|One of my favorite indie bookstores, Kramerbooks.|
If you're a writer serious about publication, whether trade or self-publishing, there is no better place for you to spend a good amount of time than your bookstore. I spend a ton of time in mine—I work there! And all those hours gives me some insight into what kinds of things have been insanely helpful in my own understanding of publishing and bookselling more generally.
- Go beyond the bestsellers. Most people wander into a bookstore and mostly browse the bestellers or the books that are on co-op (the endcaps and tables—those are mostly paid promotional spots that are figured into a book's marketing budget). If you'd like to really get a broad view of what's being published, you have to dig a little deeper. One easy place to look is in a new release area for a given section. These are often constantly being updated with new titles as they come out, and frequent visits will open your eyes to books you might not hear about otherwise.
- Look at covers. This is more helpful for the self-publishing authors out there, but sometimes it can be helpful for trade published authors as well, if for no other reason than to feel comfort about the cover designed for their title. Booksellers can often tell from a cover what genre a book is and what demographic it's geared for, and readers, can, too. It's important to have a sense of what covers for books like yours look like.
- Check out the spine-out books. Yes, faced-out books and books on a promo rack, endcap, or table are eye-catching. But a lot of more interesting information about the publishing industry is to be seen in the spine-out titles. How many copies of each book are there? Are the books like yours mostly bought in onesies and twosies, or do they have huge stacks? Is the section dominated by a few authors? This information can be valuable as you think about what your goals are on your publication journey. (And again, you'll probably find some neat titles you weren't aware of!)
- Figure out your genre. Some authors have trouble categorizing their books, or insist their books defy categorization (almost always not true). The advantage of being in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore is that you can physically walk through the different genres. Where are the books like yours shelved? What is the sign on top of their shelf? This will at least give you a broad place to start.
- Ask about sales. Technically, most booksellers aren't supposed to talk about sales. But almost all of us do. Exact numbers are often taboo, but you'll get information about what titles are flying out the door versus ones that sell more slowly. It's never a good idea to try to catch a trend in publishing—you'll be a couple years behind the curve, more than likely, but again, it can help with your own goal-setting.
- Write. Bookstores are great places to huddle up with your laptop and just soak in the inspiration. I think it leeches out of the books. So find a good place to plug in and do so. But don't forget to...
- Buy books! I'm of the firm belief that no matter how much ebooks explode, the continued existence of bricks-and-mortar bookstores is important for authors. Many online book sales are still originating in bricks-and-mortar stores. So while you're there, don't forget to support the store by buying a new title or two. Even better if it's a local independent bookstore.
Writing can be a solitary endeavor. So every now and again, hit up your bookstore, for the social aspect and the knowledge both. And have fun!
This month I'm participating in the A-Z blog challenge. My theme is "writer hacks," or 26 shortcuts you can do as a writer to get the most out of writing and the journey toward and through publication. Find out more about it at a-to-zchallenge.com, and hop around to read the other cool blogs that are part of the challenge!