“Whixall Nursery have asked for a signed copy of my book for their raffle, and want me to pick the winner because I’m a ‘local celebrity’ – how cool is that?!”
There’s no doubt about it: people get excited when they know there’s an author living in their midst!
It might therefore seem reasonable for any new indie or self-published author to expect his or her local bookshop to be eager to promote their new books. Which new author hasn’t pictured in their mind’s eye a big pile of copies, prominently displayed in their local bookshop’s window beneath a big “LOCAL AUTHOR!” sign?
With local celebrity status, it’s tempting to rush in with your book hot off the press – or even before it’s been printed – in high hope of snapping up a book-signing session and an order. These things CAN be achieved – but sadly they’re not every local author’s automatic right. You’ll stand a much greater chance of such success if you first take a step back to consider your proposition from the retailer’s point viewpoint.
When I was researching my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, I went to interview my local independent bookshop proprietor to extract his views at first-hand.
Hereward Corbett, proprietor of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, opened his own high street stores after a long career with the top book retail chains. He was very pleased that I was giving him the opportunity to put the retailer’s viewpoint to self-published and indie authors who are, by definition, not represented by mainstream publishers and their visiting salesmen.
Booksellers need to make sound financial decisions in order to stay in business,” he told me. “For booksellers, publishers are great filters: they are the bookseller’s quality control mechanism and we trust their judgement. We don’t have that assurance when a self-published author comes in. Publishers also make very good use of our time: I’ve just had one of their reps give me a 10-second pitch for each of 100 of their new books. That’s very convenient.”
This is not to say he is unsupportive of the indie sector – far from it, as demonstrated by the picture above.
I’d also stress that no bookseller will blindly follow publishers’ recommendations. Living and breathing books, they gain huge first-hand knowledge of what will and won’t sell in their particular shop. Hereward has a well-deserved reputation as a shrewd and dependable talent-spotter. He has an extraordinary habit of arranging for talks in his shop by authors who, only after he has booked them, are chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.(I’m off to see Artemis Cooper talk to his customers about her biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor next week.) He claims to have no inside knowledge from the BBC – just a genuine instinct for his local marketplace. Doubt these booksellers’ judgement at your peril!
By the way, Hereward also remarked, when I presented him with a copy of my finished book to thank him for his help, that Sell Your Books! should be compulsory reading for all independent and self-published authors. A discerning bookseller? I rest my case!
You’ll find further insight into the bookseller’s viewpoint in Sell Your Books!, my book promotion handbook – see Chapter 8, entitled “Shop!” Getting the Retailer’s Attention.
Next time I cover the subject of bookshops will be with a special post about Waterstones. Follow the Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog to make sure you don’t miss it. (“Follow” button is in the sidebar to the right of this post.)
Footnote: Joanne Phillips, a very effective self-promoter, has done all the right things to establish a great relationship with her local bookshop! For more about her own experiences, follow her blog.
Photo credits: With thanks to Sophie E Tallis for the photo of her fantasy novel, White Mountain , to Paula Lofting for the photo of her historical novel Sons of The Wolf and to Robert R Russell for his photos relating to his autobiography The Right Way