BEA is over and done with for 2011, and, as they say in school yearbooks, it was a pretty wild ride. So many books and book people gathered in one place always makes for an exhilarating literary lovefest, and there were lots of noteworthy events and moments and discoveries that made the trade show well worth the cost and time away from our bookstores. This week, Josie and I will be sharing some of our favorite BEA events.
One strange item about this year’s show: books themselves seemed to be on hiatus from some booths at BEA. Galleys were under lock and key in many booths, and a couple of publishers didn’t display ANY printed books in their booths whatsoever. I can sympathize with wanting to curb the enormous expense of giving away free ARCs, but to not have any display copies of fall titles on hand is just… downright eerie. It will be interesting to see if this trend dies out or expands to other houses at next year’s show.
Happily, both books and authors were on display during Tuesday’s Speed Dating with Children’s Authors and Illustrators event, sponsored by the ABC Children’s Group at ABA and the Children’s Book Council. This was the fourth year of an extremely popular event that gives a roomful of children’s booksellers and librarians the opportunity to meet almost a score of our field’s wonderful children’s book creators.
Panoramic shot of the Speed-Dating event in action.
This year’s slate included both established stars and debut novelists, who gamely moved from table to table every five minutes or so for an hour and a half, introducing themselves and their newest books to participants. That’s a challenge even for seasoned public speakers, and I was impressed by how well the authors and illustrators — who are often very private people with tendencies toward introversion — kept their energy high and their talks as lively at the last table as at the first. Kudos all around, and a special appreciation for the Children’s Book Council and ABA folks who ran a well-organized event.
If you couldn’t get a ticket (this event has filled up every year since it began in 2007), here’s your chance to see these folks and their new titles!
David A. Adler, 'Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra' (Holiday House)
James Dashner, 'The Death Cure' (Random House)
Laura Lee Gulledge, 'Page by Paige' (Abrams)
Jeff Hirsch, 'The Eleventh Plague' (Scholastic)
Alan Katz, ‘Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer’; ‘Me Me Mine’; ‘Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking’ (Simon & Schuster)
Jane Hampton Cook, 'What Does the President Look Like?' (Kane Miller)
Lisa Greenwald, 'Reel Life Starring Us' (Abrams/Amulet)
Jon Klassen, 'I Want My Hat Back' (Candlewick)
Tahereh Mafi, 'Shatter Me' (HarperCollins)
Kate McMullan, 'Nice Shot, Cupid!' (Capstone)
Jennifer Roy, 'MindBlind' (Marshall Cavendish)
Marie Rutkoski, 'The Jewel of the Kalderash' (FSG)
Clete Smith, 'Aliens on Vacation' (Disney-Hyperion)
Ashley Spires, 'Binky Under Pressure' (Kids Can)
Susan Stockdale, 'Bring on the Birds' (Peachtree)
Laini Taylor, 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' (Little, Brown)
Linda Urban, 'Hound Dog True' (Harcourt)
Meg Wolitzer, 'The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman' (Dutton)
The second full day of BEA is over and things are good. The crowds don’t seem to be as crushing as I feared and the overall attendance seems smaller than in years past. The galley piles are as smaller as well.
One thing several booksellers are talking about are the lack of galleys compared to past years. Many publishers seem to be releasing galleys, much like timed vaults, on a very tight schedule linked to booth signings. To be fair to the publishers, at every meeting I’ve had, I have seen attendees literally move furniture out of the way to get to the galleys that are clearly not intended to be on the floor yet. Some booths are bereft of books at all. Walls of booths adorned only with posters of books and nothing to actually hold or look at. I asked a publishing friend what was going on and he said the drayage charges were so much that they just couldn’t afford to bring in all the books.
While there may not be as many galleys, there certainly are people who found a ton to ship back. I’m always amazed at the sheer number of boxes waiting to be shipped. The shipping room was full of hundreds of boxes that needed to get home. I just traveled light and left a little room in my suitcase for the carefully chosen galleys I have selected. But to be really honest, I will be be availing myself of the hotel business office to ship back some books.
This year is the first year that I have actually set up meetings with publishers. Our 15th anniversary is this fall and I wanted to meet publicists and let them know that northern Vermont can be a great place to send authors. So far, these meetings have been really productive. It’s an eye-opener for me to see what each publishers focuses on. Some focus on driving audience to an event, some focus on book sales. All were happily surprised to see how many Vermont stores can be covered in a weekend. The only thing lacking from my publisher packet was a map, which is easily remedied with a Mapquest diagram of Vermont and a quick email.
While I was resting my very tired feet in the lovely ABA lounge, I got an answer to my previous question about the Children’s Book Group liaison from Mark Nichols. A job description has been written and a full-time person should be in place shortly.
