If you’ve never been to a romance writer’s conference and RWA National seems like being forced to eat an eight-course feast when all you want are wine and tapas, I’d highly recommend New Jersey’s annual Put Your Heart in a Book conference. Year after year it draws top agents, editors, and industry big-names to this very well-run regional conference. This year, one of the best workshops I attended was given by two booksellers from Barnes and Noble, Heather Soligo and Jamie Biggs, along with Consulting Specialist Kit Little. The topic? For F**k’s Sake, How Do I Get My Damn Books in Bookstores? Or, as the workshop was actually called, The Secrets Authors Need to Know.
As everyone knows, and as Heather and Jamie readily admitted, there are corporate constraints that B&N booksellers are under on what they can and can’t do. For example, the books in prominent featured places throughout the stores are there because publishers pay up the wazoo for that placement. Still, there are small things the little guys can do to get themselves some Barnes and Noble love.
One interesting idea that Heather threw out there was to find out whether your local Barnes & Noble has a book group, and offer to speak with them if they do. Book group participants, as it turns out, love books. Who knew! And by extension they love authors. So if your B&N has a book group, offer to speak with them. Let the booksellers know far in advance that you’re doing so and it may well convince them to carry copies of your book. One caveat: your books must be returnable. If the only way to get a print copy of your book is via POD, you’ll have a much harder time. Most Barnes & Nobles won’t bring in POD, but there are actually a few who will. If your B&N is one who does, color yourself fortunate and take advantage. You know what else B&N likes, at least according to Heather? Free bookmarks. She said whenever authors send her free bookmarks she always puts them out in the store. How’s that for a nice little way of promoting your book?
Another way to convince a B&N bookseller to carry your book is if you can tie it in with a hot movie release or current event. So, for example, your local team is playing in the world series. You’ve written a baseball romance. Let them know! Or there’s an upcoming blockbuster movie starring Matthew McConaughey as a disillusioned Confederate soldier who marries a slave. You’ve written a civil war romance. Let them know! (Note to the wise: there actually is such a movie, called Free State of Jones, that’s set for release May 13, 2016. If you’ve got a civil war romance, get cracking).
B&N booksellers, just like everyone, are overwhelmed with work. They can’t brainstorm on ways to sell your book. But you can. Do the work for them, link your book to something that will help sell it and you’ll at least have a shot of getting their attention.
Kit Little, the Consulting Specialist, spoke at length about ways the indie bookstores operate and how we can break through. Here are a few of her suggestions:
- When pitching to an indie bookstore, bring along a copy of your book. Seems almost ludicrous to have to point that out, but as Little says, “you’d be surprised.”
- Have a professional business card with your contact info.
- Have a “cheat sheet” that goes along with your book stating what the book’s about, and something noteworthy or unique that would help the bookseller sell it. Be able to explain it quickly and easily. In other words, have your elevator pitch ready.
- Don’t necessarily talk about how many Amazon reviews you have. Amazon to the indies is like Whole Foods to small organic groceries. Talking up Amazon to an indie may not do much for you. In addition to the competition element, it’s well-known that many Amazon reviews are done by family and friends. So how exactly does that help the little indie bookstore trying to move your merchandise? Answer: it doesn’t.
- Get your book with Ingram and Kobo. Independent bookstores have .
- If an indie bookstore offers to carry your book, be sure to do them a solid as well and link their store to your Facebook page, your Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. Promo them, they’ll promo you.
The last interesting tidbit was a state-of-the-industry comment from Heather. Print still sells, and she’s selling a lot more trade paperback romances than mass market. Romance buyers in particular don’t necessarily shy away from that $15 price tag on a trade romance. Romance readers are voracious book consumers. They usually buy multiple books at a time and when they love an author they don’t shy away from plunking down their hard-earned cash for those books. In other words, be friends to your readers. They’ll reward you over and over.