How To Promote Yourself with Bookstores
Once you tell someone, anyone, that you have a book for sale, you have catapulted yourself into the role of publicist, director of marketing, event coordinator, and a dozen other jobs. You are always representing your book and trying to generate sales or arrange a signing or reading. Word of mouth is the most powerful advertiser and, unfortunately, the cliché is true: You never get a second chance to make a first impression (and if you know how to get that second chance, be sure to let me know).
Bookstores are the venue where most authors seek to see their name on the cardboard poster propped up by the cafe, under the headline: "Appearing Tonight." The first step is to contact the store and learn the name (and correct spelling) of their publicist or CRC (community relations coordinator). Send them a professional press kit and follow up with a call or letter about a week later. Be sure to include a copy of your book and any accolades your work has received.
Meeting the CRC
The urge to show up with a book in hand and a smile that could arch across the Grand Canyon is, of course, overwhelming, but this can start the relationship on a bad page. Showing up without an appointment is unprofessional and disrupts the CRC's day like a telemarketer that calls during dinner. To successfully pitch your book you want the CRC's undivided attention - and your book deserves a dedicated audience. Calling and requesting time demonstrates professional courtesy and consideration.
If you have done any marketing be sure to bring examples with you. Demonstrating that you've already done some of the groundwork in generating interest in your book can help to sway a planner's decision to lend time to a unknown local writer. If you do book the event, try to help promote it on your own. An additional print ad or strategically placed posters around town can never hurt.
As you're talking with the CRC, remember that while you know how great your book is, they know the clientele of their store and what sells. Even if your Curtains for the Millennium coffee-table book is endorsed by Martha Stewart and her dog, sometimes the answer is "no." Although it's hard, politely ask them why. Opting not to host a signing for your book does not mean your book isn't good; it just may not sell in that store. In some areas, fiction books sell best, while in others, political nonfiction packs the room.
Generally, CRCs are friendly, people-centric professionals that may have some great suggestions for improving your press kit or recommending other venues where your book may fare better. Even if the meeting results in a polite "I'll call you," be sure to send a quick thank-you note afterward, asking them to keep you in mind for other upcoming events. Better to be remembered for the friendly card than as the author who stormed out with book in tow.
That One Cliché About Attracting More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar
Also remember that the bookselling world is surprisingly small. Most CRCs know other event planners within their company, and even within competing companies. A bad impression on one could affect your chances at a nearby venue. If another store decides to host your signing, invite the representatives from the store that didn't - no one likes a sore loser.
When addressing bookstores or anyone that can help in the promotion of your book, the nicer you are, the better. It's tough enough getting assistance under the best of circumstances, but self-published authors have an especially difficult row to hoe. Large chains are reluctant to work with self-published authors largely because they are accustomed to dealing with publishing companies and distributors.
When you contact any bookseller, whether online or brick-and-mortar, you are not only representing yourself but all self-published authors. Sure, not having your calls returned promptly is frustrating, it's imperative to walk the line between patient and persistent. Even when the store may have posted the wrong date of your signing or your book has yet to appear in their online catalog, this is a time to be especially gracious. Raising your voice or making declarative commands not only tarnishes their opinion of you and other self-published authors, but they'll also be less inclined to help you out. Similarly, calling more than twice a week can be construed as intrusive. Like it or not, not only do booksellers have the home-field advantage - they own the stadium.
The mores of networking and schmoozing are not difficult. What's difficult is separating business from the emotional connection you have to your book. It's business smarts, a professional demeanor, firm shake, and, of course, a great book that will take you to the cafe podium and beyond.
Much thanks to Adam Travia (former CRC at Borders Store #21, Philadelphia, PA) for his help in educating and supporting local authors and publishing associates.