The evening party was the annual ABC Not-a-Dinner silent auction that featured many delectable works of children’s art. Sadly, for me, many of the works I wanted, like Elisha Cooper’s Beaver from Beaver Is Lost, were quickly out of my price range. I don’t know how much money the auction raised for ABFFE’s new Children’s Division, but judging by the number people camped out by their art at the closing bell, I’d say most of the art sold and people were gleefully carrying art out of the Javits Center.
While I might complain about the crowds, the lack of actual books and what not, I am reminded at every BEA, when I have dinner with friends, that I love this business and I adore my colleagues.
It’s been one of those on-the-move days from start to finish, from the Children’s Author Breakfast through book signings, appointments with publicists, show floor exploring, awards luncheon, two terrific publisher parties, and dinner with good friends from the book world. There is no way to do this day justice in the 15 minutes of evening left, so I will post a couple of teaser pictures with the promise that in my next post, I’ll elaborate on the photos and add many, many more. Onward to Wednesday!!
Yesterday was BEA’s Day of Education and what a lovely day it was. I always forget how early booksellers are up and about. I’ll confess that I was late to the Small to Mid-Sized Bookseller Roundtable. Consequently, I missed the gathering of ideas as well as finding a chair.
I didn’t mind standing for an hour and a half, as the conversation was lively and led quite well by Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct. I walked into a discussion of the Espresso Machine. Not the kind that makes coffee, but rather the one that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and prints books on demand, in the store. I believe, from what I ascertained, this machine is a pipe dream for all but the largest most profitable stores, so Annie moved the discussion along.
Several topics from this Roundtable were also seen in the Children’s Roundtable. Chief among them: ways to manage technology, i.e., how to tweet at work and still get work done, setting up Facebook pages, updating websites, etc. Several booksellers commented that the best help they’ve had with this is hiring interns from local colleges to help with that. I will say, one bookseller (under 30, I might add) said that no one over 30 does any social media at her store. I felt simultaneously old and proud as I tweet and do Facebook.
No one does newspaper ads anymore. Lost of folks are trying out Groupon or Social Living coupons instead. This is a new marketing arena that isn’t even available to all areas. It was very interesting to hear the mixed results stores have seen with it. Several stores love using it (basically, people pay $10 for $20 off, the store then splits the $10 with the coupon provider) because it brings new customers to the store, but no one know yet if these will be repeat customers. Generally, the mood with these stores was upbeat.
My next session was Selling Non-Books in the Children’s Department. Okay, this was the session about toys. Something funny when booksellers are asked to talk about toys. They get quiet. It’s like no one wants to give away a hot toy or supplier. Someone asked about how to get started with Lego and the panelist (who had just said how well she does with them) wouldn’t answer the question, but said, “See me after.” Well, we all know Lego is tough to get into, but wouldn’t that have been great info to share with the booksellers in the room? Maybe there are just so many hoops to jump through for Lego that it would have taken too long. And when the panel asked about what we were all selling in our stores, not one person raised a hand to share.
What I took from the toy panel wasn’t so much hot new toys, but how to sell them better. Organizing game nights is something we’ve never done, but it seems like a great idea, and the toy company will help with product and a Game Guru to make the evening fun. We also walked away with a great formula for knowing the right way to mark a toy that comes with a freight charge: divide the shipping by the number of pieces in the shipment, then double the cost (toys don’t come with a standard discount, but are purchased at cost). Very handy.
The day was capped off in a hilarious way by Margaret Atwood. I have to confess, I’m a Margaret Atwood FAN. I’ve read all of her books and was thrilled that she would be speaking to us. I had no idea what she’d be like. She’s funny, not just a little funny, but side-splittingly funny. Her timing is impeccable and she pauses, just like a stand-up comic would, to make the laugh larger. The standing room only crowd was rolling with laughter for the first 10 minutes when she was speaking about her previous BEA experiences.
Her first ABA show (that’s how long ago it was) she was asked to speak for 12 minutes. She received a tape in the mail with side A labeled “Well Received Speeches” and side B labeled, “Not Well Received Speeches.” She was joyful in her presentation meant to soothe anxious booksellers about the current state of the book. Her speech had three parts.
The first was called The Book, Still Afloat. This was accompanied by a hand-drawn cartoon on an old computer scanning card. The point of this section was to remind us that obsolete things can appear to have value and new uses. The second part was entitled Transmission Devices. This featured a drawing of two people using two tin cans and string to speak. Here the most change is occurring. The string in the publishing world includes everyone who deals with the book after it’s written, and that string just gets longer all the time. In the 1960s she hand-wrote, typed, typeset and bound 150 copies of her own book that she then took to bookstores and asked if they would sell it for 50 cents in the magazine section. All the stores said yes. (That was the moment I think all booksellers thought: have I turned away a potential Margaret Atwood? Some great writer who just wants to make books and have me sell them for her?)
