The following is an extract from a talk delivered at the Calgary Public Library in Feb. 2011.
Okay, now you’ve completed the further editing, the proofs have been approved, and it’s just a matter of waiting for the printer to produce and ship your book. So, what’s been happening at the publishing house all this time? The main thing they’ve been up to is preparing for, and holding, sales conferences for their sales reps. A catalogue page for your book should have been completed and posted online. Be sure to link to this page on your own blogsite, and direct anyone to it who asks about your book. The reps have been told about you, and they have discussed how they can best sell your book to booksellers, libraries, wholesalers and specialty markets. Some of them may have even read the manuscript. If at all possible, try to meet your sales reps when they are in town for the seasonal trade fair or on a regular sales trip.
But be aware that not all reps will want to meet you. I was one of the few reps who enjoyed working directly with authors, and perhaps that was because I was a writer myself, so I understood where authors were coming from. When I first met Betty Jane Hegerat, she told me she hadn’t realized there were sales reps. That wasn’t an unusual comment. Most authors know nothing about the sales side of this business.
If you do forge a good relationship with the reps, you stand a better chance of selling more books, because they will champion your book, and you. Most of the authors I met over the years were wonderful to work with, and selling their books was a pleasure. A few “difficult” authors, though, were like Wannabe Author in the video, and I couldn’t get away from them fast enough. Remember that the rep has many, many authors, and in some cases many, many publishers they must sell for, their territories are usually ridiculously huge and the selling season short. They don’t have time to concentrate on your one book in particular. So unless you have a very close association with your rep, don’t expect miracles. And, if you do have a complaint or concern, or you want to point out that a particular chain store is not stocking your book, deal with this through your publisher and have them contact the rep, don’t try to discuss the situation with the rep directly. After all, the rep works for the publisher, not for you – unless you’re self-published.
You should have also forged an association with a bookstore in your area – preferably all the bookstores in your area. You can’t have a better ally than a bookseller who loves your book and wants to sell it to all their customers, and this includes chain store employees. Before your book is published is a good time to get to know as many local booksellers you can possibly meet and talk with about your book. Ask to speak to the manager first or with whoever is in charge of buying books for the store.
For Indigo/Chapters in Canada there’s one regional buyer who looks after stocking all locally authored books, but each individual store has appointed someone to be what the chain calls the “local champion,” and their responsibility is primarily to look after consignment books – the books that are left with the store, usually by the author, with any unsold copies being picked up after about 3 months. It’s a good idea, when dealing with the chain, to talk with one of their staff members who is responsible for the section of the store where your book will fit.
Introduce yourself to whoever you do approach. And be sure to do this in a nice way – don’t be bothersome about your book, but do mention what it’s about (this is where you can use your elevator pitch you developed), give them your business card, the one you created specifically about your book, and maybe a print-out of the catalogue page, so they have all the ordering information. It could be a case that they haven’t heard of your book yet, because the sales rep hasn’t sold it to them. When the sales rep does make a call on the store, that buyer will remember you, and will pay more attention to the rep’s sales pitch.
Do not promise anything! Don’t try to organize any launches or events at this stage. Let your publisher look after all of that for you. If your publisher wants your help in doing this, they will ask for it. Do tell your publisher that you made contact with the bookstore, and that there is a possibility they may be interested in doing some promotion. At the very least, those booksellers who show interest in your book should receive an advance copy to read. Suggest to the publisher that the store be added to their sample list.
The main point here, though, is to make contact with the people who will be responsible for selling your book, leave them with a good impression, and hope that when your rep sells your book to the store, the buyer remembers your name. Of course, if you’ve been a loyal customer of this store all along, your name will be remembered, anyway, and the store will be asking your publisher if they may schedule a launch of your book.
Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever, ever demand that a store carry your book because you’re a local author. And especially, don’t try to shame a bookseller into stocking your book. When I was a buyer at a Calgary bookstore, a man came into the store and asked if we were carrying a particular collection of short stories written by so-and-so. I told him I hadn’t heard of the book, but that we likely wouldn’t have ordered copies since it was a collection of short stories (which we couldn’t give away at that time), published in hardcover, and too expensive. The man shouted at me, “Well, you should have it in stock, because I’m the author, and I live here!” In one second, he managed to piss me off so much that I vowed never to sell a single book published by him, ever. I didn’t tell him this directly, only kept it to myself, but I have maintained that vow. I still don’t like the author, even though he went on to some success since that time. So, don’t demand, don’t be the prima donna, and don’t expect that your book will be on every bookstore’s shelves as soon as it’s published. And be forewarned – booksellers have very long memories.
We’re coming up to the publishing date now, and you’ve been working very hard on Facebook and through your blog, posting “meaningful” content, and encouraging your readers to become equally excited about the publication as you are yourself. You’ve been building the anticipation. Now what you want to do is set the stage for the publicity your book will receive once it’s been published and in the stores. You want to start driving those potential readers into the stores (or to the online sellers of eBooks) to buy your book by letting them know that it’s now available.
Your publisher will likely have contacted many of the media names you gave them, or that were on their own publicity lists. Their publicist will have created a press release, and sent out advance review copies along with that release to the entire list to try to generate requests to interview you or review your book. You should leave the traditional media up to your publisher to handle. But where you can help is by finding online sites that may review your book. First of all, create a “media room” on your web or blogsite. That’s a separate page where you can post any and all links to where you or your book have been mentioned in the press. Ask the publisher if you may post their press release. Also include your two bios, your photo, and a link to the publisher’s catalogue page here. This way, if a reviewer does decide to go directly to your site, all the necessary information will be accessible. And, of course, every time a review appears or your book is mentioned on a blog or website, this is where you will post the link.
Remember all those friendships and associations you forged earlier on with other authors and blogsites? This is where they come in handy again. Make up a list of all blogs and websites dealing with your genre or the subject of your book, and write to the blogger to ask (following their guidelines!) if they would like to read and review. They’ll know who you are, because you’ve been politely commenting on their blog all along, and have been promoting their site through your blogroll. When they do agree to review your book – or, if you’re lucky, to interview you! – then return the favour by posting their review with a link back to their site. This will help to increase traffic for them, for which they will be forever grateful.
Darcie Friesen Hossack did exactly this with her book, and contacted any and all sites dealing with Mennonites. She managed to get a few very solid mentions and a couple of favourable reviews that she wouldn’t have received had she left all of this up to her publisher. As well, Darcie, and another of our author friends, Teri Vlassopoulos, interviewed each other in what they termed an “uninterview,” and both posted these to their blogsites. All their friends reposted this same uninterview to their own sites, and to Facebook, and it kind of went viral for a moment in time. What happened was that Darcie’s book was exposed to Teri’s contact list, and vice versa, increasing both their readerships. At one point, if you searched Mennonites Don’t Dance on Amazon, it was suggested that “customers who bought this book also bought Bats or Swallows” by Teri. Generally, publishers have to pay for links between books, but so many people had bought both books at the same time that the Amazon computer kicked in and placed the books side-by-side, not realizing that these two authors are actually friends.
Once you have your new print book in your hot little hands, always carry around at least two copies with you, no matter where you go, and especially when you’re travelling. You never know when you might need to whip it out of your bag and show it to someone. You’ve earned bragging rights! (And always have on hand a good supply of those business cards!)
Susan Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and is now a published author, publisher, and promoter of fellow authors and their books. Born and raised in Toronto, and after completing a degree in English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary in the late 70s and immediately found a job in a bookstore, beginning what has become a life’s career working with books and their authors.
Published Books: Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer