Tuesday, January 29, 2013

5 Ways to Get Booksellers to Promo Your Book

On Wednesday nights, #YALitChat happens on Twitter at 9PM EST. If you aren't a part, you should join in when you're able! It's a great crew. (If you don't know how to participate in a twitter chat, this site gives a good rundown. I also personally like to use a twitter client—in my case, Hootsuite—to follow the hashtag.)

Anyway, now that I've plugged the fun...

This last week the chat was about ways for YA authors to promo themselves. There was lots of great info, so it's worth reading back through the hashtag. But I made one comment that got retweeted several times, and so I thought I'd blog about it.

It's about the power of the peon. 

When I meet authors at the bookstore, the question they almost ineveitably ask is, "Can I speak to the manager?" Sometimes they look at the floor worker as though we aren't even there. I've occasionally even encountered authors who were pushy and rude to me and my coworkers in order to get to the manager—and of course, we informed about this behavior to the manager when she was debating whether to grant the author's request for a signing.

So my biggest piece of promo advice to authors is, don't ignore the peon.

 Who's the peon? The peon is the hourly, possibly part-time employee at your bookstore. She might be a grad student who can't go full time (like me), a retiree, someone who is working nights and weekends for extra dough, or someone who, for whatever reason, doesn't want or have a manager job. But the thing is, because we aren't managers, we actually have a lot more freedom to sell your book. We don't have staff to oversee, we often don't have displays we have to set up or tear down, AND, most of the time, when a customer comes to ask for a book or recommendation, she's going to get us instead of a manager. (Which isn't to say that managers don't handsell--the best ones do. They just tend to have more constraints on their time.)

So here are some ways to leverage your average, everyday bookseller—and some work even if your book isn't sold in the store!

1. Talk to us about your book and comp titles. This is the number one thing to do. Even if I haven't read your book, if I know that it's a good follow-on for people who liked Neal Schusterman's UNWIND, then I'm going to remember that when a mom comes in asking for something for her teenaged son. I don't have time to read every book out there, so if someone has spoon fed me a recommendation to give, the mores the better. If we're super busy, ask if we have time to talk...but most of the time, we love to talk about books. We wouldn't work in a bookstore if we didn't. 

2. Ask us if there's a local author or staff recommendation promo spot. In many bookstores, there's at least some promo space for authors who are local or whom the staff particularly like. Moving your book around the store can actually cause it to get lost, so it's far better to ask if there's a promo space the store controls.

3. Let us know how much your ebook is. Barnes & Noble and many independent bookstores can sell ebooks from the register in the store. So it's entirely possible that I might handsell an ebook, especially if I've just sold a device to a teen and her mom on the idea that they can get great inexpensive reads.

4. Give us some promo material for the lunchroom. Yes, the store is full of magazines and books and most of us have a hugely long To Be Read pile. But about 50% of the time I wander into the breakroom, I've forgotten to bring a book, or grab a book, and I don't feel like walking back out onto the floor. Instead, I will read just about anything that is sitting still on the table. Instead of yesterday's New York Times or the latest catalog from Ingram, I could be reading something that lets me know more about your book.

5. Sign stock. For several reasons. One, we can't return signed stock. Hah! Two, stores often have an "autographed books" promo area that will automatically give your book a "get out of spine-out land free" card. And three...booksellers love to buy signed books! I've read so many books since I started bookselling that I would never have picked up otherwise simply because the author happened to come by and so I got a personal autograph. Not only is it a sale to that bookseller, but then it has the potential to multiply as the bookseller turns around and handsells it once she's read it.

So next time you go to the bookstore to check on your book—or even if your book isn't in the bookstore, but you happen to be there....strike up a conversation. Be friendly, let us know you've written a book and how we can sell it, and hey...maybe we'll suggest to the community relations manager that we should have you do an event. :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blog Hop: Re-Introduction!

Through my friend Rachel, (whom I know better as "Smiley" and it's SO TRUE, she is a smiley personified), I got alerted to this blog hop: "Please Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself." Since I am aiming to make 2013 "The year in which Jess actually blogs," this couldn't come at a better time So, to my cohort of people who follow—bless you all!—here's some things about me, old and new!

