Last week, instead of bringing my laptop to the local cafe, I went to a Barnes and Noble to work. Their cafe was positioned across from the customer service desk, close enough that I could hear each inquiry. In the three hours I was there, I heard seven people ask for some sort of book recommendation:
"I liked GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Do you have another book like that?"
"My dad really likes Law and Order. Do you have any books like that?"
"My daughter read all the Stephanie Meyer books. Now what?"
As an author, you want your book to be the answer to these questions, and unless you have a rapport with the book seller or are on the NYT bestseller lists, it probably won't.
Obviously, you cannot visit every bookstore in the country, take the seller out for a drink and schmooze, but there are plenty of ways to make a connection without breaking the bank or using up your frequent flier miles:
Identify Key Bookstores. Since you can't contact every bookstore in the country, pick out ones that are priority. These are the bookstores in your area and the ones outside your area that sell a lot of books. If you write crime fiction, stores like Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Murder by the Book in Houston, and Mystery One in Milwaukee do a lot to promote authors and sell a ton of books to collectors (which means signed first edition hardcovers). Literary authors should check out Book Passage in San Francisco and Book Cellar in Chicago. They have great programming, extensive mailing lists, and a very loyal customer base. You can also consult with your publicist on these matters.
Book Signings. Once you've identified the key bookstores, you'll need to schedule signings. Most authors get discouraged at out of town book signings as there is usually a low turnout. Even Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos only had 20 people at their signing and they're well known, bestselling authors. Remind yourself that you're not only there to sell books. The main purpose is to meet the seller, start a rapport and sign their stock.
Drop Ins. Many of the high profile bookstores book up fast. If they don't have any signing time available, ask if it would be okay for you to drop in and sign their stock. Always let the book seller know you're coming so you can ensure they'll be available. It also doesn't hurt to bring bagels, doughnuts, or some other treat for their break room. People are a lot more likely to sit and chat if they have food in front of them. You should also sign stock at all the bookstores in your area, but don't worry about schmoozing every seller. You don't have the time and if they're not the type of store that hand sells books, it's not worth it to you anyway.
Galleys and handwritten notes. If you are unable to make it to a few of the priority bookstores, make sure to send a galley along with a handwritten note. The galley will encourage bookstore employees to read the book and hopefully recommend it. The handwritten note shows that you care enough to take the time out of your schedule, even if your schedule didn't allow for a special trip.
Give 'em some buzz. If there is a bookstore that has been particularly supportive of your career and always recommends your books, it doesn't hurt to send some business their way. Thank the bookseller in your acknowledgements, mention them on your blog or twitter account, recommend the store next time your on the radio. They'll never forget it.