A Bookseller’s Perspective on How to Promote Your Book

Michelle Maycock worked in independent bookstores in Virginia and North Carolina as a buyer and manager, and as an independent publishers’ rep in the 1990s selling to bookstores in the Southeast. She now teaches in the Professional Writing program at Virginia Tech. Maycock offers valuable advice to authors:

As a former trade bookseller and book sales representative with twenty years experience, I would like to add the booksellers’ perspective on how to promote your book.

Help but do not push your local booksellers to sell your book. Let’s face it; nice paper books are a technology that some people are going to like for a long time. If you can capture that market too, even locally, it will get you ‘out there.’ If you prefer to read or publish digitally, keep in mind that there is still a market out there for nice cozy paper between boards . . . And digital authors can learn a few lessons from the business formerly known as the book trade. Goodwill (as Dr. Garte mentioned in many places in his blog article) and gently supplying concise, useful information about yourself and your book are your best (I was going to say “weapons,” but let’s tone down the adversarial and go with) strategies. Think of everyone online as potential customers, and bookstores and booksellers as your business partners, and they will be more likely to go to work for you.

Persistence pays off eventually. There is that famous proverb quoted by Oprah that ‘luck is when opportunity meets preparation.’ Frank McCourt remarked that he knew he was exceptionally lucky when Angela’s Ashes became a hit. It was a moment he had been preparing for all of his life, from trying out his stories on his students and writing all of his life. Successful authors are exceptionally hardworking and exceptionally personable.

ALWAYS be pleasant, and do not be pushy. Bookstore people have a lot of work to do, and unless or sometimes even if they own the store, they are not hugely compensated. They are bombarded with requests to put self-published books on consignment, many of which are of questionable quality. Keep in mind that they work retail, which requires infinite patience, a strong back, feet of iron, a keen intellect and a very good memory. All of which means, they will remember if you act out.

Don’t assume that because someone works in marketing or in a bookstore that they are not well read. I have a friend who is a retired Shakespeare professor emeritus who happens to work part-time a big chain bookstore. The bookosphere is peopled by lots of people with extensive literary knowledge. Don’t be afraid of them! They love books and words just as much as you do. It is ultimately a very rewarding business, whether or not you make money at it. Being a successful author is a full-time job, and promoting yourself, whether online or in person, is a second full-time job. Authoring is a public enterprise-if you are writing for the public, take the time to make your book the best it can be-get it edited by someone else with expertise, and then get a second opinion, even before you go to a publisher. Quality sells. There is too much competition out there in all channels-and other people are willing to help.

Even if you are a bestselling author, any bad or condescending behavior on your part will not sell your book. This also goes with book signings. Don’t pull a tantrum if no one shows up for your signing. That could be your own fault. But even the best-planned events sometimes don’t draw enough people. It may have just been bad timing. Live and learn. If you are lucky enough to get a signing event, invite everyone you know. Be ready to help the bookseller have a reasonable quantity of your book. Graciousness under pressure will endear you to the bookseller as well as the general public. When you appear in a public forum, keep your opinions low key and test the water carefully before offering up any criticisms. Remember, you want booksellers and other people in general to remember how nice, intelligent and interesting you are so that they will recommend you to other people. Any ill will or petty gossip in their direction can sabotage your whole effort.

One bestselling author said he would sign his name on the back of people’s hands if that would make them happy. Say or ask something personal about each person who brings a book to you to be signed. Stay a little longer if the line is long, and make an effort to talk to anyone who is interested in your book, even if they are pretending! Be friendly and comment pleasantly to as many people as you can who show interest in your work on sites like Facebook. A nationally known author once friended me because I said something nice about his or her book on the FB fan page, and now I have bought the earlier books and tell all of my friends and students that they ought to read this author.

As far as the booksellers are concerned, they cannot always give one author more attention than any other, and everyone wants their attention. Being a pest will not do you much good either. You want word of mouth buzz . . .  make it always positive and you will go far!