The final section was aptly called What’s in the Future? She said, quite astutely, that you can say anything in the future, as long as you don’t put an actual date on it, you can never be wrong. Then she got in a very funny dig at Reverend Camping because the world didn’t end on May 21st as he so fervently predicted. Amid all the laughter, and it was fairly continuous the whole speech, she said that bookstores aren’t here to make money. We’re here to provide a gateway to new books; to provide serendipity; to provide a filter for the millions of books that are available to customers, and lastly to handsell to customer because we read enough and know our customers well enough to make informed guesses about what they might like.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
You know you REALLY want to read a book when you practically knock a friend out of the way to get to the last copy of an ARC. This happened to me a few weeks ago in Austin, Texas, when author Cate Tiernan brought two copies of Darkness Falls to a writing retreat to give away and there was practically a stampede. I prefer not to reveal my own shockingly greedy behavior, but suffice it to say that, when the dust settled, I had my galley.
In my defense, let me note that Darkness Falls happens to be the sequel to my surprise-favorite YA fantasy of 201o: Immortal Beloved. I inhaled that book in a happy, entertained, riveted gulp. It’s got all the elements of a fabulous read: a snappy main character, lots of dark humor, great brewing romantic tension, an undercurrent of menace and doom, and layers of secrets that unfold throughout the tale. Even better — for all its entertainment value, the underlying theme is substantive and relevant to teens (and adults). The premise of Immortal Beloved is this: party girl Nastasia — aka Nasty — has grown increasingly tired of her empty, shallow life. She and her pretty-boy friends are Immortals; she’s been alive at least 400 years, and it turns out that no amount of partying can blot out the darkness she’s been trying to run from since an early tragedy. Feeling that she’s at the edge of an abyss, she reluctantly checks herself into a kind of Immortals rehab, every touchy-feely crunchy-granola aspect of which drives her prickly, sarcastic self insane. (Remember Sandra Bullock’s character in 28 Days? Nastasia is like that: guarded, closed-off, funny, and vulnerable as a sea urchin underneath all the spines.)
We featured Immortal Beloved in our annual Pig-Tales review newsletter, and handsold a boatload of them, but it was a tough book to move on its own because the cover and title combine to give the impression of a vaguely epic, lacy romance rather than a sharp, smart, funny paranormal fantasy. (Note to Little, Brown: this book could sell gajillions of copies with the right cover. Pretty please! It’s not that the cover is unattractive; it just doesn’t seem to accurately convey the story and its tone to potential readers.)
Fast forward to Austin, where, after the Texas Library Association meeting, my literary agent had arranged her annual retreat. Turns out that Cate Tiernan is also her client — and I am also not going to reveal the fangirlishness with which I learned that news this winter. So when I finally met Cate—happily, she is a normal person who handles gushing with aplomb—I was torn between gushing about Immortal Beloved and begging for an ARC of Darkness Falls. Because, really, there are some plot threads that are clearly going to be addressed in this sequel, and a romance I must read more about. Plus, I just miss Nastasia and her great big conflicted heart.
The final embarrassment of this story is that, after gobbling up a third of the book (every bit as good as the first so far!) on the way home from Austin, I … um … lost it. Somewhere lies the ARC of Darkness Falls, taunting me from the depths of a stack of galleys in my bedroom, my living room, the office, the store, or — more likely — from the inside of a tote I must have used one day, hung on the back of a chair or set down in the mudroom, and then lost track of.
Which explains why, the minute the doors open to the exhibit floor on Tuesday morning, I will be zipping to the Little, Brown booth, hat in hand, begging for that darned book.
What galleys are YOU dying to get your hands on?
I can’t believe BEA (BookExpo America) is next week. Where has the time gone? I feel like it’s a month earlier than I’m ready for. You wouldn’t think a trade show would be so hard to prepare for, but there’s always a lot to do. The first thing is adapt to some changes; one of the changes is the show floor is now back to open for three days, not just two. One change that I’m nervous about is the shift from having two floors of exhibition hall space to one. Usually, the children’s books are downstairs in their space, and while it might be nice to have the children’s books on the same floor as the adult books, it could make an already crowded floor practically impassable.
I just now sat down and savored the educational offerings on Monday’s chock-full Day of Education. Two of my favorite sessions are the Small and Mid-Size Store and Children’s Roundtables. These are a great way to find solutions to many of the problems bookstore owners encounters every day. Event ideas that I would never have thought of are shared freely and with great excitement. Staffing issues, how to deal with landlords, computer systems and anything else that booksellers encounter every day, but are seldom discussed, are literally on the table. Really, there’s nothing booksellers like more than to talk about the business of books. I leave the Roundtable inspired and enthused.
There will be discussions of e-books, which frankly, I’m already tired of. I know I should care, but honestly, it just feel like such an uphill battle for indies to get a foothold, that I’m overwhelmed and there are other things I’d rather do.
The session on Strategic Thinking to Create New Business Models translates on to how to stay business and thrive, which is something most bookstores could benefit from. Then there’s the sessionTurning Mind Share into Market Share in the Children’s Market, which is about children’s bookstores can get more of the bookselling market in a tough bookselling climate. Creating Events for Children is always a wonderful way to learn about how to have events you never would have thought of.
Other nuts and bolts sessions include Free for the Asking: Marketing with PR and Social Media, a great session for stores to learn how to get noticed without paying for it. Social Media is the newest thing, hardly a rage anymore, but stores need to learn how to use Facebook and Twitter to their advantage to help them stand out above the fray, and how to get new customers.
Tuesday the show floor opens after the Children’s Breakfast from 8-9:30, which features some pretty great speakers: Katherine Paterson, Julianne Moore, Brian Selznick, Sarah Dessen, and Kevin Henkes. These breakfasts are very early, and I often grumble about their early hour, but it’s a gift to hear these wonderful authors and illustrators speak about their art and their inspiration. I always leave with a bounce in my step, happy that I sell children’s books.
The annual art auction is different this year, because the ABC has merged with the ABA and is called the ABC Children’s Group at the ABA. They are presenting the annual auction of one-of-a-kind great art from some truly amazing children’s book illustrators. This year the proceeds benefit the new ABFFE Fund for Free Speech in Children’s Books. There will be an auction, but this year it’s earlier, from 5-7:30, on Wednesday. This allows everyone a chance to have dinner later as well as bid on some really stunning art. Follow this link to see all the art that’s up for auction. I’ve already set a budget and I know there will be some fierce bidding going on. Secretly, I’m hoping there will be an announcement of who the new children’s liaison for the ABC Children’s Group will be, but while I wait for news of that appointment, I will circle and defend the art I’ve already fallen in love with. It wouldn’t be the art auction without some furious and sometimes contentious bidding. Perhaps the thing I like the best is the easy mingling with illustrators who are also huge fans of other illustrators. There’s nothing as charming as an awestruck bookseller trying to outbid an awestruck illustrator who have both found art from a favorite childhood book.
I’m packing a large suitcase with space for galleys for staffers and hopefully, some art. I will leave NYC exhausted but exhilarated, and that is as it should be.
Thanks to the many publishers and authors who wrote in response to last week’s post, I now have a great list of multicultural books published in 2011 featuring main characters of color in stories that are not driven primarily by racial issues.
For the purposes of manageable blog posts that people can print out and use, I’m going to share these 2011 titles with you in two batches, organized alphabetically by title. The first group is below.
I’ve made a master file that I will continue adding to as more titles come in. Again, publishers are invited to send me title and publishing information for books meeting the above criteria to my PW address: ebluemle at publishersweekly dot com. I’ll make sure these books are represented in the LibraryThing multicultural database (books from any year that meet the other criteria) as well as included in one of the batch posts.
Note: Some of the titles shared with me are books that are primarily race-driven; I will be delighted to share these in a different post. I’m also not including books that feature main characters of color but whose covers show a white character (or a character ethnically ambiguous enough to be assumed white by the viewer) on the cover.
In my prior post, author Malinda Lo raised the question of rethinking my cover policy. She says, in part: “Although I do not support misrepresenting the race of characters on book covers (who does?), I have to say this restriction eliminates some books that are about main characters of color. Many book covers do not depict those main characters on the cover, or publishers have chosen to use ethnically ambiguous stock art — and none of these marketing decisions have much to do with the story that is actually being told. Let’s not forget that the authors of these stories rarely are able to control these types of decisions. … So, perhaps you might rethink that restriction?”
