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. :)
Jessica S. Schley was once a pusher of very important papers for a small commercial nonfiction house. Nowadays, she divides her time between bookselling, being a grad student, and writing contemporary fiction for young adults.
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