Being a nuisance is not a good way to promote yourself.

Information is key. Talk up your book to booksellers, but be brief (they have thousands of other books to worry about). Don’t pester them to buy more of your book if a few copies sell. Gentle reminders, maybe a nice email or note, but don’t demand. They have to make minimum orders. And if they have had two copies of your book for six weeks, they are unlikely to get more. And maybe they are not in charge of the budgeting.

It is your job to get out there on the web and in public and sell your ideas and the book that goes with them — then maybe then your book will start appearing in larger numbers on shelves and will get ordered online and reordered too! Keep in mind that you have to be very persistent. John Grisham’s first novel was published by a small publisher, but he kept working to promote himself and sending his next book out to bigger publishers. Having a second book ready before you launch is not a bad idea. But all of this takes a lot of determination, energy and patience, but it can pay off.

46 Responses to “A Bookseller’s Perspective on How to Promote Your Book”

  1. T. L. Cooper Says:

    Thanks for providing this wonderful information in a clear and concise way. Many times authors become frustrated because they simply don’t understand the reasons behind the decisions.
    Very nicely done!

  2. Lisa Marie Wilkinson Says:

    This is wonderful insight! Thank you.

  3. Jessa Slade Says:

    Be courteous, helpful, kind, and brush your teeth 🙂 This is all good advice, for all business people. And non-business people too. Thanks for the reminders.

  4. A. F. Stewart Says:

    Some sound advice; I think you summed it up well with this sentence: “Being a nuisance is not a good way to promote yourself.”

  5. Dianne G Sagan Says:

    My first book was just released in mid-January, Rebekah Redeemed, published by Buoy Up Press (an imprint of awoc.com publishing). This is timely and good advice for me. Thank you.

  6. Saoirse Redgrave Says:

    Michelle (and Pat),

    Very good advice from someone who has an often overlooked role in the publishing business. I agree very strongly that marketing must be an important part of every aspiring author’s job. We must reach out (and then be thankful) to people putting their money behind our words and remember booksellers risk as much budgeting for our books as we do going to events they support. It’s a two-way street and we all become much stronger by working together.

    Wonderful info!

  7. Pat Bertram Says:

    Thank you, Michelle for this wonderful article. And thank you for letting me post it. In the push to publicize our books, we often forget the other side of the equation — the bookseller’s side. As Saoirse says, we all become stronger by working together.

  8. Ann Charles Says:

    “Graciousness under pressure will endear you to the bookseller as well as the general public.”
    So much wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Kat Sheridan Says:

    Excellent article, Michelle (and Pat!), and outstanding advice. Mama alway said you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That’s true in just about every aspect of life. I’m definately more inclined to help the nice person!

  10. Dawn Says:

    Thank you for posting some oft-remembered advice: be nice, it’s the smile that people remember most.

    It’s nice to know that kindness still sells books!

  11. Brenda Gurung Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I myself have been in the book business 12 years and have a passion for building community (that is, effective marketing). This and similar subjects are covered in my blog: bgurung.blogspot.com.

    Would love to see a plug for Christina Katz’s Get Known Before the Book Deal – great for building a platform.

  12. knightofswords Says:

    The first couple of times I walked into a bookstore, I bought books. It seemed only reasonable, plus I found some good stuff to read. Didn’t mention that I had a book. Later, the store owner contacted me.

    I like your advice here a lot. It fits with the reality of retail: those people are there serving customers and even if they don’t have a “no soliciting” sign in the window, they’re not always open to it — especially if one acts rude.


  13. Justina Chen Headley Says:

    Fantastic advice. I completely agree that nice goes far in this business. This applies to the booksellers as well. I will always champion the bookstores that have been kind to me–like the book buyer who sent me a congrats-on-your-new-book present. (Thank you, Anderson’s Bookshop in Chicago for today’s giftie!)

  14. Anjali Banerjee Says:

    Thank you for your valuable advice. I’ll certainly use it when I’m out promoting my books. I appreciate your time and your help.