My full name is Jessica; I often go by Jess.
I used to work in publishing, now I work in bookselling, but mostly I'm a grad student.
I have a cat named Pacey, although this is only tangentially related to the character on Dawson's Creek.
I've been writing YA my whole life, but only realized that in the last two years when I actually looked at my accumulated portfolio of unpublished shorts and trunk novels.
I live in Washington, D.C. And yes, I actually have met the President.
The best book I read in 2012 was probably the fifth Gallagher Girls book.
So far, the best book I've read in 2013 was a book I beta read. It had better sell so you all can read it, too.
My favorite book is an obscure little literary book called The Soloist by Mark Salzman.
I take photos for fun and am starting to learn more about it. 
I drink 40 ounces of coffee a day. Every day.
In 2013 I'm going to try to revise a novel, write a new one, and produce a dissertation from start to finish. I recognize this may make me insane.
I own all 7 Harry Potter books in hardcover in both the US and UK editions. I also own two copies of book 4--a first printing one where Lily and James Potter come out of Harry's wand in the wrong order, and a second printing one where they come out in the right order.  

And with that said...

Here's a poorly-cropped photo of me at Wizarding World. By sheer accident, I wound up in Orlando visiting family and was there on opening weekend. It was an awesome, awesome day and I left in tears that I couldn't come back the next day.

It's nice to meet you! Thank you for reading my blog.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Brief: King James, Author Extraordinaire

As I was running to clock out for lunch the other day, I crossed our customer service bay, which is right next to the Bibles. A customer asked for assistance.

"Are there any books here on King James?" he asked. "The man who wrote the Bible?"

Not having the heart to burst his bubble, and always wanting to help someone who wants to read some religious history, I found him a book on the Council of Nicaea and Constantine without telling him exactly what it was.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Know the Reasons, Rule the Rules

Disclaimer: so maybe I'm not qualified to pontificate on what makes for successful submissions, since I don't have an agent. Maybe I'm totally wrong. I don't usually post about submissions, or queries, or anything of the sort. But I'm going to go out on a limb and post this anyway. Because this is something I see a lot, and it frustrates me every time. And please indulge me, even though I've written about this before.

Today's post is brought to you because I had an interesting discussion on twitter with Dahlia Adler about query etiquette and read someone on AW asking about how to have the "perfect query" within a half hour of each other. Together, those events got me thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know.)

Navigating the land of submissions is pretty crazy and hectic and there's a lot of information out there about how you should write your book, how you should pitch your book, what your query should say, what it should look like, who it should be sent to, when it should be sent, when you should follow up and to whom...

The list goes on. And on, and on, and on. And the problem is, you can hear both sides of the coin. One industry professional might say, "Never send pages." Others will say, "Always send." Some will say, "Nudge after six weeks." Some will say, "If I haven't replied, it means I'm passing."

But out of this, people say there are hard-and-fast rules to querying, rules to writing query letters, rules to writing the manuscript itself. How can that be?

I'm reminded of a misstep I made in my writers' group maybe two months back. I was critiquing one members' overuse, in my opinion, of speech tags, particularly of the "he muttered" and "she shrieked" variety. I offered this advice: "The rule I've heard is, if you can make it silent (i.e., have no speech tag), that's better than 'said;' if you need a speech tag, 'said' will go unnoticed, and if 'said' won't do the trick, then reach for the extravagant tag."

One of the other members said, "You know, I don't like rules. I think writing rules often aren't true. I don't think we should tell people what they have to do."

I was sort of hurt. As far as I was concerned, I hadn't just told the writer that he had to do things my way, yet that was how the other group member interpreted it.

Then I realized that the problem is the word "rule."

We think of rules as things to be adhered to at all cost. The things that get your name on the board in elementary school (if teachers still do that). The rules of law.

But in writing, and even in querying, I find the "rules" to be something very different.

For example: can you open a query with a rhetorical question? Well, here's the thing. Many agents will hate it. Some may auto-reject. Some may begrudgingly read the rest of the query and decide based on the rest of the query they don't like the book. A few may read the rest of the query and decide to ask for pages.

