Here’s an interesting piece in the WSJ by Emma Straub: How to be an Indie Bookseller’s Dream. Very good advice here that is mostly common sense: be nice to the booksellers when you’re doing an event in a store, don’t read too long, be charming, send thank you notes.
I certainly agree with all that, but it seems to me that bookstores sometimes forget that the purpose of author appearances is for the store to sell books. The store collects the money. The author gets a little, but the store is getting 40%. The store is also getting customers into the store where they might buy other stuff–other books, gifts, and high-priced junk. And so, it seems to me, it also behooves the store to take some of their own advice: Be nice to the author.
Because sometimes, frankly, they aren’t. I’ve dealt with some wonderful, wonderful booksellers and have had some fantastic in-store events. I love those stores. But I’ve also had some events where it almost seemed as if the store forgot they’d scheduled an event with me and looked at me like I was annoying them for showing up. And then, assuming some books are sold, that same bookstore may take six months to pay the publisher for those books.
The enterprise that we’re both engaged in–bookstores and authors–is the same: we’re selling books to readers. And it seems to me that we both benefit if an event goes well. This shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the author. We need each other.
In perusing the schedule for the upcoming AWP Conference in Chicago, this program caught my eye: “The Bookstore is Not Your Best Friend: Effective Small Press Marketing Strategies.” Here’s the description:
Many publishers and authors starting out mistakenly assume that the first (or even only) places they should market their books and journals to are bookstores. While bookstores should be their friends—and often are—they are not necessarily their best friends. In this panel, publishers and PR people from young yet successful small presses discuss alternative venues for readings and book sales, from anarchist bakeries to punk bars, galleries to outdoor fairs, burlesque nights to feminist groups.
I’ve already learned this lesson. I love bookstores and I love doing readings in bookstores. I’ll continue to do so and I’ll attempt to take Straub’s advice to heart. But I know there are lots of alternatives.