacks get a little longer, and some books on niche topics might get a year or so before I give them the boot.
What have you noticed in terms of trends that sell, both regarding content and cover design?
Oh man, trends are tricky. We saw a huge female-driven crime trend around Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, but now that category is so over-published it’s hard to tell what is good and what just has a good cover. I’m not sure what’s coming up next. And in YA contemp was really having a moment and is still selling a little better that SF/F, but it’s not as dominant as it has been in recent years. As far as covers – I don’t really notice trends there. I just notice whether a cover is good or not!
What store do you work at and why is it awesome?
Oblong Books & Music in Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY. I think we’re awesome because we care deeply about our community and the books we sell. Our staff is made up of passionate readers who excel at customer service. We’ve been around for 42 years (it’s my family business) and plan to be hear for generations to come.
Suzanna Hermans is a second generation bookseller and co-owner of Oblong Books and Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, NY. She is a past president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association and recently served on the Advisory Council of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. She has also served on the American Booksellers Association’s Advisory Council, as well as their Children’s Advisory Council and New Voices Committee. In 2017 she is a judge for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.