Friday, January 25, 2008

Bookstore moments yield wisdom for authors

A couple days ago I finished up an interview and dropped by a bookstore on my way home. I’ve been visiting bookstores in a purely clinical way lately. Rather than wandering around mindlessly and coming out with a bag of books, I’ve been studying the way books are arranged in stores and especially the way they’re categorized. Either way, I still come out with a bag of books. When I visit stores I talk to people. I’m in the process of formatting my nonfiction manuscript, and this time, I’m doing my homework ahead of time. This will also help me to put together a marketing plan for my publisher.

I asked one bookseller how books with a geographic theme sell—I can’t help but notice all those Florida-related titles in every bookstore I visit. “They sell great,” came the response. I’ve noticed those titles are re-stocked on a regular basis.

I told another bookseller it’s hard for me to understand how some books are such blockbusters. “They’re sort of like a movie of the week, the novels at least,” I told him. His answer was uncomplicated. “A lot of them buy their way onto the shelves.”

I confess for me, the hardest part of the book business is committing to doing the legwork to help promote the book—that’s especially important with a small or regional publisher. I’ve come to learn big publishers also expect effort from an author, but many of them actually prohibit some authors from doing booksignings. That’d be fine by me. Booksignings are a tedious, draining way to sell your book even if you meet really nice people in the process.

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of a new novel, Nelson DeMille’s Wildfire (it's proving to be a good read). As I headed to checkout, I dropped by the regional authors section to see if my own nonfiction book was there. Four copies were on the shelf. I stood there for a few minutes, remembering that when I was young, I dreamed one day I’d have a book with my name on it. Standing there, I took in the measure of that. It was a good moment to savor. I didn’t let myself remember the hard work doing the author jig. I figure there’ll be plenty of time for that when the next one is about to come out.

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