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Creating the Power of Buzz: Part 2. Bookseller Initiatives

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One of the two main ways to create buzz for a book is by reaching out to booksellers in the hope that they’ll hand-sell to their customers. (See the May PMA Newsletter for the other main way–reaching out directly to potential readers.) Here’s a quick guide to the best approaches.

Drop-by Signings

Drop-bys are visits that authors pay to bookstores to sign stock of their books. These are not formal signings–no one queues up to get a personalized copy. Instead, the author simply autographs the books on hand. These visits tend to work best with independent bookstores and when authors call first so that the store can stock up.

It’s good to do drop-bys for three reasons:

    • They give the author a chance to meet and greet the people who can hand-sell a book, mention it in their store newsletter or on their store’s site, and make it a “staff pick” (which can get it some extra-good shelf space).
    • A book signed is a usually a book sold, because bookstores don’t generally return autographed copies.
    • Stores will often sticker signed copies (which calls attention to them) and create displays or special signs for them. It’s a great way to get a book off the shelf and onto a front table.

A word of caution: if an author drops by without calling first and, lo and behold, the store doesn’t have the book, it’s wise to offer to swing by another day instead of throwing a fit. Maybe the store had copies but sold out and has more on order. It might also be best to come back later if the store is particularly busy–staffers appreciate authors much more when talking with them doesn’t cause lost sales with a browsing customer.

Meals with Groups of Key Booksellers

Consider arranging for a personable author who’s good at making small talk to have lunch or dinner with a bunch of booksellers in a particular city while on tour or visiting. This works best in cities where there are a lot of independent bookstores. For example, in Boston, authors could share some clam chowder at Legal Seafood with buyers from Wordsworth, Brookline Booksmith, Newtonville Books, Harvard Bookstore, and the Concord Bookshop. Or, in San Francisco, they could dine at Fisherman’s Wharf with buyers from Cody’s, Kepler’s, Books Inc., Book Passage, Rakestraw, Stacey’s, and Black Oak. While these stores do compete with each other somewhat for customers, they’re usually willing to raise the white flag and get together when authors are in town.

Authors headed to Ann Arbor might share a meal with folks from Borders, since it’s headquartered there. Same with Barnes & Noble if they’re headed to New York, or Amazon.com if they’re going to Seattle. For maximum impact, visits to these three should take place before they place their orders–which means several months in advance of the book’s pub date.

Trade Shows

Of course, BEA provides opportunities to interact with booksellers (although not always with as many booksellers as publishers would like), but so do the much less overwhelming regional trade shows, which are always held in the fall. Like BEA, they have publisher booths and chances for authors to speak and sign. The difference–you don’t have to be a superstar to get some good attention. The regional book trade shows include:

    • NEBA (New England Booksellers Association)
    • NCIBA (Northern California Independent Booksellers Association)
    • SEBA (Southeast Booksellers Association)
    • NAIBA (New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association)
    • PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association)
    • GLBA (Great Lakes Booksellers Association)
    • MPBA (Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association)
    • UMBA (Upper Midwest Booksellers Association)
    • MSIBA (Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association)

Participating in these shows means your publisher will have to donate at least a hundred books or ARCs (advance reading copies); the trade shows do not buy them.

If you think a book will have particular appeal to libraries, make sure it’s represented at ALA–the national convention of the American Library Association. It’s similar in scope to BEA (not quite as big–but bigger than a regional), and held twice a year.

If you have a book that will appeal to the religious market, you may want to look into attending the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) convention.

A Book Sense Push

The Book Sense program, launched several years ago to help independent bookstores compete with the chains and online stores, now has more than 1,200 participating stores across America. In addition to having a great Web site (www.booksense.com) and putting out the occasional category-specific bestseller list (humor, poetry, parenting, reference, gardening, business, cookbooks, etc.), Book Sense issues a weekly bestseller list that runs in a number of newspapers and every month selects 20 books that are worthy of special attention. Known as the “Book Sense Picks,” they are featured in a special brochure that goes out to stores in large quantities so that they can be snagged by customers looking for reading recommendations. The picks are also printed in a number of literary publications and go out to tons of bookstores via e-newsletters like PW Daily and Publishers Lunch. And if your author’s book doesn’t make the top-20 list, don’t lose heart. Each month, Book Sense also provides a list of the 20 runners-up under the heading “We Also Recommend . . . ”

To make the Book Sense list, a book has to be nominated by participating bookstores–the more of them, the better. For this to happen they need to read the book, which means you need to send a bound galley or an ARC–or at least a finished book–to as many buyers as possible, with a letter requesting a nomination. You can do your own mailing, or be included in Book Sense’s bimonthly “white box mailing” (the big white box full of galleys, T-shirts, bookmarks, and other book-related items).

Since it’s usually hard to justify printing an extra 1,200 copies for this kind of push, you may want to send only to the top 250 or so stores (perhaps via the Book Sense “partial white box mailing”). And if even 250 sounds high, you can participate in a program called Advance Access in which Book Sense sends an e-mail to all 1,200 stores telling them that the first XX booksellers who ask for a galley will receive one.

If a book seems to be a particularly good contender for the Book Sense list, follow up with calls or e-mails to the stores, urging them to nominate it. What makes a book a good contender? Book Sense titles are usually quite literary–novels, short story or poetry collections, biographies and memoirs. Business books rarely make the list. Same with books on health and parenting, and reference books in general. Science books have a decent shot so long as they’re for the layperson. History can do pretty well, as can current affairs.

Personal Letters to Booksellers

It never hurts for a publisher–or an author–to send personal letters to key booksellers across the country and close by, telling them about a book and asking for their support. You can do it in the months before your book comes out when the stores are placing their orders, but I think it’s more effective to hold off until pub date, when you’ll have some reviews to include, and maybe a profile piece. If there’s no Book Sense push for the book, you might also want to include an autographed ARC or finished copy with your letter.

Lissa Warren is senior director of publicity at Da Capo Press and the author of The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity (Carroll & Graf), from which this article is adapted. To order the book, contact Publishers Group West at 800/788-3123 or orders@pgw.com.

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