Take a Peek Behind the Bookshelves; or Why Bookstores and Writers Need Each Other

by Allison Pottern Hoch

On September 10th, I’m moderating a panel of bookselling experts at the Writers’ Loft. I pitched this event to the Loft because, to me, the importance of bookstores and booksellers to the career of a writer is critical. Strong advocacy from bookstores can make a significant impact on the sales of a book. And writers can be relentless supports of local indies. At “Behind the Bookshelves: A Panel on Building Relationships with Bookstores” we’re going to talk about what working at a bookstore looks like, how writers and bookstores can support one another, and how their marketing efforts can work in concert.


So, to introduce you to some of our panelists, I asked them a “simple” question: What’s the most common misconception about bookstores and the role they play in marketing books?

Josh Funk (Author of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, The Case of the Stinky Stench, and others)

A: One common misconception in general about bookstores is that employees simply read and hand-sell books. There’s a lot more that goes on in the background. First and foremost, it’s a business—it requires so much more than reading. Finances, staffing, shipping and receiving, meetings with sales reps, and on and on—there’s so much more to being a bookseller than just hand-selling books to customers.

Peter Sherman (Manager, Wellesley Books)

A: I would sum it up as believing the store plays a primary role in creating the audience for a book. We all want to sell as many books as possible, and we are here to support authors in a variety of ways—by stocking their titles, of course, and especially through events, and the promotion that comes with events, both in-store and through our newsletter and social media. But, as a general bookstore with a broad customer base, we have to rely on the author’s familiarity with his or her target audience and ability to reach that audience.

The author who effectively markets in a focused way will drive customers to the stores where they can find the book, and will create the full houses at events. Our promotional efforts will be seen by everyone who follows the store, so we have a wide reach, which is important amplification of an author’s promotional efforts—but our promotional efforts can never be as targeted or as focused or as potent as what authors can do for themselves.

Sarah Berman (Assistant Manager, Concord Bookshop)

A: I think some authors just getting into the self-marketing aspect of a new book think that indie bookshops have unlimited shelf space just waiting for a local author’s display and (potentially) a book event. Many of authors I meet every day seem to have been told by well-meaning friends that the best way to get a book on the shelves is to cold-call the bookshop and present their book as the Next Big Thing. While I’m always so excited to learn that an author’s efforts have paid off (hooray!), part of the bookselling business is making sure the books we stock will sell to our typical shoppers. A quick chat and hard-sell doesn’t give us nearly enough information to decide if we want to, or are able to, afford stocking a book we didn’t order ourselves.

An easier way to open communications is with a personal email with all relevant details of the book included, and be prepared to wait for a response since we get several similar requests every week. We don’t actually have the space and resources to stock every book that’s out there, so be patient and understand that the best way to get a good word in at a bookshop is to be a frequent and friendly shopper there!

Join us on September 10th at 2:00 pm for more conversations about local bookstores, marketing, and why both are important to the writing community.

aph.jpegAllison has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She organized, hosted, and promoted over 150 events during her tenure, ranging in size from intimate workshops and lunches to multi-media events with over 700 attendees. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and book event coach. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. http://events.pottern.com. To learn more about engaging with your community bookstore or develop your own successful event and marketing plan, check out the talks and workshops Allison is leading this fall.

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