I replied to her thoughtfully articulated question in the blog comments, but since this is an important and complicated point, I thought I’d share my reply here, as well. While I agree that the author shouldn’t be penalized for a decision he or she has no control over, I have a real problem with covers featuring white or ethnically ambiguous characters when the main character’s ethnicity in the story is clear, simply because marketing has determined they’ll sell better.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that it’s circular; if the only books with kids of color on the cover are primarily about race and racial issues, readers will learn to avoid them if they’re not in the mood for that kind of story. The more normalized diverse covers are, the more accepted they’ll be and the better they’ll sell. Maybe I’ll compile a separate list of titles that fit that category…. What say all of you? 2011 Multicultural Books (List #1) A You’re Adorable, by Martha Alexander (Candlewick Press) 9780763653323 (This is a reissue with a new cover, coming in December 2011.) The famous song lyrics are illustrated by Martha Alexander. All the Wrong Moves, A Fab Life Novel, by Nikki Carter (Kensington) 9780758255570 After landing a recording contract, Sunday Tolliver tours with her diva cousin, Dreya, and becomes the object of affection of Truth, the tour’s bad-boy star, all in front of the lens of a reality television show. Amazingly Wonderful Things, by Marla J. Hohmeier; illus. by Penny Weber (Raventree) 9781936299102 This tale describes imaginative delights such as riding a shining star or bouncing across the ocean. Amigas: A formal affair, by Veronica Chambers (Disney) 9781423123668 Carmen pushes herself double time by aiding the Coral Gables resident “mean girls” with the school dance and helping Amigas Inc. plan a double quince for two unruly cousins. The Basket Ball, by Esme Raji Codell; illus. by Jennifer Plecas (Abrams, Sept.) 9781419700071 When the boys won’t let Lulu join their school-yard team, she decides to host a Basket Ball—where ball gowns are traded in for sequined basketball jerseys and high-top heels—and start a league of her own. The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan (Chronicle) 9780811870405 A young girl’s attempt to make a world-record-breaking wish draws her community closer together. Boyfriend Season by Kelli London (Dafina, July) 9780758261274 First boyfriends, first love, first mistakes—and an invitation to the hottest teen society party of the year send three friends into a tailspin. Can they handle the pressure of getting everything they think they want? The Break-Up Diaries 1 by Ni-Ni Simone and Kelli London (Kensington) 9780758263162 The only thing more intense than teen love is a break-up with the uncertainty of a make-up. This title serves up two tales of love that will shake up your assumptions of relationships. The Break-Up Diaries 2 by Nikki Carter and Kevin Elliott (Kensington, October) 9780758268884 (No description found) Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles (Walker) 9780802720870 Luis Fuentes is a good boy who doesn’t live with the angst that his big brothers, Alex and Carlos, have always lived with. Luis is smart, funny, and has big dreams of becoming an astronaut. But when he falls for the wrong girl, Luis enters a dark world he’s never known. Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han; illus. by Julia Kuo (Little, Brown) 9780316070386 Korean American fourth-grader Clara Lee longs to be Little Miss Apple Pie, and when her luck seems suddenly to change for the better, she overcomes her fear of public speaking and enters the competition. The Daughters Join the Party by Joanna Philbin (Poppy, Nov.) 9780316179683 Emma has never fit into the sweater-set-wearing world of her political family, opting for purple hair and Chuck Taylors to keep herself out of countless photo ops, but when she accidentally lets her father’s presidential plans slip on national television, Emma finds herself thrown into the spotlight. The Daughters Take the Stage by Joanna Philbin (Poppy) 9780316049092 The daughter of chart-topping pop star Holla Jones, stylish and sensitive Hudson Jones is on the brink of her own musical debut. Hudson has inherited her mother’s talent, but she hasn’t yet embraced Holla’s love of the megawatt spotlight. Can Hudson find a way to perform that reflects her own low-key style? Or will Holla see to it that her only daughter becomes a pop music sensation? Doing My Own Thing, A Fab Life Novel by Nikki Carter (Dafina, July) 9780758255587 Sunday Tolliver’s hard work and talent have finally paid off—she’s got a smash album and mad-money beyond her wildest dreams. But earning fame is a lot easier than dealing with it. Sunday’s diva cousin, Dreya, and bad-boy rapper, Truth, will do anything to get payback and wreck her reputation. Her gifted new collaborator Dilly has every reason not to make Sunday’s crucial follow-up album a hit. And a new reality show starring Sunday is making her love life way too hot to handle. Now she has to figure out who’s fake, who’s for real, who’s down, and who’s really got her back. And the only way she can take control of her success is to keep making it her way…
More titles to come next week!
Last week, there was a half day of school for two local high schools. Usually, that means it’s a slower than normal day for us. But Thursday saw the store graced by several sets of best-teenage-friends.
There is something immensely gratifying about teenagers choosing to come your bookstore. All the kids had to drive to the store, and they chose to spend some time with us. One of the kids, Maggie, has been coming to the store since she was two. She would come for story hour and she still remembers my reading of On Your Potty by Virginia Miller (sadly out of print), which had her in stitches every time I’d say, “Nah,” like the potty-training Bartholmew. Maggie’s sixteen now and came with her best friend to kill some time and really just look around. They pored over the fun stuff section, bouncing balls, spinning tops and generally just being silly. They each were making mental lists about who in their families would like what. If one found something really cool, they would come running over to the other. They even found great teacher gifts. Clearly, stopping at the store was impromptu, as neither actually had any money, so they pooled their resources to get a belated $3 funny Mother’s Day present.