  15. Little Willow Says:

    Applause and agreement, from one bookseller to another.

  16. Jean Reidy Says:

    Thanks for the terrific advice. Just went to a signing tonight and took notes.

  17. Lara Lee Says:

    Since I love to read, I know the people at the bookstores here pretty well. I think that being a good customer probably helps a lot. Thanks for an interesting post.

  18. Fran M. Says:

    I’d like some advice. Do you think it’s advisable to send a notification of my new children’s book to the facebook sites of bookstores? Or will they think this is not great?

  19. Deb Lund Says:

    A little common sense and courtesy make such a difference. Your insights will help authors and others see from a bookseller’s perspective. Thanks for all you do for all of us in this amazing world of books.

  20. Therese Kinkaide Says:

    This is timely advice for me, as my first book was released last November. There is a new independent bookstore in my town, and the owners have been very helpful with promotion for all local authors. I agree that a pleasant approach fosters a good, mutually beneficial relationship.

  21. Mona Malhotra Says:

    Hey! this is great. Any advive for a poet.

  22. Mona Malhotra Says:

    sorry that was : any advice for a Poet. Thanking you for your reply in advance.

  23. Sandy Says:

    Great article, Michelle. I agree that promoting your books is a full-time job.

  24. Sara Reyes Says:

    and for goodness sake be nice to the readers even if they don’t buy your book today. You never know what they are thinking and if they’ll be back.

    Supporting readers who come out time and time again to book signings even if they can’t buy a book each time should be appreciated.

  25. D. B. Pacini Says:

    Michelle Maycok has given us excellent advice. My youth/YA fantasy novel, THE LOOSE END OF THE RAINBOW, is being published in a few weeks. I agree that an author must never be pushy or demanding with bookstore owners or bookstore staff. Also, going the extra mile is critical. Stay and talk with all people that have come to talk with you at a book signing.

    I’ve been “courting” several bookstore owners and bookstore staff members for more than a year. I’ve emailed them short updates about securing art and about finally securing a publisher for my novel. I take time to review their store websites. On one website I learned that a bookstore owner sponsors a children’s reading charity each Christmas. She has a “giving tree program” in her store where customers can buy books for this project. She also personally donates books. I went to her store last November, introduced myself, ordered two copies of one of my favorite children’s books, and arranged for them to be given to the children.

    I drop by and introduce myself to bookstore staff when I’m in their area. Some of these busy people didn’t give me much interest initially. Now that a year has passed I’m an author they personally “know” because I’ve been consistent with polite communication.

    We are all busy. I know most of you have limited time. I have limited time too. I read websites a few minutes 2-3 times a week. I send a few “update” emails a month. I visit bookstores (and hand out a one page “update” flyer about my novel) whenever I happen to be near a specific bookstore. I do a lot of little things that add up.

    Best wishes to you all with your endeavors. Pat, thanks again for providing a great voice for us to hear. Michelle Maycok is on target and fantastic.

  26. Leann Sweeney Says:

    This is great advice for any writer, whether you are independently published or not. Thanks for sharing!

    Leann Sweeney

  27. Tracey Says:

    Well said. Thank you. I especially like how you remind authors that there are still those of us out here who are paper junkies. I love my books and will never trade them for anything.

  28. christinehusom Says:

    Thanks for all the great and helpful advice, Michelle! And thanks for getting another wonderful article posted, Pat. It is difficult to take that plunge–go into a store and ask if they are interested in your book. But the worst thing they will say–“no”. Bookstore people do love books and if they choose to carry yours, it is a great thing!

  29. Mairead Walpole Says:

    Michelle & Pat, As a new author (my first novel “A Love Out of Time” just became available on amazon.com and my publisher’s website http://www.secondwindpublishing.com) – the advice comes at the perfect time for me to put your words of wisdom to work! Thank you for taking the time to post this excellent article.

  30. Camille Amy Says:

    Thanks for the pointers on marketing. I am out visiting book sellers and will keep in mind your ideas.

