Thursday, 19 November 2009

Checking out the Bookshops


There’s a dilemma that authors face whenever they go into a bookshop (and, naturally, they go into bookshops as often as they can! Should they check to see if their own latest book is in stock?

You might think this is a no-brainer. Why shouldn’t one check? But it can be rather demoralising to keep finding that your titles are nowhere to be seen! One can always console oneself (using a bit of writer’s imagination) that perhaps the shop ordered heavily and sold out quickly. But in that case, why are they so many best-sellers still left on the shelves?

There are subsidiary questions. If one’s book is nowhere to be seen, should the reaction be to ask the store manager why? Or ring the publisher with one more complaint? Tempting, possibly, but neither is a good way to win friends and influence people.

And what if the book is there? Should one march up to the shop staff and offer to sign the stock? Admittedly, I ask all these questions with tongue in cheek. But I think it’s true that writers tend (big generalisation, I know there are many exceptions) to be rather reticent people whose morale can be fragile. Amongst the many pleasures of bookshop visiting, then, there are one or two potential pitfalls.

And no, I don’t usually introduce myself when I visit bookshops, even though some friends have recommended that I should routinely do so. When The Serpent Pool finally comes out next February, should I be braver?

21 comments:

Lewis said...

Strange that you should have blogged on this subject this morning. In somewhat similar vein is my contribution here - http://lewisjpeters.blogspot.com/2009/11/three-camps.html. What are your feelings on use of the internet by authors?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, Martin, you just pointed out the pitfalls so well! When I go in a bookstore, I want to feel my usual sense of escape and not be worrying about my book.

My mother called me yesterday to say that a bookstore in South Carolina had filed my books under general fiction instead of mystery. She was appalled!

It's all such a headache!

But...you should be braver when your next book comes out. And then tell me how that goes for you--because I'm reticent, myself!

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Uriah Robinson said...

I felt very sorry for Steven Murray when we were in Bath before Crime Fest because WH Smith had a very small display of Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo on at one of their three for two bargain deals, or at a greatly reduced price.

Terry Odell said...

My goal is for readers to find my books on the shelves, not have to go up to Customer Service to ask for them. My local B&N does have copies of a couple of my books, since I'm local and the CRM was nice about not sending leftover stock to the distribution center after a signing.

Yes, I'd volunteer to sign stock. One of my first writer group meetings had a speaker who was a newly published mass market paperback author and she said she used to do drive-by signings at every venue that shelved her books.

You neglect one other aspect of checking the bookstore for your books, however. It's finding that the same six copies are still on the shelf.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I'm facing exactly the same dilemma! My own B-Very Flat, is coming out in the spring and I'm trying to decide, too, what to do about making myself known in bookshops. Like you, I'm not inclined to push myself forward. Yet, from what I've seen, bibliophiles enjoy meeting authors and sometimes, it can work out profitably for a bookshop owner/manager to arrange with the author for something like a signing. I would say there's nothing wrong with introducing oneself. Much as I'm not one to do so generally, I'll probably be doing that when my own release comes out. It's a difficult decision, though.

R. T. said...

I suppose you could go "under cover," pretending to be a customer seeking basic reader's advice and information about the book; of course, you might encounter some candor or BS from store clerks that may provoke you to become the suspect in your next murder mystery, "The Case of the Candid Clerk."

sriddle415 said...

Dear Mr. Edwards,

Assuming your last question was not rhetorical, I would say, "Absolutely." You'd be surprised how many bookshops--even large chain stores, want the glamor of a possible author-signing. Smaller bookshops and specialty stores, this is likely to be even more the case.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you. Thank you for writing this interesting post.

shalom,

Steven

Martin Edwards said...

A very enjoyable set of comments.
Lewis, I think the internet is not only a great research tool, but also a good way of reaching potential readers without expending a vast sum on publicity.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Elizabeth - you're dead right about the desirability of escape! And there's another issue that just occurred to me - is it better or worse to have one's books put in the 'local author' section?!

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Uriah - mind you, getting into WHS at all is quite an achievement these days!

Martin Edwards said...

Greetings, Terry. I love the idea of drive-by signings!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Margot - I find it very much easier to do an event than to approach someone out of the blue when they aren't expecting it. But I suppose I really ought to get over that.

Martin Edwards said...

RT - you made me think that perhaps I should put a bashful (or conceited) author into Marc Amos's bookshop in the next Lakes book...

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Steven - welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting.

Dorte H said...

I thought exactly what Elizabeth expressed in words: yes, you should!
And no, I am not sure I would be brave enough to do it myself.

But as a reader of crime fiction, I would be absolutely thrilled to run into one of ´my´ authors, and a signed book would be most appreciated by me.

Martin Edwards said...

It will happen, Dorte, I'm sure of it!

seana said...

Well, I can answer this from the bookseller's end, at least to some degree, because I am one.

I will say that there can be a lot of reasons a bookstore doesn't have a writer's books, and that if you can develop a toughened skin about their absence, it's probably well worth enquiring about them. Of course, you don't want to get all outraged about their absence, because that puts the bookseller in an awkward position, as in any medium to large sized store, they probably aren't the person responsible for that particular decision. I think the approach to a staff member on an informal occasion should definitely be lighthearted rather than demanding, as often if you 'win over' a staff member by your manner, and I don't mean in some phony salesman like way, they might go to a bit of extra trouble to make sure your book is in the store.

What I would definitely say, though, is that if you do see your book in stock, you should have no qualms about introducing yourself and offering to sign copies for stock. Could be different in England I suppose, but we are always thrilled when authors come in and are willing to sign something. It's not just that it makes it more valuable to us, but that it's kind of the living exchange with the writer that can make a bookseller's day. So don't be shy in that case. Of course, don't expect everyone to drop everything if the phone is ringing off the hook or some crisis seems to be looming. Just keep it all friendly and low key and it will be a positive experience for everyone. I think I should say that the chances are against you that the bookseller you talk to will have actually read your book, so don't be insulted if they haven't. You have greatly increased the odds that they will read it, and promote it even if they haven't read it, if you are pleasant and understanding throughout the exchange.

Of course, I know that anyone reading here is pleasant and understanding, but I often think I could do a public service for authors if I could do a little course on how best to approach a bookseller, and you can think of these as my field notes...

Leigh Russell said...

I confess - I always take a sneaky look. I'm still quite new to all this, and it's such a thrill when I see my book on the shelf in a bookshop!
As for your concluding question - I offer three pieces of advice when I talk to aspiring writers: "Work hard, be lucky and be brave." I find the last one difficult.

Martin Edwards said...

Seana - great field notes. I am sure you are right. Thank you very much!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Leigh - me too!

seana said...

You're very welcome, Martin!