Talking to Booksellers: Interview with Hannah Walcher of NYMB
Hi, all! I’m so excited to share a special guest interview with the awesome, Hannah Walcher, of Books Inc. (which was recently chosen as PWs Bookstore of the Year). Hannah is the event coordinator for Not Your Mother’s Book Club—Books Inc.'s Young Adult Author Salon.
Hannah Walcher with Stacey Lee
I recently met Hannah at Stacey Lee’s launch party for Outrun the Moon. Hannah puts together amazing events, so Stacey and I thought it might be helpful for everyone if we asked Hannah some questions about talking to and working with independent booksellers.
Stephanie: Authors are often told it’s a good idea to introduce themselves to booksellers. I’ve only attempted this twice, and both times I felt as if I could have done a better job. So I’d love to hear any advice or tips on the best way for authors to approach bookstores about their books?
Hannah: I think a lot of people feel weird talking about ourselves. Networking can be awful! Especially if you’re new to it. So, Books Inc.’s advice to the debut authors or the authors who weren’t published traditionally, is to:
First, do your research. Before you even call a bookstore, become familiar with standard trade practices and terms like consignment, standard trade discounts, what and who distributors are, returnability, etc. Knowing who distributes your book is really important. Is it your publisher, a wholesaler, you? Know what the discount is for your book. If you are personally distributing your book, you should have a discount set before talking to the bookstore. I know this seems daunting, but stick with me! It gets a bit easier from here.
On the same vein of research, know what store is best for you. For Books Inc., we have multiple stores, so which is best for you? (This is for both events and for stocking books, by the way.) For example, if you are looking to do an event for your book that is the history of Berkeley, you’re not necessarily going to ask our store in Palo Alto to host you. You’re going to want that additional pull of local attraction. Definitely approach your local store.
Once you’ve narrowed that down, check to see if the store you want to carry your book has a consignment program. This is especially important for people who are distributing their own book and/ or don’t have a traditional publisher backing them up. Most stores have a policy. For Books Inc., you can find it here on our website. After you’ve reviewed the store’s policy and have decided that you are good with it, then you should call the store. Ask if there’s an event coordinator or if the manager handles events and get their contact information so you can email them. In this email, introduce yourself, clearly state what you’re looking to accomplish with the email, and include the information about your book. This allows the bookseller to do a bit of research and it could also cut out any face to face interaction if that’s something that intimidates you. It’s also a good idea to mention that you’ve already reviewed the consignment policy!
If you just happen to stop by and the inspiration strikes, keep it short and simple. Just say you’re a soon-to-be author getting ready to promote your book. Then offer to send the right person an email with more information.
Now I’m going to give some advice depending on what you’re asking the bookstore to do for you.
If you want a bookstore to carry your book, keep in mind stores have limited space so you need to have a good reason for them to carry your book. Sadly, we can’t stock everything:
Have selling points ready. Why is your book a good fit for this particular store?
Again, know who distributes it and at what discount.
If you are looking to do an event, you are not just selling your book, you’re selling your credentials too.
How many people can you get to come to this event? How many books can YOU sell?
Do you have a good social media platform? Will you be able to help with promotions of the event?
Mention if you have any special offers/promotions going on or if you’re willing to start one.
Basically, you need to make a case for the bookstore to sell your book and/or host your event.
Stacey: Conversely, what are some of the worst ways to approach a bookseller about one’s book?
Hannah: I’m going to approach this as things you shouldn’t do:
Never corner a bookseller. Nobody likes that. It’s good to start at the front desk (where the registers are) or at the info desk if they have one and ask who to talk to.
If your book is already on the shelf, don’t approach a bookseller thinking that they know who you are. Even the best of us can’t remember all the books and authors we have on our shelves.
If the person that you need to talk to isn’t there, it’s ok to leave your information , but don’t forget to get their contact info so you can follow up. Sometimes messages get lost.
If you’re dropping by unexpectedly, don’t keep the manager or event person talking for too long. Keep it short.
Don’t be insulted by no. No means it’s not right for our store not an insult to you or the book.
This may be obvious, but never be rude and or insulting to a bookseller. It happens and it ends relationships quickly.
Stephanie: How far in advance do you suggest authors plan their events?
