Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wop Bam Boom!

One of my best adventures in book promotion has been getting to know local booksellers. Now, Portland authors are lucky. Most places I’ve lived, there’s one national chain bookstore and (maybe) one used bookstore. Here, in addition to the usual suspects (Barnes & Noble, Borders), there are at least a dozen indies: St. Johns Booksellers, Broadway Books, Annie Bloom’s Books, Looking Glass Bookstore, In Other Words, and A Children's Place, Portland's indie bookstore just for kids. Not to mention we've got bragging rights to the biggest, baddest indie in the whole worldPowell’s Bookstore, which takes up an entire downtown city block in four-story, rambling, book-lovin' grandeur.

Everyone advises new authors to go out and build relationships with booksellers. When Tallulah Falls pubbed, I had no idea how to do this. My idea of shopping for anything--books, clothes, dog food--involves the least amount of interaction with actual people. I’m introverted, shy, and convinced that merely asking the location of something is inexcusably bothersome. In other words, I have a classic author’s temperament. Introduce myself? Couldn’t I just jump off a bridge and save everyone the trouble?

But to my relief—and delight—the booksellers I’ve met have been nothing but kind, encouraging, and supportive. At A Children's Place, Kira loads me up with recommended titles to expand my YA reading education. Roberta at Broadway Books hosted a Tallulah Falls reading for dogs and their owners which was a woofin’ good time. The good folks at Powell’s made both Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance recommended staff picks. And wonderful Nena and Liz at St. Johns Booksellers not only threw the launch party of my dreams for Ten Cents a Dance, but have continued to handsell the book to success; it’s now the #2 bestselling hardcover in the history of the store, second only to one of the Harry Potters. (Confound you, J.K. Rowling!)

The thing is, very few authors break out on the national scene. Most of us have to work just to become known locally; with luck, more books, and a lot more work, we hope to gain wider recognition and a wider audience. Good relationships with booksellers help. But that relationship is a two-way street, something we authors sometimes forget. Bookstores don’t exist to support our egos. They exist to sell books, bless ‘em, an increasingly difficult endeavor in the age of and videogames. I subscribe to 2 daily newsletters, one on the publishing industry and one on the bookselling business, and almost every week yet another independent bookstore gives notice that it’s closing its doors.

What's the best thing an author can do? Support his local brick-and-mortar store. Buy books there. Attend author events besides her own. Get to know the booksellers. Not just as a means to promote one’s own titles, but because booksellers are some of the coolest, sharpest, most knowledgeable folks you’ll ever meet. And they love books.

Authors and booksellers...we go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong, We're for each other like A wop ba-ba lu-mop and wop bam boom!


Melissa Amateis said...

I am the same way when it comes to asking people for anything - I feel like I'm imposing on them and wasting their time. Wonder why that is? So I have a feeling that when the time comes to promote my own book, I'll be a basket case!

I think I'd like to go to your neck of woods just for the bookstores! I've only been in two major chains - Borders and Barnes and Noble. Would love to go to Powell's.

In addition to B&N, we have a few used bookstores around here and one indie, but that's about it.

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, when you're getting ready to promote your own book, email me. I'll gladly pass on everything I've learned--a lot of which I learned from the booksellers themselves.

Shopping indie bookstores is marvelous. The booksellers know their stuff and they get to know what their customers want to read. Nena and Kira have both selected books for me based on what I've liked before, and their judgement is always spot-on. I've discovered so many books I never would have found in B&N...because B&N doesn't carry them.

And Powell' a reader, it's heaven. As a writer, it's just plain humbling. Huge rooms of books, one after the next, each with thousands and thousands of titles...they have maps available at the entrances, so customers don't get lost! (BTW, if you need a book for research and your library doesn't have it, you can often find it online at Powell's--often used, at a good price).