Now the "many agents will hate it" part makes it maybe not the best idea to include. It's risky. "Don't open your query with a rhetorical question" is a fabulously smart guideline. But does that mean that no query ever ever ever should have a rhetorical question, and every one that does will never find an agent? Absolutely no. Just check out any archive of successful queries, and you'll see a few with just such a device.

Same thing with the speech tags. As we sat at the table in Caribou Coffee, I tried to figure out how to explain what I'd meant. A few minutes later, I offered, "You know, I tend to use that rule at the revision rather than the composing stage. I don't sit and go, 'can I remove the speech tag here' while I'm writing. But if I look over a manuscript and see a lot of 'he muttered' and 'she sighed,' it's a sign that I can probably make the text smoother."

Not a rule. Just a sense that, hey, this way tends to work better than that way. But the gods of writing are not going to smite me (or my writing group pal) for the occasional "he muttered."

The rules of the land of writing, even professional writing, are far from absolute. And more important than knowing "the rules" is knowing why they exist. Rhetorical question queries often cause the agent to answer the question, "No" or "I don't know" and then you've lost momentum, and the agent's attention, after the first sentence. Extreme speech tags affect the rhythm of the page and draw the reader's attention to the tag rather than to the speech.

Know the why, and the rule becomes something you can use to your advantage. My current query doesn't open with a rhetorical question, not because I've heard that's "the rule," but because knowing exactly why those are often disliked, I find there's a more effective way to draw a reader into my query. I rarely use speech tags because if I can just get the characters zipping back and forth, the reader hears their dialogue rather than sees me trying to explain how they said it.

The "rules" aren't absolute, but they exist for reasons. Know the reasons, and you rule the rules.

Which is why I offer this: my one hard and fast rule for writing and selling your book. The only rule I live by. It works if you want an agent, it works if you have a giant contract from the Big 6, it works if you write for small presses, it works if you self-pub. It's the closest thing to a universal rule I can think of, and for me, it covers all the necessary bases.

Write a great book. And then be professional about how you pitch it.

That's it. As far as I'm concerned, nothing else is set in stone.

Do you find yourself breaking rules? Do you think about them? Is there a rule you live by, but because of the why rather than the what? Is there a rule that you feel is set in stone? Drop me a line in the comments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bundle Up! The Pros and Cons of Print+ebook

(cc) @susa@ from flickr
One of my favorite things about Twitter is that it provides not only a great news source if you follow good blogs and sources for industry news like Publishers Weekly, Writers' Digest, and Galley Cat, but it also provides a place to immediately discuss relevant news with others who want to discuss them.

Which is why I recently found myself in this awesome twitter conversation with several agents about the pros and cons of book bundling. I think about this sort of thing a lot, and so getting to bounce it off others was kind of like twitter candy.

What's bundling? That's the term given to the practice of putting an ebook and print combo in one. The idea would be that a book could be kind of like those DVDs you get that include a digital copy of the movie. Pay $14.99 for a DVD, $18.99 for a Blu-Ray, and $21.99 for a Blu-ray combo pack with an unlocking code for the Ultraviolet movie. 

On Thursday, Amazon announced the launch of “AutoRip, a new service that will allow users to pay a small additional fee to automatically get all the MP3s for a physical CD that they purchase from the site. As mentioned above, DVDs have been doing this for a few years now. The question immediately bounced to ebooks: could this mean bundling is not far behind?

As a bookseller who works almost exclusively in the digital sales department, the question I am asked most often about content, behind "How much do ebooks cost on average?" is "Are there ways to get a print book and an ebook at the same time?"

I've heard publishers say there's no demand for bundles, but I don't think that is true in the least, based on my experiences. But it is still true that there are kinks to be worked out in the system.

Here are the advantages I see to bundling.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday Blogroll, 10 January 2013

So for 2013, I've told myself I'm going to put my shoulder to the wheel and post every week. That will be Tuesdays. I think it will help me to have a solid day on which I'll get something up here, and then I can create a bit of a system. (I choose Tuesdays because that's the day that new books release.)

Therefore, I make no guarantees about this Thursday post, but I'd started it in 2012, and I'm hoping to do a lot more blog reading this year, and so I need a place to share with you the cool stuff I'm finding. If I post this, it will appear on Thursdays...but I might not always post it. :)

Here's what's neat this week.

