Very handy… I have a wonderful and glorious aunt who’s also a book publicist: Caroline Konstant.
Based in South Africa, Caroline works with both publishers who don’t have their own in-house marketing and publicity teams, and authors (self-published and traditional) who want to get their books to their fans. I took a trip out there and asked her a few questions about what folk can do to get their books to the market and here’s what she said:
Question: How do bookshops choose what books they want?
Caroline says: “Each bookshop has its own demographic and good managers know their readers and buy accordingly. For non-fiction titles, most bookshops will take an order 50/50 – half on firm purchase (even if they don’t sell a copy, they have to pay you) and half on sale-or-return (SOR). Fiction on the other hand is always purchased entirely on a SOR basis (so if they sell none, you’ll get them all back as per your agreed time limit). In most bookshops, books on SOR are kept for between three to six months. If they haven’t sold in that time, they’ll all be returned to the publisher who’ll usually pulp all fiction titles and keep the non-fiction in stock.”
Question: How do books get a good location in the shop (centre floor, counter top)?
Caroline says: “Other than pre-planned displays, when books are unpacked they’re put into their relevant sections. Display is mostly at the discretion of the unpacker or sales person in front of the shop. If a book is by a well-known author or is pushed as a best seller by the publisher, the bookshop orders lots of copies on sale-or-return (SOR), and they’ll be on display in a big pile in the middle of the floor or in a prominent position. Often you’ll see these are a non-standard size called Trade Paperback. Publishers print these first and use the smaller traditional novel size (there are many) when they go into a second printing. As there’s a limited amount of space available on shelves, usually no more than five copies land up there. If the book is small then it may get a place on the counter because that’s where it’ll fit without getting lost – however, generally only gift-type books are displayed on counters. If you choose to self-publish, be careful about printing small-format and/or no spine on fiction novels as the bookshop may not order them at all! So stick to one of the standard novel sizes in paperback.”
Question: Can I (the writer) contact a bookshop directly to get them to stock my book?
Caroline says: “Bookshops don’t tend to deal with authors directly because there are too many and they have a reputation for being unreliable. For instance, if a bookshop has purchased direct from an author and then wants to reorder or return stock, tracking down that author can be difficult. They might have started a new project, gone on holiday, be distracted with other things or simply have moved house. So bookshop managers prefer to see sales reps that represent publishers and distributors. However, if your book is very specific to the area then they will sometimes make an exception!”
Question: Can writers influence booksellers and therefore book buyers?
Caroline says: “It’ll be well-nigh impossible because there are too many spread over too many areas. Instead, chat with the sales people in the BOOKSHOP once the books are in stock…. But beware of being too pushy – it could backfire!
Question: If I self-publish, can I sell directly to a bookshop?
Caroline says: “If you’ve written a book relevant to your area then speak to your local bookshop manager and ask that they take your book on. They may take your book on a sale-or-return (SOR) basis or, most likely, on consignment (so you only get paid as the books get sold). You’re unlikely to successfully sell your book to national bookshops on that basis so you need to find someone to market, sell and distribute your book for you. This will cost, but it’ll get your book on the book manager’s system. However, don’t just focus on bookshops. If you’re self-published, get your book into other outlets: coffee shops, restaurants or boutiques for instance. Arrange to have talks and book signings at the library, the garden centre or any other outlet that might stock a book like yours.”
Question: How do books get into libraries?
Caroline says: “Libraries buy from library suppliers. Most of the time, they work to a budget and will buy from suppliers who give them the best discounts. Irrespective of budget, librarians try to stock the library with books that are in demand, i.e.: by well-known authors, because that’s what their readers ask for. If yours is a local book, then your library will probably pick that up for the local section. Also, most libraries have a manifesto with guidelines on what to buy so there isn’t much leeway for the buyers. Again, if you’re self-publishing, be careful not to make your book too small or too slim for comfortable display on the shelves.”
Question: If I have a series of books to write, is it better to finish them all so the bookshops have the whole series to sell, or should I finish and sell the first one and follow it with books two and three?
Caroline says: “A bookshop will most likely buy one copy of each of a series or, if they only have the first in the series, then two or three of the first book. They will only buy more of what sells, so write the first one, get it sold, then write the others.”
Question: Does the cover have a big impact on how well the book sells?
Caroline says: “In publishing, books are judged by their covers. Book buyers might see up to 40 book reps a month. Most of these reps will have between 10 and 100 new titles each month. That’s a lot of books to choose from. So a great cover has a huge impact. Make sure it’s relevant to the target audience. Don’t make it frilly if you want men to read it. If it’s fiction, don’t make it look like a factual book. Look at other books in your genre to see how trends in cover design change.” (NOTE FROM TINA: In my experience so far, if you’re putting your book out through a publisher, they will create the cover for you. You’ll be asked your opinion and if you really hate it, they’ll review it, but they have experts who know how to make the most of the cover and will generally do a great job).
Question: Should a book have a photo of the author on the back cover?
Caroline says: “A photo and bio of the author is nice. It helps to make a connection between the reader and the writer.”
Question: Should a writer do bookshop tours or leave the PR to the publisher?
Caroline says: “Author activity can never be underestimated. The author must do author signings and take part in anything that will help promote their book. Publishers might kick the book off with one book launch, but not often. If you’re working with a publisher then ask if they have a publicist and what they’re going to do to promote your book, then work with them. Independently, arrange to give book talks in local bookshops, libraries and coffee shops. But before you get onto the radio or onto local TV stations, discuss with your publicist – you may be duplicating efforts. Publishers will do the initial sales push into bookshops and one launch to the media, then they’re onto the next book. It’s up to you to sell it after the launch. At that point, hire a publicist who will help you promote your book further. Keep in mind however that any further media promotion will have to be from a new angle because the media won’t want to duplicate a discussion on radio or anything already in print.”
Question: How does a book become a best seller?
Caroline says: “Nothing is guaranteed. A book by a first time novelist could go viral, thanks to social media and word of mouth. It all depends on audience response. If your book hits the right pulse and readers spread the word, then the publisher will see they have something that the public have taken hold of and put money behind it. Most likely, the author will be put on tour and must be willing to do it. Unless a book lands in a channel that turns it viral, a reclusive writer is a no-go. To that end, don’t underestimate Twitter and Facebook and other social media. It’s marketing and luck. There are tons of great books out there that have never made it. It takes a lot of energy and money to be a bestselling author.”
Question: Anything else?
Caroline says: “First, proofread! Do it well. Don’t ask your high-school teacher to proofread for you because she’s good at English. Get a PROFESSIONAL to review your work. Even if a story is brilliantly told, if the grammar and punctuation are wrong then people are unlikely to bother reading it. Second, beware of the greatest misconception new authors have: writing one book rarely means you can retire a millionaire!”
Have a perfect week. Write like a CRAZY PERSON!