I define myself first as a writer: I have an M.F.A. and have won fellowships and received encouragement from agents and editors. But for the past two years, I’ve been a bookseller, manager, and event coordinator at Andover Bookstore in Andover, Mass. My fiancé, Kent Wascom, published his first novel, The Blood of Heaven, this June, and was sent on a two-month, 15-city promotional tour. Bookish talk has always been common between us, including discussions of how a writer can best help in the marketing of his or her books, especially on the road, which, with Kent’s debut, became more relevant than ever.
There’s one argument that says writers don’t, technically, have to participate in any promotional activities. Some writers may bristle at the idea of setting up a tour, tweeting, or even maintaining a Web site. But it has become obvious to all of us—writer, publisher, and bookseller alike—that avoiding these efforts is a kind of career suicide for a writer, and serves only to alienate the publisher.
I think of all the people in this industry who make books visible and available: the overworked, and often underpaid, good people of the book business who have put their time, money, and professional reputations into selecting our books and getting them published, sold, and read. In this partnership the author is still, indeed, the creative one, but writing is also a business. Writers should respect the industry, assist in marketing efforts, and attempt to become somewhat savvy about the promotional process. A bookstore is a good place to start.
In that spirit, below are some dos and don’ts for making the most of a bookstore visit:
DO come in and introduce yourself to the staff at your local bookstore if you have a new book coming out. DON’T feel nervous or pushy—we love our local authors and want to know who you are!
DO foster a relationship with your home bookstore early: attend readings, browse, and, most importantly, shop there. DON’T make your first visit the one in which you are pitching an event. We know whether you’ve stepped foot in the store before.
DO update your Web site, reach out on social media, and e-mail friends and family about your upcoming readings. The bookstore will do its own marketing, but don’t rely on its outreach alone. DON’T call in advance to see how many books were ordered.
DO keep extra copies of your book in your trunk, just in case. Flying? Pack bookplates. DON’T feel bad if the crowd seems small. The actual event is only a small part of a positive author appearance. Remember, your book has been on display in the store, and featured in e-mail, print, and Web advertising. After the event, booksellers, now more familiar with your work, and hopefully charmed by your visit, will be handselling signed copies.
DO encourage people at your reading to support the bookstore. (This should go without saying, but never suggest purchasing your book on Amazon while at a bookstore.) Despite their hardworking employees, not all bookstores are created equal. If a store or its staff doesn’t meet your expectations, doesn’t sufficiently market the event, or doesn’t appear familiar with your work, DON’T gossip about them at the next stop. This is a very small world.
DO send thank you notes. Honest-to-god, in-the-mail, thank you notes. Remember names. A few authors have sent chocolates to Andover Books. I never forget them, or fail to tell readers how thoughtful they are. Similarly, you don’t have to purchase something in the store, but I remember every author who has bought something after a reading at Andover—even nonbook items such as notecards or gift items.
Booksellers are unusual in the retail business: they are rarely indifferent and always proud of their stores. A simple compliment on a display or a unique feature of the store can go very far. Finally, DON’T forget where you came from. That awesome, off-the-beaten-path bookstore that promoted your debut novel? Don’t pass it over when your third book is adapted into a movie with Angelia Jolie.