Valerie Cole has started a new feature called "Writers Like Us" where she interviews writers about their publication process (and gives away books!) So far there have been two, Jodi Meadows, author of ASUNDER and Elizabeth La Ban, author of THE TRAGEDY PAPER (which is on my TBR this month.) It's a really simple interview format and fun to read. I think the most enlightening is the question about how many books each author has trashed before getting to their debut--I find the trunk novel to be incredibly important, and it's nice to see people talking about them openly.

I have to give Valerie the credit for tweeting this one--Real Men Read YA, a brand new blog by a 30-something dad who's making his forays into stuff like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Because real men read about teen romance. And mermaids. It's hilarious, and fun, and so far, the reviews are good. This is one to watch. Tweet the author @RealMenReadYA

Speaking of twitter, Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management posted a rockin' post called The Writers' Guide to Rocking It on Twitter in which she gives some great insight into good twitter handles, good twitter behavior and (gulp) what agents sneak around and look for on an author's twitter when they're interested enough to look. 

Of course, I've read lots of interesting things this week, but those are some at the top. Is there something you think I (and everybody else) should see? Rec it in the comments.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Why #Hashtag Says Important Things About Writing

Photo: American Dialect Society
So in my spare time, I'm a linguist.

Or is it that in my spare time, I'm a novelist?

At any rate, I spend a lot of time thinking academically about language, and then come home and think about it from the perspective of a writer, as well. This weekend was the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society, which was founded in 1889 to analyze language use and change in North America.

Now, one thing that we do in ADS is vote on the "Words of the Year," which is where we get to put words into the high school yearbook categories of "Most Creative" "Most Outrageous" "Most Likely to Succeed," and so on. It's a lot of raucous fun with people who at once take this task way too seriously and yet with a great deal of irreverence.

This year, the word of the year is #hashtag,  which beat out marriage equality in a close vote because of its sudden prominence and migration from Twitter to other forms of social media, like Facebook and even blogs.

But two years from now, will we know what a hashtag is, and will we care?

In January of 2012, how many of you knew the neighborhood where the wealthiest people in Seoul reside? This year, thanks to "Gangnam Style," there are probably few of you that don't know its name. Three years ago, tweet was probably a verb most people associated with actual avian creatures. In 2009, it was voted Word of the Year for the social media network that is probably our first association with it now.

Also on the various ballots this year were marriage equality (most likely to succeed) and YOLO (tied with phablet for least likely to succeed).

Often, as the New York Times notes, the ADS chooses a WOTY with some staying power, like occupy, app, or tweet. But sometimes a word has a meteoric rise to popularity, and later, it falls almost as precipitously, as in the case of the 1990 WOTY, bushlips. 
What does this have to do with writing?

One of the biggest problems writers face, especially YA writers, is that we have to make something that feels authentic to the teen experience, when the experience of teens changes almost by the minute. I'm only sixteen years older than my nephew, but I didn't get a candybar cellphone until I was a college graduate, whereas he got an iPhone for Christmas (and his nine-year-old brother got his first cellphone for his birthday this year.)

Language plays a big part in that. What's cool this year may well be stigmatizingly lame next year—this is exactly the kind of thing that the ADS attendees get into (very friendly and civilized) fights about at the WOTY meeting. As writers, we know that choosing the right words gives characters meaning and depth, and the wrong word pulls the reader out of the story.

I had an experience recently reading a future dystopian where the author had given new names to technology, as well as invented a new word for cool. But because she didn't explain how the new technology was any different from texting or why the characters used a different word to mean "cool," I was thrown out of the story to ask those questions of in my mind every time the words appeared. I found it distracting, and it was one of the many reasons I wound up not finishing the book.

When we write, especially for those of us who are planning books in hopes of commercial contracts, we're looking at anywhere from 1-3 years from the time we write "the end" to the time when that book hits the shelves. So reaching for the latest and loudest and coolest isn't always the best, and even in a future society, creating new language can sometimes create a bit of a disconnect.

Words with staying power, like cool and crazy have the power to make characters sound appropriately teen, without dating the book.

After all, even Katniss Everdeen rode on a victory train. 

The full WOTY rundown (and if you look at the video, you can see me live-tweeting the results from the second row) at The Visual Thesaurus

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