Advice for indie authors from someone who manages a bookstore.
I love books, I love books so much that I spend all day and all night surrounded by books (and usually have my nose buried in one or two of them). I love them so much that sometimes I have to make a very conscious and difficult decision to put them down and interact with actual people.
I also love authors. I have favorite authors; I follow them on facebook and twitter and think wistfully that we would make the best of friends, and would it be creepy if I sent them an e-mail telling them how much I love and admire them? The closest I’ve ever come was sending Kate Quinn a tweet to which she *gasp* tweeted back.
However, there is a specific group of authors that are slowly destroying my love for all things literature: indie authors.
During my year-long stint as an editor at a local publishing company I met my fair share of indie authors, during my ongoing stint as a book manager I have met even more. They are a proud, pushy, persistent, and overall unpleasant people. They call me weekly asking to schedule signings and whether their book has sold since they last time they called. They demand to know why I haven’t displayed it on the bestseller table and why their advertising posters aren’t wallpapering the front doors. They assume that, because they have written a book, they have reached a new plateau of society that sits just below the pedestal of J.K. Rowling and Ernest Hemingway but high above the platform of the common bookstore manager.
Listen, I get it. You wrote a book, you have the right to be proud! And hey, those things aren’t going to sell themselves, you have to be a little pushy and persistent. I worked in publishing, I know how indie marketing works. Do you honestly think Fifty Shades of Grey became a bestseller because it’s just that good? No! E L James is just that good at marketing. However there are ways to sell your book without being so… unpleasant.
Here’s some advice from someone who is tired of dealing with you:
1. Make your book the best it can be before you sell it.
I know what you’re thinking – you wrote the dang thing, now you’re done. You’re not. That book needs an edit (no, spellcheck doesn’t count). In fact it needs several edits… by an actual editor, not your niece who is really good at English and told you it was basically fine but to watch for comma splices (whatever those are). If that hurts your feelings you are in the wrong market. You are going to have to re-write and change things. Your editor is going to make suggestions you are not going to like and, based on experience, that will eventually result in you not liking your editor (file under “why I no longer want to be an editor”). Here’s my professional advice; rather than wasting time and money trying to sell a bad book, invest in an edit! Don’t you want your book to be the best it can be? Even the best books have been edited and rewritten many many times (file under “why they’re the best”). I certainly wouldn’t want to be represented by a book that was riddled with typos, plot holes, and common mistakes. That’s a recipe for bad reviews and bad reviews will guarantee your book doesn’t sell.
2. Your book isn’t flying off the shelves; that’s not my problem, it’s yours.
The vast majority of indie authors I have dealt with assume that once their book is in print, the hard part is over. WRONG. Just because your book is now on the shelf of your local bookstore does not mean it is going to sell. It is going to sit there and collect dust unless you do something about it. Be an author, market yourself, your book, and your brand. Don’t call me and demand to know why it hasn’t sold. Don’t blame me for your misfortune because I’m not displaying your book to your standards. While you may think it belongs on the bestseller table, my corporate office does not. It is out of my control. I once had an author get so upset when I refused to put their book on a prominent display that they pulled all their books from the shelves therefore eliminating any possibility of selling it at all. In doing so they also eliminated my desire to do them any favors in the future. And honestly, when indie authors are continuously pleasant to deal with, I am willing to go the extra mile for them.
3. You’re trying too hard.
I want to help you, I want your book to be successful. I will do everything I can to make that happen. However, I cannot pepper the entire store with your posters and marketing materials. I cannot display the large wooden structure you built to exhibit your books. I cannot pass out your cards and flyers and bookmarks to every customer that comes through. I especially cannot do these things when I have 10 or more authors expecting them of me at once. It’s nothing personal, there just isn’t time enough in the day or space enough in the store. Please don’t take offense. Try to remember there are others like you, hanging up posters in the same places you are, harassing the same bookstore managers. You have the right idea and you’re definitely on the right track, consider joining forces to help each other market and spread the word about your books. It will go much further than a poster in a bookstore ever will.
4. You are your brand, so be nice.
You may be thinking, “I’m an author, I have a book not a brand.” Newsflash, your book is your brand. You are your book. Therefore you are your brand. Nora Roberts is a brand, she is a romance author with a trillion romance novels under her belt. They are usually set in some sort of cabin, whether it be in the woods or on the beach, and they usually feature a large picture of the author in a sleek 90’s pantsuit on the back cover. If Nora Roberts were to tarnish her brand by, say, being rude to the very people that sell her books (or something), her sales would likely suffer.
Let’s talk about Kate Quinn again (who, if you have forgotten by this point, tweeted me back on twitter). Kate Quinn is awesome; she is an excellent writer, she’s super smart, she’s got a great sense of humor and I know all this without having met her. I’ve read her blogs, checked out her website, and tweeted her on twitter. These are all representations of the Kate Quinn brand and examples of why I like her. I like her so much that I buy her books the day they come out, no matter what. I would buy them in hardcover if they came that way. However, if Kate Quinn had tweeted back something snotty, or posted something rude on her blog, I would be much less inclined to buy her books and support her brand.
Likewise, if you come off as pushy, persistent, or unpleasant, no one is going to want to read your books. Be LIKEABLE! Always, to everyone. Make sure you always portray yourself the same way you would portray your book; with class, integrity, intelligence, and modesty.
And for pete’s sake, be nice to the bookstores.