How Your Book Is Sold: Booksellers’ panel January 10, 2016

by Barbara Beckwith, Boston Co-Chair

Two bookstore owners — Jeff Mayersohn of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge (MA) and Willard Williams of Toadstool Bookshops of NH, and Stephen Williamson, a marketing professional representing independent publishers’ titles (New England Book Reps) spoke about how they deal with writers, and the best ways for writers to deal with them.

They described current trends: series books (Regeneration Trilogy, Harry Potter, Elena Ferrante) are popular; academic books are so overpriced that bookstores are increasingly reluctant to carry them because of low sales; ebook sales are “flattening but not going down;” and small but beautifully illustrated hardback are popular with tourists. “Books have to be nice-looking,” stressed Williams.

Tips learned from the panelists’ remarks:

When pitching your book for a bookstore reading, or to a book distributor, say what’s valuable in it but do NOT try to tell everything it covers (too many non-fiction authors try to do this). And don’t use too many adjectives: focus on the content. Describe your book in just two sentences, plus an enticing “handle,” which can also be the phrase you put on the back of your book to encapsulate its appeal.

Williamson, as a marketer of indie books, will want evidence that the writer reads well and is available for readings and talks.

Bookstores schedule readings of new books six to eight months ahead of the publishing date. Don’t approach a bookstore with “My book is coming out next week: can I read at your store?”

If your audience for a bookstore reading will be mostly locals, then do ONE local bookstore reading. If you try to do more, neither reading may draw a full audience.

The reality is that your book party is where you will sell the most books, since the people who know you and are invited to a launch party expect to buy one or even several books.

Harvard Bookstore has 40 to 50 author events a year. Some are internationally known (Patti Smith, Gloria Steinem, Salman Rushdie); others known locally (Greg Jobin-Leeds, author of When We Fight, We Win! Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World drew an overflow crowd). You can have success if you have a following.

Your marketing experience can impress (blog, website, youtube, NPR appearance,10,000 twitter followers). Do link to local bookstores.

Harvard Book Store’s custom printing machine print-on-demand helps self-published authors produce print-on-demand copies, and will shelve their books.” Bring in your manuscript and we will print and bind it and shelve it and post it on our website. Do NOT put an Amazon reader quote on the back of your book. The self-publishing author sets the price: authors should be careful not to overprice their books. The store’s consignment split is 60% (store) and 40% (author). The store will keep a book on the shelves for a three to six month period and then may return the unsold copies. Self-published authors should check how many have been sold that they should be paid for and should bring replacements, if needed.