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.
To kick off the series, please welcome the lovely Lelia of One More Page in Arlington, VA!
What kind of opportunities does your bookstore offer for discovery of new authors? (e.g. Events, “blind date,” carrying swag, etc.)
We do events with new authors, although it’s hard because our network and promotion alone aren’t always enough to get a crowd in for an event. Often we rely on authors to push an event since they have the direct line to their readers via social media and other avenues. The best opportunity for new authors is usually a panel featuring one or two seasoned authors with a new or debut author. The more authors, the bigger the draw, and it’s a great way for attendees to discover a new author.
Preorder campaigns – what helps them actually work?
At our store, we’ve really only done preorder campaigns with YA authors, but many of them have been very successful. From what I’ve seen, the biggest factor has been exclusive swag offered to people who preorder the book. I’ve seen authors give out pins, prints, quote cards from their books, temporary tattoos, and more fun things to entice people to order books in advance. This in conjunction with social media promotion is the recipe for success, I believe.
What tips do you have for authors who want to hold a launch party at bookstores?
Launch parties are great because it’s the first event (generally), so your network of people is fresh and ready to come out and show their support. Make sure you tell a bookstore that you can bring in a crowd, and then reach out to all your groups to make sure they know about the launch event. I know it can be hard, especially for new authors, to promote themselves without feeling like they’re bragging, but I think most people–whether it’s coworkers, family, friends, or fellow authors–are eager to buy your book and celebrate with you. Snacks or sweets are good to create the party atmosphere, and some authors like to decorate if their book has a certain thematic element. I can’t speak for other bookstores, but I know we’re always happy to accommodate food, drinks, or other unique elements for a launch party. And if you have questions, or you’re not sure what kind of setup you want, don’t hesitate to ask the bookstore. I always check in to see what kind of vision an author has for their launch. It’s your special day! We just want to help make it great.
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?
I’d say about half of our events are set up by authors themselves. Publicists are overworked a lot of the time, so if you as an author want to reach out, there’s nothing wrong with that. I tell authors it’s good to loop in their publicists if they set something up themselves, just because it prevents any miscommunications or double-booking potential. If you want to do a panel and you know some authors in the area who are game, great! But don’t worry if you don’t have any co-authors lined up. Most bookstores have enough local author connections that they can try and set something up if you’re looking to fill out a panel. In terms of quality of event, I sound like a broken record, but promotion, promotion, promotion. Tweet about it, mention it in your newsletter, make sure it’s on your event page on your website. If there’s a local Facebook group of YA authors/readers, try and post about the event there. If you’re doing a panel, I’d recommend reaching out to everyone beforehand with a game plan so everyone is on the same page. The best part of panels is the dynamic between the authors. If you’re an introvert, just remember that most likely a large part of the audience is, too. And as weird as it feels to talk about yourself and your book in front of strangers, they’re so interested and want to hear what you have to say! When in doubt, just try to remember what weird things you had to Google during the writing process.
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?
Okay, I’ll try to streamline this instead of writing six pages… Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood; Hope and Red by Jon Skovron; My Lady Jane by Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton, and Cynthia Hand; An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay; and Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay (after I’ve felt out whether said reader doesn’t mind their fiction with some teeth).
What does your typical day look like?
I start by reordering the books we sold the previous day, and then seeing to any crucial emails. I also try to skim PW, ShelfAwareness, and Twitter for any important headlines. Our shipments from UPS usually come around 11, so I’ll start receiving those into the system and shelving those books, or calling anyone who may have special ordered a book. Once in a while I remember to update our calendar handouts and book club flyers. In between all that, hopefully I have time to order books for upcoming events and, of course, help any customers who may actually want to purchase a book. (These interactions range from, “I head about it on NPR two weeks ago and don’t know what it’s called…” to, “I met Louise Penny once at a book signing and she was so nice!”) The life of a bookseller is never dull!
If an author in your area (or at a conference) had fifteen minutes with you, what should they be asking you?
Oh wow… I’m trying to think of this from the point of view of an author. I would say, “What are you reading?” is always a good opener, but don’t hesitate to ask questions like, “What makes a good event?” or, “What’s the best in-store event you’ve ever done?” Or even, “How do you handsell a book?”
Authors walking into your store and offering to sign stock: excellent or awful, and why?
Here’s the thing: if we have a copy of an author’s book, I am always happy to have them sign it. We’re a small store, so the odds aren’t always in our favor, and if they ask about it, and we don’t have their book, I feel terrible. But if you’re in the store and happen to see that your book is on the shelf, I say go for it! I mean, after asking permission.
What are some best practices for working with bookstores that authors and/or publicists might not think of?
The one thing that comes to mind that can be an issue is self-published or small press authors. There are a lot of ins and outs that people on the non-retail side don’t fully understand, and it can make things tricky. We’re a small bookstore, and we desperately want to help support small presses, but it’s not always easy. Small presses often don’t have the luxury of offering discounts as high as big publishers, and that’s hard for us since the margin on books is already so small. Plus, we can’t open an account with every small press, because the paperwork alone would take time and resources we don’t have, and ordering from a distributor (the major ones are Ingram and Baker & Taylor) gives a lower discount, plus the books aren’t returnable, so we can’t send back any copies not sold at the event. Publicists and authors will tell me, “The book is available from Ingram and it’s returnable, so why don’t you order some copies!” But even when a book is listed as “returnable,” there’s still a restocking fee and return shipping, which means we lose money on any copies we ship back to the distributor. This happens with self-published authors, too. Our policy is to ask authors to bring their own books in cases like this (which I usually feel mildly guilty about), and split the profits (60/40–with 60% to the author). I wish it was easier to stock small press and self-published authors, but it’s a tough industry. I find that being open about these details is usually the best way to make sure both sides understand each other and can work out the ideal scenario for everyone.
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?
My rule of thumb is about 9 months on the shelf without selling before we pull it to return, but it can be up to a year sometimes. Exceptions to that are any local authors’ books when I know we’re going to do another event with them at some point in the future. If you want to stay on the shelf longer, try to find a staff member who will champion it. (Of course, that assumes that you can convince a bookseller with a TBR pile the size of the Tower of Pisa to read your book.) Also, if you’re local and want to use a bookstore as your hub for signed copies, you can post on your website and send readers there to buy books.
What have you noticed in terms of trends that sell, both regarding content and cover design?
I think books that are sort of hard to define by one genre are doing well, but that could be wishful thinking because I love books like that. If it’s one part time travel, one part historical fiction, and one part lesbian love story, you just have to find someone who likes one of those things who’s willing to take a leap on the others. In terms of covers…big, bold text with a cool background design (think broken glass on a Louise Penny cover, or brick, or flames) are doing well, at least in some genres. Minimalist cartoon graphics have been coming up a lot since Where’d You Go Bernadette, I think. (See: China Rich Girlfriend and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.)
What store do you work at and why is it awesome?
I work at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia! We’re awesome because…we sell chocolate? (We usually give a bar to authors as a thank-you gift after an event.) And we have a pretty good sense of humor. I like to say we take books, wine, and chocolate more seriously than we take ourselves. Also, we have a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama since he shopped here once.
Lelia is the book buyer and YA event coordinator at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia, where she is also part of the planning team for the NoVa TEEN Book Festival. Among her professional achievements, she has acted as traffic cone to save a parking spot for Maggie Stiefvater’s Camaro, and she has met David Levithan three times without crying in front of him. She delights in the thrill of trying to pair each reader with the perfect book.