The next set of kids to come in were more focused. What made this visit so gratifying is Kelsey was showing off the store to her friend, Dana. That’s high praise to me. I always feel like teenagers are busy enough, but for one to take the time to show off “her favorite store” to her best friend just makes me feel like we’re doing something right. Kelsey knew exactly what she wanted, The Poisonnwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was also a belated Mother’s Day present.
I asked if she’d like it wrapped and she was thrilled. Choosing the wrap was a lot of fun to watch. We have a board that has samples of our ten different wrap styles. I showed it to them and immediately it turned into a game. “Guess which one I’m getting for my Mom?” Dana guessed right. Then Dana asked,”Which one would I choose?” This went on for several minutes while I wrapped, with each girl asking the other what kind of wrap she’d pick for brother, her dad, etc. I couldn’t help but smile at their simple innocent fun. I gave the package extra ribbons and presented the book with a flourish. They practically clapped. I could hear them giggling all the way to the parking lot.
They left happy, and I stayed happy.
I cannot say how many times I get asked this question when tourists come to town. I wonder what it is about a thriving independent bookstore in a fairly busy little town that makes people think we don’t actually take credit cards.
It’s all I can do sometimes to not say, “No, we don’t take credit cards, in fact, we only accept pieces of eight.” Really, practically every store on the planet takes credit cards. Someone once expressed surprise that I had a computer at the register. Just because our store is in a semi-rural area people make assumptions, and sometimes that makes me cranky.
It’s that same mentality, which is vaguely antagonistic, that has people coming up to the register saying, “How much more will this cost me than at a big store?” There can be a boutique mentality for some people shopping at a smaller bookstore, where they automatically assume they’ll be paying more because the store is smaller and doesn’t have buyer power.
But it’s really hard to charge more for a book: the price is printed right there on the book in at least two places. Small stores can still have very competitive pricing due to discounting – for example, we discount bestsellers, and sales and customer loyalty programs are often free at indie bookstores, so in the end, you wind up saving more than at the bigger stores.
I take a deep breath and happily smile back at customers who ask these questions and say, “I take all credit cards, save Diners Club.” Then I take my moment on the indie pulpit and extol the beauty and importance of an independent bookstores and why we’re important.
And then I handsell them a book or two they didn’t even know they wanted, and then I ask if them if they’ll be paying with Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express.
There are some writers — Kate Messner, Chris Barton, Cynthia Lord, and Katie Davis spring to mind — who seem exceptionally capable when it comes to book promotion. They offer something more to indie booksellers and readers than the simple bookmarks or postcards that many of us rely on, and those extras help make events and book sales pop.
YA and MG author Eric Luper (Jeremy Bender and the Cupcake Cadets, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, May 2011) is such an author, with a knack for coming up with creative ways to get out the word about his books. To me, he seems poised to hit the mainstream, and I think his efforts have a lot to offer both booksellers and up-and-coming authors.
I’ve run across Luper at a few writing conferences over the years, and always gotten a kick out of his laid-back manner and wry sense of humor. I had heard of (not read) his first novel, Big Slick(FSG, 2007), but I didn’t really catch on to his literary prowess until 2009, when his second YA novel for FSG, Bug Boy, started getting some critical attention. (No stars, by the way, for those following the starred-review-list discussion, but it got glowing write-ups all around, which propelled the book to the top of my reading pile.) It was terrific — fresh and fast-paced, tightly written and different from anything else I’d read. Then I read 2010’s Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto (Balzer + Bray) last fall, and loved it — so funny and endearing. (This book deserves a much wider reading audience; try it with fans of David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, John Green, E. Lockhart, David Klass, Ellen Wittlinger, David Lubar, and Neal Shusterman.)
Those back-to-back solid hitters made me eager to read the next title. Luper’s new book marks his first foray into middle-grade fiction and is a slapstick farce for kids who like Gordon Korman, Christopher Paul Curtis’s Mr Chickeeseries, and Lisa Yee’s Bobby books, though a bit older than the last. Unlike the quieter releases of his prior novels, I’ve been hearing a lot about this one — most of it due to Luper’s own promotional efforts. Bug Boy had led me to “friend” Eric on Facebook, which is where I started noticing his interesting promotional ideas. Then, when our bookstore invited him to do a reading and signing this summer, I was surprised by the number of great ideas he had for the event, and how helpful he was in providing promotional materials for it. He also mentioned some of the unusual events he had coming up to promote Jeremy Bender, and they so impressed me that I invited him to share his promotional process with you all.
