Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lost In The Shelves

I love bookstores. That's no surprise. I can wander through them for hours, perusing the shelves, reading back covers, searching for the newest releases. But behind each of those books is an author...and an agent...and an editor and a publisher and a publicist. And what are they all doing? Trying to sell you the book.

When you walk into a bookstore like Borders or Barnes and Noble, the first thing you see is the shelf of bestsellers. Walk further inside, you get the hardcover and paperback new releases. Then there are the tables and the end caps. It takes a while to get to the general fiction or mystery section, if you make it there at all. Often, by the time I get past the bestseller and new release shelves, I have enough books for my budget and head to the checkout counter without even going to the back shelves.

So what does this mean for mid-list authors without a huge marketing budget? In my mind, it's kind of ridiculous. Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy don't need help selling books, so why do they get to be in the front? It seems like there are hundreds of books being released each month; why do some get on the new release shelves while others don't?

If you're an author, you can't leave it up to your publisher to market your book. You have to take matters into your own hands. And while it may seem impossible to lure people past the pretty co-ops to get your book, here are a few things that may remedy the situation:
  • Call it unethical if you want, but I tend to move things around in bookstores. That's right booksellers, I'm the culprit. I'm the one turning my friends' books outwards or putting them on tables were they don't belong. The idea is to get your book noticed, get it to pop off the shelves. So turning them outward, scattering them in numerous sections, placing them at eye level will hopefully get a potential buyer's attention.
  • If you want to do it the ethical way, I have one word for you: schmooze. Booksellers don't just pick books at random to display on the front tables. If you want that honor, you have to finesse the people in power. Set up meetings with booksellers, send them ARCs, send them a muffin basket if you think that would help. Go in to the independent bookstores in your area, introduce yourself as a local author, offer to sign their books. That's a quick and easy way to get into that coveted window display.
  • If you're book still rests on the back shelves, make sure it's easy to find. On your cards or fliers or whatever you're passing out to promote your book, make sure it says which section it's in. Too often, someone will give me their card that says their book is a mystery, but I'll find it in the horror section. By the time I finish looking for the book, I probably picked out a different book to purchase instead. It's like the food commercials: "Now available in your grocer's freezer!" "My new novel, now available in the mystery section!"
  • Above all, for me at least, appearances are what sell books. I go to a lot of readings and when I hear something I like, nine times out of ten I'll go home with their book. For new authors, I know it's extremely difficult to get people to attend signings, which is why you don't go it alone. If you want to do a book signing at a bookstore, team up with another author, one whose writing is similar to yours and, preferably, one who'll draw a crowd. Or, offer to read at an already established event such as Reading Under the Influence or Twilight Tales. That way, you'll have a ready made audience and an opportunity to put your name out there.

Feel free to add more suggestions as I am still a newbie writer and have not had the chance, first hand, to market my book. But the next time you're in a bookstore, take a look around. What do you notice about where books are place and how the store is set up?

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