As we move across the US in the fall and attend the many regional shows throughout the country, we have a great opportunity to meet and chat with lots of folks from local independent bookstores who may not have attended the BEA. These people and companies bear a similar profile to PMA and its members. Independent bookstores are normally small businesses. Many are struggling to survive. And they are looking for new and innovative ways to attract customers to their locations.
Joint Bookstore/Publisher Panel
At the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association event this September in Denver, Colorado, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with publishers and booksellers to discuss ways in which we can work together to promote sales for both our businesses. The theme was basically start regionally and grow nationally. However I know from talking to many of our successful mid-sized publishers that they are sometimes extremely content to stay in a regional area and continually sell 5,000 copies of a particular book year after year after year. Some never consider moving into a national market. My guess is that when Garrison Keillor began producing his successful audiobooks and traditional books, he didn’t think initially about moving out of the Minnesota area. But the type of message he was sending in his show, though geared toward a specific geographic region, was definitely universal.Part of working with bookstores is understanding their needs and their marketplace. Robin Bartlett of Berlitz was also on our panel and discussed how his company wanted to plan many foreign-language teaching events in stores throughout the nation. When he visited one of the targeted locations, he found that what he had in mind to do was something that would not be successful at that individual store. This was even though the national contact told him that it was a “great concept.”When Bartlett arrived at the bookstore, he found the owner a bit leery of the event. When he asked why, he learned that his program would be competing against Jamie Lee Curtis, who was also touring at that time with her children’s book. As he and the owner entered into a discussion, he found that January and February would be better timing for this shop owner (and actually worked better into Berlitz’s schedule as well). He also discovered that the language that really needed to be taught in this geographic area was English, not a foreign language, because many of the people in this region were speaking English as a second language. He and his company adapted and a successful event will be the outcome.Other members shared how they do more than just another booksigning. XXX Wilholme, who publishes Physical Golf, states that when he goes to a bookstore, he creates an event. He teaches people about exercise and golf and how to avoid common golf injuries. This attracts far more people than just another booksigning and a successful event causes more customers for the store as well as for the publisher.
Feedback from Bookstores & New PMA Program
The independent bookstores are extremely supportive of the independent press. During a Q&A period, one of the bookstore owners asked a great question. She wondered if PMA had ever considered placing a member travel-calendar online at its Webpage, where bookstore owners could check in to see what publishers/authors would be in their specific area at what time of the year. This could allow the stores to book people throughout the year and at the author’s convenience.So watch the mail as I hope to have this up and running within a month. Basically I see it as a date listing, such as October ___, author ________ will be in the Phoenix/Tucson, Arizona area and will be available for signings or whatever type of event you would like to present to the bookstore owners. A bookstore owner could then click and contact you directly by e-mail or fax and arrange a date and time convenient to both of you.Another tip from some of the bookstore owners: They state that they cannot read every book they have on the shelf, but are always being asked to either make recommendations or tell the customer about a book. What they do is turn to the back cover and read the first four lines. So, as publishers, we should take extreme care in looking at the copy that appears in the first four lines on our back cover. If these lines do not contain concise and compelling information about your book, you’d better consider rewriting the back cover blurb for your next print run. Read your back cover’s initial four sentences and honestly ask yourself if you would buy this book based upon that copy.
Sales Rep Feedback
A rep on the panel also opened many of the publishers’ eyes when he explained how he had just read a book and became a champion of that title since he fell in love with the story. What this said to me is that all publishers should make an extra effort to give the reps a reason to become a champion for their title. This requires more than just a mere show and tell when you have some time with reps. You must sell your title and give them a reason to support your book out in the field.
Bookselling and book publishing are industries that involve passion. The books that succeed seem to have the passion flow from publisher to rep to bookseller to consumer.