  31. kat magendie Says:

    I have bookmarked this page to read! Especially with my own book coming out soon. Thank you!

  32. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    Michelle. I’ve been in the promotion/marketing/publicity business for twenty years. You make some excellent points here. “Think of everyone online as potential customers, and bookstores and booksellers as your business partners, and they will be more likely to go to work for you.” I’ve found this is be so.

    I would add, it cost you nothing to be gracious and personable. As an author you are selling not only your book, but yourself, every time you are in public. I’ve found sending a thank you note, regardless of how the ‘event’ you’re doing goes. Good manners and graciousness.

    “It is your job to get out there on the web and in public and sell your ideas and the book that goes with them” This absolutely true and a good reminder to all authors.

    Thanks for the lovely article.

  33. The Path of the Bookseller : Bookselling Links from Germany, Mumbai, England, and other realms Says:

    […] As a follow-up to that post, another guest blogger, Michelle Maycock, posts A Bookseller’s Perspective on How to Promote Your Book. […]

  34. katherine Says:

    Thanks for the great info. Where can I find a list of, or link to distributors who rep indie pubs/authors?

  35. James Rafferty Says:

    Michelle, thanks for the practical advice. The bookseller’s view is often not well represented in writers’ discussions, so it’s good to see that shortcoming addressed here.

  36. Sharon Reece Says:

    Great advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. You’ve reminded me of my market right in my home town! Thanks for the advice and the ideas.


  37. Jenny Woolf Says:

    Great information. I wonder though if it is worth promoting your book on Myspace. Who uses it, its so clunky. I would really like to hear from anyone who has found Myspace useful and how they reached out to others on it.

  38. Daryl Wood Gerber Says:

    Thanks for your great advice. You made some excellent points. Above all, be professional, kind, courteous, and let your talent shine through your words. Lovely.

  39. Dr. Shibley Rahman Says:

    I found Michelle’s advice very astute. A week ago, I joined a “I’m having a Basil Fawlty moment again” group on Facebook. Basil Fawlty used to kick walls, bang his head against a wall and hit cards with a branch, when fed up and angry. A week ago, I was feeling despondent. Out of the blue, an acceptance e-mail arrived yesterday. I think a bit of “reverse psychology” helps, in that if you badger somebody about your book, they simply think that you are desperate. I wish my fellow authors best wishes for their journeys. It’s a cruel world out there! But it’s worth persevering!!

  40. GABixler Says:

    This is a great entry! Thank you! I appreciate the specifics regarding how to relate to the personnel. You don’t know how many times I’ve been told it’s not “worth my time” by authors…I’d like to give them a good whack in the head (wouldn’t have said that until I started to watch NCIS, maybe too much?) Anyway…I think every author should strive for home town exposure…just in the manner you suggest!

  41. amydetrempe Says:

    Thank you for a great article and excellent advice.

  42. DarleneW Says:

    I have been entering many contests lately and plan to enter more, but I stay and listen to what is being said along the way. I want to thank you both for taking the time to share with us/me. I am very new and only starting out and I am quickly realizing the major uphill battle I will have to not exactly fight, more like obsticles meant to be conquered and I feel posts like these can be the differance between stopping dead in my tracks or finding a path to continue my climb on the way. Sorry if that sounds corny and makes no sense… but thank you…

  43. Nancy Says:

    Thanks so much for this fantastic post!

  44. joylene Says:

    Thank you, Michelle, for the sound advice. I’ve been worrying lately because my 6-months are up. I have a virtual book tour coming up, a signing, and a small tour in Kelowna. It’s surprising how many readers don’t know about the 3-month shelf-life.

  45. Karen Dales Says:

    Thank you very much for posting this. Though it seems like common sense, it is nice to read it and be reminded.

    With my debut novel set to be released this Summer, I find that the information her is invaluable. I look forward to more informative blogs.

    Thank you

    Karen Dales

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