Picturing the curled lip or dismissive gaze of a book store manager can stop even the boldest author from approaching, even if the outlet isn’t a well-known national chain. Relax, says Lee LaForge, nine-year manager of Book World in Marquette, Michigan. “We need more books!”
The family-owned chain had 20 stores when Lee started and is currently approaching 50 in locations around Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota. Its largest store, complete with café featuring the local brew (coffee, that is), is in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Book World welcomes “consignment authors” with a local connection. That could mean your book is about the area – or it could simply mean that you’re from the area.
“I’d like to see more,” says Lee, who appreciates the freedom given local stores to bring in titles and create sections targeted to customer requests. In Marquette, books by regional authors used to be shelved in the appropriate genre or category, from romance to history to gardening. But Lee noticed many customers were asking for everything and anything from local authors. So these days his consignment section in the store at the center of the city’s lively, artsy downtown district takes front-and-center pride of place. “When tourists come in it’s the first thing they walk to,” he says. It’s helpful to include your local connection in jacket or back-cover copy that buyers will immediately spot.
Approaching authors with viable books will likely find a warm reception at all regional and local Book Worlds if – and only if – they use a courteous, individualized approach that’s respectful of staff’s time and other constraints, says Lee. In Marquette’s case, “we have a staff of five and we’re open from 9 to 9,” so it’s best call to make an appointment. Ask nicely for a few minutes of the manager’s time, at his or her convenience. When following up, be equally respectful of the valuable time that staff needs to spend with customers. And don’t assume e-mail contact will be a given. Most stores are coming current with technology, but not all Book Worlds were functioning with complete internet connectivity in May 2014.
When you bring in a book for proposed distribution, don’t expect a snap decision, Lee advises, chuckling over the author of a several-hundred page novel who called him a couple of days after dropping off the book to get a reaction. Bring in an abstract that sums up your book to speed up the decision process and also as a sales tool that helps staff tell customers about your book.
What’s hot this summer: Nature, history and coffee-table books are flying off the shelves, says Lee, including Copper Harbor-based photographer Steve Brimm’s “Spirit of Place” showcasing the Upper Peninsula. (http://www.brimmages.com/BOOK/infopage.html)
Photographers, photojournalists and historians listen up: Very specific regional books in these categories are very, very welcome. “Photo books tied to the area sell well,” says Lee. “Anything U.P. moves like wildfire.”
Travel guides are also popular, especially those that zero in on specific venues from rock climbing to off-road trails.
Book Signing Dos and Don’ts: Book World is open to these classic events but realistically he sees “maybe one good one a year.” Book signings are an acquired skill, apparently, and as Lee says “there should be a class,” with “Two Men 10 Suns” author Jeff Foltz teaching it. (http://jefffoltzauthor.com) Foltz engages with customers and works the crowd rather than sitting at a table waiting for supplicants to approach. Be “bright and shiny,” says Lee. “Dialogue with your potential customers.”
Book World doesn’t advertise, the theory being that the manager and employees are the advertiser for the store and that word of mouth remains the top marketing tool in all the communities they serve.
Here, too, is a lesson for authors. Providing your local bookstore with an abstract, synopsis and any specific other information that they can share with shoppers enhances sales.
A word to authors with publishers: Yes, press releases are appreciated. But if they’re generic don’t expect more than a yawn, a la ho hum here’s another Debbie Macomber. Stopping in to visit stores that carry your book, looking to see how stock is, getting to know staff and manager and generally being helpful by providing info about your book can boost sales volumes that can move you from “consignment” to “stock” author.
Book World has its own distribution arm, BPD Inc. (Badger Publication and Distribution Inc.)
Bottom Line: Book World’s current consignment procedure calls for a 90-day contract with a 60/40 author-store split. Authors set price, but Lee says he’ll run the numbers with them to find that sweet spot where everyone profits, with price range based on quality. You are your own best arbiter of price, he says. “As long as you think it’s reasonable, other people will think it’s reasonable.”
The formula can be a bit trickier with authors working through distribution companies including Baker & Taylor (http://www.btol.com/) and Partners (http://partnerspublishersgroup.com/). Book World doesn’t use Ingram, another well-known distributor (http://www.ingramcontent.com/pages/home.aspx).
Some authors “eliminate the middle man” by securing and bringing in their own copies for restocking, says Lee.
Unexpected marketing suggestion: Consider offering hardcover and paperback versions of your book. Lee says the hardcovers add that special touch for gift giving, while softcovers are more economical.
Trending: Hard copies aren’t going out of style any time soon, even with younger generations. Lee reports that children want a break from their tablets or e-readers; if they’re using them for homework they are not associated with “fun.” “Kids want the book. Elementary kids want the real book!” he says.
Lee’s full talk, along with other spring conference features, is featured on the Upper Peninsula Publishers & Authors Association blog:
For more info on Book World outlets:
Have you approached your local and regional book store chains? What kind of response did you get? Any book signing or other tips you can share for selling your book in local book stores?