Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's naive when local authors say innocently, "I'm sure my book will sell if you just display it here on your counter." We really don't want pie-in-the-sky merchandising advice from amateurs. And the faster you can get in and out, the better. Taking a lot of time to "bond" with us wastes our time and will not induce us to hand-sell your book.

May I also remind writers that when they approach a bookstore about carrying their book, the bookstore is now your potential customer, and the bookstore contact should be treated with kindness and understanding -- no matter how long you've been patronizing that bookstore. You now have to turn around and give the store contact your best customer service.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tip for Committee Chairs:
When you get home after a meeting, immediately start a draft agenda for the next meeting. Open the previous meeting agenda, delete finished business, add things you think you'll need to cover in the next meeting, and change the file name.
You're going to forget stuff between now and then, and it's a delightful present to oneself to have the next agenda already extant and ready for editing when you panic and remember to get started on it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

At 06:34 PM 11/17/2009, Kathy wrote:
Hi Ellen,
My book group is trying to come up with our next selection to read for our Jan. meeting. We just had our first where we discussed "Edgar Sawtelle." We are trying to find a book no one has read yet and wondered if you could suggest a few for us.
Thank you.

Hi, Kathy,

A bookseller's favorite question, one I enjoy so much, I'm replying on my day off!!

Perhaps you want something a little less dense to read through the holidays? Check the customer reviews on Amazon.com and see if any of these appeal to you. I trust you would purchase them at Copperfield's Books or another independent bookstore!

Coming out in paperback in January is a charming English mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I read it in hardcover and greatly enjoyed the plot, set in the 1950s in a sleepy British village, with an 11-year-old girl, a chemistry nut, determined to solve the murder. And the style is lovely. I read so many memorable sentences to Eric that he broke down and read it too, although it isn't in his usual genre, and afterwards he said wistfully, "I want another book like this one."

For something quirky and delightful, I'm reading the new Margaret Drabble book, The Pattern in the Carpet. It's a memoir of her Auntie Phyl, along with a wide-ranging survey of jigsaw puzzles, games, and other pastimes. It's on my Staff Recommends, so read a few sentences and see if it intrigues you.

Wolf Hall, the Man Booker prize winner, is also getting rave reviews from our more discriminating readers. If you guys liked Edgar Sawtelle, then Wolf Hall, an historical novel set in the court of Henry VIII, would be a good choice.

And for something completely different, a humorous novel called The Pig Did It, "an Irish country comedy of manners," is a quick read that will have you laughing out loud.

If you ask any other Copperfield's bookseller, you'll get different recommendations, which is part of the fun.

Let me know what you end up picking!

~~ Ellen

Friday, August 07, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Bookseller Speaks to Self-Published Local Authors

As a bookseller, I've seen hundreds of self-published writers bring in their books to place in our store. We will give you a chance, but we don't want any more grief. Here's are tips for a happy, long-term relationship with your local indie bookstore:


  • Have an interesting book with decent cover art and the title on the spine. An "interesting book" is one that strangers have read and criticized, after which you considered their comments and suggestions, edited and rewrote, until you were getting glowing reports from new readers. The title needs to be on the spine, since people can't read a spiral binding, and your book is not likely to remain face-out forever.
  • If you're just modestly writing for yourself and your family, don't ask bookstores to sell it for you. If you get your book in stores, we expect you to continue working to advertise it to a broader audience.


  • When you come into the bookstore, you are now the "seller" and the bookstore is the "customer." Even if you spend money here, we aren't obligated to carry your book. We probably will, but appreciate that we are doing you a favor: 95% of the books we take on consignment from local authors lose us money because they are so time-intensive. (We handle them individually, in contrast to the automated ordering, billing, and returns of books we get from regular distribution channels.)
  • Spending time with the bookstore staff will not make us love you more. We're very busy. Please don't monopolize our time trying to "bond" with us; it won't make us fans. Be professional. Taking 10 minutes to show us your book is too long.
  • No grandiose claims: "You're going to love this!" or, "MY book is different, you're going to sell a lot of copies," and the book was an unedited piece of junk? The more wildly enthusiastic you are about yourself and your book, the less credibility you have.
  • Don't ask us to display the book on our counter -- it marks you as naive. Counter space is for proven bestsellers, not to push new authors. If a bookseller really raves about your book, you can ask if they would consider putting it on their staff recommendations. Don't bug them about it if they don't, however. They may not be as enthusiastic as you imagined they were.
  • Do not ask everyone on the bookstore staff to read your book. We're behind in our reading already. If one of us reads it and likes it, they'll tell their coworkers.
  • We don't want advice about how to run the store. Suggest the best section (e.g., memoir, fiction, local history) but leave placement and display decisions to us.
  • Continue to do your own marketing; write articles; blog; see if you can get someone to interview you. Tell your friends that the bookstore has the book for sale and encourage them to buy it at the store -- not directly from you! If the bookstore doesn't show sales, we won't keep carrying the book.
  • We sell books, but we also sell people. We will recommend your book to our customers if a) we like the book, and b) we like YOU.


  • Bother us nicely. Follow up, but don't be demanding. A call saying, "Have you had time to review my book?" is good; "I gave you my book two weeks ago and I still don't see it on display" is not.
  • The burden of follow-up is on the local author. Call us every 2-3 months and ask how sales are going and if we need any more copies.
  • If the book isn't selling, remember that you are competing with thousands of proven bestsellers and authors with their own followings.
  • Payment for your book may come through an accounting department. Follow up with the store staff but realize that they aren't cutting the checks and they may be as frustrated with HQ as you are.
  • If you get an author reading at the store, ask your own network of people to attend. We listed the date on our events calendar and put up a small in-store display, and that's all we can do. If only a couple of people show up, we figure that you didn't do any marketing for your event and we have just wasted our time trying to publicize your book.
  • Pick up the unsold copies when you said you would. If they've been on display, they're likely to be shelf-worn, which means people looked at it, and that's part of your cost of doing business.


Does this all sound too mean? It boils down to seeing it from the bookstore perspective. Have an interesting book, be considerate, don't make us run and hide whenever you come in the store, and we'll bend over backwards to accommodate you. Barbara Kingsolver started with an edition of 3,000 books and indie booksellers who handsold her book because they loved it so much.

And if your book does well? Remember your local bookstore! Come back and see us, and we'll celebrate your success along with our own.