How to Survive in a Bookstore as an Author
I've worked in bookstores on and off for five years now. I started off at Barnes & Noble in 2009 before accepting a job at my favorite independent children's bookstore the fall of 2011 where I'm back working part-time. I've also been hanging with a lot of local New York authors who aren't sure about protocol with setting up launch parties, pitching panels, signing stock, etc.. so here's a post with how we've handled things in the stores I've worked at with the understanding that all stores - especially indies - operate differently. Okay, let's battle.
First, figure out who the go-to person for events and author care is. Sometimes it's an events manager, events coordinator, special projects manager, the owner, a bookseller with extra responsibility, whatever the title, this is the person you're going to be harassing/befriending. Helpful Person can assist with planning any events you want to put together and will also keep you in mind for any panels the bookstore is putting together on their end. If you have a publicist, they can also coordinate all this for you, but sometimes it's just easier if they're CC'ed and chime in at all the right times.
Bookstores love hosting launch parties, especially for local authors who can usually guarantee a great turnout and excited family members who will each buy ten copies for their neighbor, doctor, dentist, ex-wife, etc. New York authors (or authors launching in New York) are especially lucky because they benefit from their publishing team coming out to celebrate. Bookstores can plan events anywhere from a week to eight months so take the initiative to reach out to the bookstore to lock down the date yourself. It's rare that a bookstore will say no to hosting an author if they have staffing and an available evening, but if an author is turned away it might be because of too short a notice to order books or concern with getting an audience. Don't expect to the bookstore to draw in the crowd alone, definitely help promote it across all your platforms so everyone can make money. It's a business—a charming business, but a business. It costs money to bring it books and it costs money to return them.
Pretty much the same deal as above. If you're an out of towner, bookstores still want to host you! The only time they'll shy away is if you've already done an event with another store in the area that week or month. Getting readers to come back out can be difficult unless you're part of a group panel where there's an opportunity for you to be introduced to the fans of another panelist. Panels are awesome, by the way, especially if you have a theme. Feel free to pitch your Super Special Panel of Super Specialness to a bookstore with multiple available dates and times for all authors and the contact information of all your publicists.
Independent bookstores love taking pre-orders! Yes, they take pre-orders and can usually be done directly through the bookstore. You should also check out indiebound so we can continue to have awesome bookstores that carry our awesome books and host our awesome events. It's also a good opportunity to work with the bookstore to offer your readers a little extra something as incentive, like a poster of your book cover, special keychains and buttons, signed copies, etc. You or your publisher produce that swag and send it to the bookstore and the bookstore promotes it accordingly through their website, online platforms, and newsletters. (Trust me, I've seen a keychain boost sales, don't shrug it off.)
Are you only in town for a hot second but want to sign stock for a bookstore? Awesome! Let the bookstore know in advance (like at least a week or two) so they can order a sufficient amount of stock for you to sign. Don't let them know day of because they may only have three copies. Or zero. After you sign stock, be sure to direct interested customers to where you've signed stock so everyone (author, bookseller, customer) will be happy.
THANK YOU, BOOKSTORE!
Lastly, don't feel bad if you've never done this, but find a special way to say thank you. Thank You cards are so perfect and so are Thank You cupcakes. Even writing a little something extra in a bookseller's copy of your book goes a long way. And if you become a big name trying to figure out where to have your next launch party, be sure to remember the bookstore that took a chance on you before anyone knew who you were.
Okay, hope this helps! I'm sure I've missed stuff so feel free to ask me anything in the comments section. Happy Friday!