He responded with the following: How Authors and Publishers Are Helping Indies Promote Books — Eric Luper
My first novel came out in 2007 and even in that short period of time the landscape has changed when it comes to book promotion. When Big Slick released, the expectation was to show up at a few book signings, sign a bunch of books and go home.
Over the years, and, more importantly, through the release of three more books, I’ve come to learn there is a great deal more to it than this. Sure, there are authors who still show up with nothing more than a pen in hand, but how can these people expect anyone to show up beyond friends and family if there is no outreach?
These past five years have shown me that a little homework, a little groundwork and a little legwork can lead to far more successful events, and this benefits everyone.
I sort of fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to marketing and promotion. So far, every book has been different and I learn things with each book that I can take on to the next. I also discard a whole lot. I like to be experimental when it comes to marketing and promotion.
I try my best to link my efforts to the nature of the book I have coming out. This permeates all aspects of my marketing. So, when I have a humorous book coming out, I try to engage potential readers with humor, I try to make them laugh. When I have a more serious book coming out, I try to raise awareness about whatever the issues I’ve worked into my book. It’s a matter of engaging potential readers with attitude and information that is going to draw them toward the book I’ve written.
Using Jeremy Bender and the Cupcake Cadets as an example, I focused a great deal on humor with Facebook and Twitter. Several times a day, I posted something I found amusing: a quirky thought, an funny article or even a link to something funny someone else said (why reinvent the wheel, right?). Interspersed between those things, I put links to reviews with an engaging quote or some positive thing about my book. I also focused on having a unique and funny book trailer (actually, I left it to my brilliant videographer to make me funny). Both of these have been proving to be really useful.
The interesting thing is that all of these efforts build on one another. So, something positive on Facebook translates well to Twitter or feeding somehow into my website. And great reviews can go anywhere! Cross-Promotion
Just like authors, local business owners are always looking for ways to get the word out about their product or service inexpensively. That is where cross-promotional marketing can be really useful. People consider it thinking ‘out of the box’ but I consider it second nature. Businesses work together all the time to cross promote and having a book out on the shelves is no different. For Big Slick, I had a signing in the main poker room at Foxwood’s Casino. That’s where they have the World Series of Poker! When Bug Boy came out, I did events that related to horseracing. I had an event at the National Museum of Racing. I held events at fundraisers related to racing, at the track and even at an OTB. For Jeremy Bender, I decided to approach cupcake bakeries. Most were more than eager to work on cross-promotional events. For one signing, a bakery is donating trays of cupcakes in exchange for me putting out some signage and coupons for their business. Another bakery is showing up at a different signing with their cupcake bus! The great thing is that cross-promotional marketing can work both ways. Just like I will advertise the event to my own friends, the other company is going to want to do the same. In the case of the cupcake bakery, they have over 2500 Facebook friends and twice as many Twitter followers that would not have otherwise heard of my book. And those people are all local!
Another thing I like to do is have events at fundraisers or donate money to an appropriate charity. With so much information readily available, press releases announcing new books typically go unanswered, especially when your press release reads like an advertisement. However, I’ve found linking a book release and signing to a charity will garner much better press coverage. It works especially well if the charity is somehow thematically related to your book. Have a book about bullying? Donate a portion of the book sales to an anti-bullying charity. And here’s a little secret: sometimes the bookstore will agree to do this as well. Sure, it cuts into your bottom line, but I’ve found the publicity is worth the cost. Radio and TV Coverage Whenever I set my mind to getting an interview (radio, television or print), I think about what the consumer would want to hear about. I have no illusions about my celebrity. I’m not nearly as famous as most toll booth collectors. People are not going to tune in to hear me talk. I get much better traction with press releases where the book comes second to a sexy topic. I look for current articles and studies relevant to the themes I cover in my books. I quote the article and make that the thrust. As a secondary mention, I segue into the “local author” who has written a book on the topic. This lobs a softball to the news people. It makes it easy for them to envision the story, along with the ‘news angle’.
I make sure to follow up my contact with a nice email or note thanking them for their time. After a few good interviews, I become a ‘friend of the show’ and they are happy to hear from me when my next book hits the shelves. Events with Independent Bookstores
Bookstores rock, and I’m not saying that just to suck up to bookstores (although a little sucking up never hurts!). Doing a signing at a bookstore works for the author in so many ways. It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Of course, at a signing you get to meet fans and grab a few passers-by who might find interest in your book. But bookstore employees tend to be book lovers themselves. And book lovers tend to know other book lovers. It’s also their job to make book recommendations to teachers and librarians and parents and kids. If you and your writing make a good impression on a bookstore owner, your book will be flying off the shelves long after you’re gone.
