Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why More Authors Should Be Like Hitler

Photo by Jessica Schley (cc)
Thought I'd go for a deliberately provocative title today.

Here's the thing about Hitler. He wrote this book, MEIN KAMPF. And many, many years later (in 1998, to be exact), Houghton Mifflin published it in this very compact, chunky volume.

This wasn't Hitler's doing. But it's given him a crazy, crazy sales advantage over every other book in the German history section.

MEIN KAMPF, as it turns out, is a really great bookend.

Every night, when we straighten the store (aka do "recovery"), we try to get every book so that it is standing upright, spine out, so that the shelves look beautiful. We do this by facing out titles that will hold up other titles.

Yes, we try to face out new releases, and hardcovers, and books that are selling well--this often happens by default, because when you have seven copies of a hardcover, it takes up less space to face it out rather than to let all seven stretch across the shelf. But sometimes there's no new release, or no book with a bunch of copes—and then, with the eye of a practiced recovery artist, we look for a book that is solid enough, not too wide, not too short, not too flimsy.

MEIN KAMPF keeps fitting that bill.

Why does this matter? Because faced out books sell more.

Go into a bookstore and look around a fully shelved section (i.e., not the front with all the tables and bestseller shelves). Which books catch your eye first? The ones with their whole covers facing you. When I put away a stack of books that customers have pulled off the shelves, usually 30-60% of them are books that are faced out. The customer saw the whole cover, and nabbed the thing. A book that has been nabbed is much more likely to be bought.

Authors often despair over bookstore presence. If they aren't a bestseller, or their publisher isn't paying co-op (which means they go on one of those promo tables you see—yes that's all paid placement), their book gets lost in spine-out land. This causes some authors to come into a store and try to move their book around, which is unhelpful for a whole lot of reasons, both to the booksellers and to the author.

But face outs? Those are totally fair game. Go to the shelf, find your book where it is, and, if there's room on the shelf, you can wiggle the book into a faced-out position. Face out your friends' books while you're at it. As long as you don't disrupt the order of the other books on the shelf, and face your book out right where it sits, we really don't mind. Even if it doesn't sell more, I can guarantee more people will take a look.

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