Bu Liesa Malik
Okay, so you’ve written a book. And you’re getting it published, either traditionally or through independent means. Today, this isn’t enough. Today, more and more, sales and marketing have become the author’s responsibility.
How do you sell your book? Can you get it on the shelves of big stores like Barnes and Noble across the nation? The straight answer is probably, no. But there are exceptions here. You can get your book shelved at all of the big stores when you become a USA Today or New York Times best selling author. Or when you’re rich and famous. Or you grow your book business as most small businesses grow—store-by-store and reader-by-reader.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Natalie Vande Vuss of the Barnes and Noble at Wadsworth and Bowles in Littleton. She gave me the bookseller’s perspective on stocking and selling your book. And it all starts with a little understanding . . .
“We all want the same thing,” said Natalie. “We all want people to read, and we want authors to write. That’s important. This is a business I enjoy because it’s a business about ideas. Here you’re shopping for your head.”
Unfortunately, while we may all be after this same goal, everyone is reaching toward it from different directions, so it’s vital to understand your bookseller’s path to selling your book.
“Each Barnes and Noble is unique,” said Natalie. “I can be three miles away from another store and have a completely different customer base. So the community makes a difference. And each building is different. We don’t build cookie-cutter stores.” She said that the stores all have their own layouts, number of bays, end caps, and tables. And the sales will be different from store to store.
“Once you’ve been in the market a little while and the customers have come in and are making their purchases, and you’ve tracked what you’re selling, you determine what to buy based on what your store needs.”
The other huge determinant of getting your books onto a Barnes and Noble shelf is whether or not your book easily fits into the established system. “There may be a product from a mom and pop out of their garage, and it may be a great item, but how is the payable system going to work? How is the reorder system going to work? How, if it goes to the register in sales, is it going to be re-ordered? There has to be some sort of system in place where what someone is trying to sell fits into our process systems for how we manage profit.”
The challenge with smaller or independently published books and books-on-demand is that each title requires processing by hand, and as Natalie said, “In our business staff hours are limited. If I have to go outside all of my systems, and go on a clipboard, it’s going to fall way down on the priority list.”
Where you can start . . .
Let’s say you have a book that fits in Natalie’s system, or you’re willing to do the extra work necessary to get and keep your book on the shelves of the store. As an author, where can you start building your presence?
“Please, make an appointment,” said Natalie. “What a lot of authors do is they just pop-in, and they want to talk to you for an hour. You do not have an hour to talk to them right then because maybe you just got 300 boxes in your back door.” She also said that it might be a different titled person you talk to in each store (remember, every Barnes and Noble is operated uniquely with only general structure and a majority of stock ordered out of New York).
And don’t expect your Barnes and Noble contact to be your personal trainer in how the publishing industry works. ” I had a gentleman do that to me on a regular basis. Once a week he would pop in and want an hour of my time. I couldn’t do that. It got to the point where when I would see him I would avoid him.” Natalie said she didn’t want to do so, but she just didn’t have the time to meet with him on his whim.
To Natalie, a best practice would be to go into a store and let whomever you talk to know that you’re a local author. Then ask who the person is at that store that handles the type of event you would like to have. Ask if you can set an appointment to meet that person. Then have a short agenda when you do actually get together.
. . . And finish
The big day comes. Barnes and Noble have agreed to host a book-signing event for you. Natalie said that a surprising amount of authors think this is all they have to do.
“What you have to understand,” said Natalie, “is you need to help me help you. I’ll provide the space. We’ll have employees at the register, we’ll order all the books, and we’ll do all that kind of stuff, but just like Random House would want to sell it and promote it, you’ll have to do that.”
And when your book signing is over? You have to have follow-up in order to keep books flying off the shelves. It is your marketing plan more than anything done at a store that will sell your books.