The manager of my local indie has also been a valuable resource when it comes to ideas. I look at it as a partnership. We both want my book to become popular and sell. She has offered me her opinions on what has worked for other authors and what hasn’t. She has given me ideas on how to reach out to the community and how to turn simple book signings into ‘happenings’. And this has been happening! Before a Signing
In advance of my signings, there is a lot of work to be done.
The first is my postcards. It’s not often a publisher will send out postcards to an author’s personal contacts. I have been compiling my list for several years and I am continually adding to it. Whenever I go to an event or do a public speaking engagement, I bring my clipboard and place it in front of me. Even if I neglect to mention anything, people inevitably wander up and write down their contact information. If someone is interested enough to write down his or her contact information, that person will be inclined to come to a future book signing. I am in the process of shifting from postcards to an email newsletter, but the concept is the same. Most authors (just like many bookstores) have Facebook pages and blogs. With only a few keystrokes, an author can reach out to his or her entire ‘friends’ list to notify everyone about where he or she will be appearing. If I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine this is my number one way of attracting fans to a signing.
I never assume a bookstore has the time to promote my signing the way I would like it to be promoted. Typically, I will design small, eye-catching posters to announce my event and forward them along to the bookstore with a polite note. Of course, I’ll include date and time, but I will also include book jacket, author photo and a few review blurbs. I am considering adding smaller signing announcements that booksellers can tuck into bags along with the receipt. In most cases, the posters are appreciated (and used)!
If I have the luxury of several months notice before my signing, I will sometimes go to the lengths of setting up Skype visits with schools and libraries in the region surrounding the book signing. Typically, the bookstore owner knows the proactive teachers and librarians in the area to reach out to and this has been a reasonably successful effort. A few 20-minute Skype visits with some very engaged groups can lead to a pleasant surprise on signing day.
A few days before the signing, I’ll usually post a note on Facebook and Twitter to remind people about the signing and also offer to personalize any pre-sold copies for fans even if they can’t make it to the event. This way, they can call the bookstore, pay with a credit card, and pick up the book at their leisure. During a Signing
A book signing does not just have to be a book signing. Try to think out of the box. For Big Slick, I held a teen poker tournament. For Bug Boy, I had a miniature horse outside to raise awareness for the humane treatment of animals. For Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets, there is the cupcake bus! Make the event a true event and even passers-by will wander in. Of course, it’s always about the books but it never hurts to draw them in with something fun and flashy.
Many authors feel that once he is planted in the chair next to the stack of books, his responsibility is done and the biggest worry is whether or not he remembered his favorite signing pen. I always take a few moments to utilize Facebook and Twitter to my advantage, to remind others who might be in the area that they should stop by. Often, people have every intention of coming to a book signing, but the day slips by before they remember to drive over. A simple tweet or a photo posted on Facebook is usually enough to nudge those fence sitters to come on down. No one likes to miss a party! In planning a book signing, consider a multi-author event. Most authors feel threatened by another author in the room, but I look at it as an opportunity to gain new fans. Whether it’s a friend or a sibling or a spouse of my author buddy’s fan, my book might appeal to someone else. And in dealing with children’s books, it’s tough to buy one kid a book and deny another! Look for author pairings that have a similar genre but markedly different appeal (i.e. slightly different age group, style, gender of protagonist, etc). I can’t tell you how often I’ll see a little kid come in with his big sister and I’ll send the mother over to the other author’s table to get him a signed picture book.
As I said earlier, I never go to an event without my trusty clipboard. If they came to one signing, they’re likely to come to another. It may be the next book, but these things tend to snowball. Sometimes the same people will come to another signing at a different bookstore (of course, once the person read the book, they’ll want copies for every friend and relative, right?). After a Signing
What ever happened to the ancient art of the thank-you note? I always follow up a book signing with a hand-written thank you note to the bookseller. I make sure to thank not only the owner, but also the staff who made the event so successful. It might not help promote that particular event, but it does help remind those people who work so hard to support us that we appreciate what they do every day.
I also make sure to post a note on Facebook as well to thank the bookstore and all the fans who came out to see me. Nothing encourages them to come to the next event than making them feel like they missed something. Plus, when the inevitable notes come back saying that they meant to get down there but couldn’t find the time, I can tell them that I’ve left a number of signed copies at the store.
************ Nota bene: We reassure you that this blog post was entirely our idea. It was not one of Mr. Luper’s promotional schemes; we cannot be bought! Even with cupcakes. No matter how good they are. But I’ll bet you even money he’ll have Tweeted this link long before I get around to it.