What You Wish They Knew: A Conversation Between Authors, Publishing Folks, and Booksellers

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 10th, 2010

Publishers, what do you wish booksellers knew? Booksellers, what do you wish publishers, editors, and authors knew? Editors and marketers and reps, what do you wish booksellers, or your authors, knew? ShelfTalker is not just a blog; it’s a wonderful opportunity for people from all sides of the children’s book industry to come together and talk about our field: the good, the bad, and the bunny. (Sorry, the bunny cliché hopped out—har har—before I could stop it.)

Whenever I’m at a writing or bookselling conference, I’ll be surprised by at least one comment made by an editor, sales rep, art designer, or publisher, which suddenly clears up some misperception about that person’s work. For instance, I didn’t know for a long time that at most trade shows, publishers must pay for their authors to sign books (in addition to badge and travel and meal expenses for the author, publishers also pay a fee for the table signings). Now, when my author friends are confused about their publishers not leaping to have them sign at a trade show, even when the author is planning to attend on his or her own dime, I can share that infomation: it just may be too expensive. Understanding the business better can only help everyone involved.

Even experienced book-industry folks are limited by their own blinders. For people new to the field, or with just one perspective, how overwhelming must it be to navigate the ins and outs, the etiquette and netiquette, the expectations and taboos?

I’m convinced that most of the frustrations we face in our work lives come from misunderstandings, miscommunications, or poorly understood expectations. I’d love to start a website—but am too lazy to do it—where people in various kinds of jobs could articulate to their co-workers, customers, and clients, the things they wish the other side knew. Like coffee shop baristas: I can imagine them saying, “I really wish customers would move to the right after paying. I could help six more people an hour if they wouldn’t just stand there, blocking the register.” You know, something simple, that people should know, but may not realize.

I have a little ambition for this post: for people to bookmark it, and when something comes up that triggers familiar annoyance, you come here and post a tip for the rest of us (albeit kindly, understanding that ignorance, not malevolence, is behind most people’s missteps). Anonymity is perfectly fine. Label your comment: “What Xs Wish Xs Knew,” and fill in the Xs with the appropriate nouns. It’s fascinating and helpful to learn from each other. Personally, I’d love to know what marketing people wish authors knew, and what publishers wish booksellers knew.

I’ll start with a few:

What booksellers wish art directors knew: Static covers that don’t invite curiosity, ask a question, or begin to tell a story will be a tougher handsell than those that do. Also, teens are getting sick of photographs of teens (and parts of teens) on covers. They’re starting not to be able to tell the books apart, and to make fun of the sameness of the covers. Some teen wags lined up all the leg/feet books in a row on one shelf, and the half-faces on another. It was pretty funny, and definitely revealed 2008-9 cover trends.

What booksellers wish book designers knew: PLEASE put clear, legible, easily located series numbers on book spines and covers. This is such an easy thing to do, but you’d be surprised how hard some designs are to read; customers shouldn’t have to work so hard to locate (and decipher, often) those series numbers.

What booksellers wish authors knew: If you come to the store and we don’t have your book, please don’t be discouraged. Chances are we’re just out of it at the moment. Booksellers carry thousands of titles in our stores (the Flying Pig has about 40,000 items, including non-book goods, for example) and if we’re out of your titles, it doesn’t mean we don’t carry it or don’t like it. It can be reordered quickly, and is usually just a day or two away. Better yet, give us a heads-up that you’re coming, so that we can restock in time for your visit. (Caveat: not all stores will be able to do this, though. Distributor orders require large-ish minimums to meet free freight threshholds, and bookstores operate on slim margins. Every book on our shelves for longer than 30 days has been paid for by us. That’s a lot of money tied up in inventory. If a store can’t/doesn’t get your book in time for your visit, it may be because, at the moment, these factors are in play.)


Anything you wish people knew? Please add your comments!

It’s okay for editors, art directors, etc., to post anonymously. The information is so helpful and important.

And everyone, please try to keep your comments constructive and not let frustration get the better of helpful, open communication. Particularly helpful are the insights into your own end of the business.

54 thoughts on “What You Wish They Knew: A Conversation Between Authors, Publishing Folks, and Booksellers

  1. shelftalker elizabeth

    What I wish publishers knew about backlist: booksellers and librarians (and teachers) LOVE to know when books come back into print. There doesn’t seem to be much money for backlist promotion, but I think you’d hit gold targeting independent booksellers with strong children’s sections, as well as the library market, for those OP treasures you’re bringing back!

  2. it ain't me

    What Most Booksellers Wish Some Other Booksellers Knew: There are a number of booksellers who don’t seem able to be in a room with a publisher (or someone who works for a publisher) without sounding off on whatever issue they’re ticked off about concerning (usually) that particular publisher. I internally refer to this as the “Where’s my co-op?” syndrome. A panel of higher-ups in the publishing industry gets together to discuss the future of publishing or whatever, Q&A time comes along, and everyone in the room knows that somebody is going to use this “forum” to air their grievances. It’s embarrassing, frankly, and it happens pretty much every time. Air out your laundry, please, in the proper venues with the proper people. We’re all pretty much on the same side here.

  3. kathy e.

    If word of mouth doesn’t sell the book, a good cover design helps. I am all kinds of disgusted with the cover of Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist. I have read 20 percent of the books, and the book is really good (with lots of expected gore). It is going to take a lot of hand selling and word of mouth to push this book. An attractive cover matching the audience’s interest (teens) would have helped.

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