Hannah: At least a month, two if possible. It’s always better to have more time to advertise events. Plus it gives the bookseller/ buyers plenty of time to order the correct amount of books.
Stacey: I’ve been to some really creative launches and signings. What have been some of your favorite bookstore events, and what do you think made them special?
Hannah: Launch parties are always fun! Local author events, like yours Stacey, are great because they bring their friends and family on top of the normal crowds that come to our events. It’s always so great to see the excitement on the author’s face and the pride of their loved ones!
Events that offer giveaways (Again like Stacey, DOING THINGS RIGHT!) or have interactive components are always crowd favorites. We did one event, just before I took over NYMBC, where the readers were invited to write on a poster board a week before the event, what the book meant to them. Super sweet. And if it’s a themed event, costumes are always a great idea too! Basically, anything that gets the readers more involved than listening and asking questions seems to be a favorite, not that the traditional style of author events aren’t special either.
From the Outrun the Moon book launch at Books Inc (From left: Stephanie Garber, Alexandra Sirowy, Sonya Mukherjee, Stacey Lee, Tara Sim)
Stephanie: Along those same lines, when it comes to signings and in-store events what are some unusual formats you’ve seen, and did they work or not?
Hannah: Hmmm this is a tough one. I’ve had author and illustrator pairs sign together where the illustrator did mini-portraits of the people getting their books signed! That was Shannon and Dean Hale with LeUyen Pham for Princess in Black. LeUyen was doing illustrations and the Hales were just signing. It was super fun and unique for the readers, but it did slow the line down quite a bit. You just have to be prepared for that. One really successful tip for large signing lines, like the one we had for Marissa Meyer last winter, is to group the guests with numbers or letters. For example, we had a 200 person, ticketed event for Marissa Meyer. So with their books, each guest was given a letter ad each of those letters were grouped in tens. This allowed the people waiting to have their books signed a bit of freedom. They could sit and relax, eat food, take pictures, or mingle while they waited. Then we’d call the letter up when it was ready for them to get their books signed.
Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham
Crowd at Marissa Meyer signing
Stacey: I think most authors have heard horror stories about singings where no one shows up. So, we’d love to hear about some of your most successful events, and why you think they succeeded?
Hannah: Another hard one! Let me just say, there is no perfect formula for a successful events. Sometimes we’d schedule an event we felt would draw lots of people and we did all of our traditional advertising, and then the Warriors made it into the play offs…
But I’m going to go back to the book launches. Friends and family are a great asset. Booksellers can only do so much, so we really really really need the author’s support too. Even the newest author can have a great turn out if they talk about it. If you’re on twitter, tweet about it… all the time. If you’re on facebook, talk it up. Email your friends and family!
There are two events that pop into my head immediately when you ask about “successful events” and surprisingly they’re not the David Levithan events (though those are always great and we’re forever grateful to him), but local author book launches! I’m not just saying this because you’re asking me the question, but Stacey, you and fellow local author Constance Cooper (Guile) had two of my favorite events this year, and it’s mostly because of the wonderful support of your families! Your friends and family packed the house! It’s always fun to see everyone so excited for the author. The enthusiasm for both these events was tangible. It definitely makes the event coordinator and bookseller proud to host an event. Sometimes it does feel like we’re just there to keep things moving, but honestly, that’s the truth. Everyone is there to see the author, not us.
Stephanie: I’m actually borrowing this question from an interview I did with Hannah: What book are you currently reading and/or what is your current book obsession?
Hannah: Oh man. I just finished reading The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, set to come out this September. SO GOOD. It’s everything I love in a book, a bit of a mystery, adventure, great characters, and a tiny bit of romance! I can’t talk too much about it because I don’t want to ruin it. But I highly recommend it for those who like Science Fiction/ Fantasy. Also, I’m obsessed with Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood. An alternate history of WWII with a science fiction twists! Very entertaining. Will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat and up late into the night.
Stacey: Any final tips or words you would like to share?
Hannah: Make friends with your local bookstore. If you’re in the process of writing a book, you should spend as much time in your store as possible. Talk to the booksellers about their favorite books, engage them about anything! Then, when your book is due to be published, start talking to them about how excited you are and that you would love to talk to them about events and things as everything progresses. Start slow. Create a good relationship with your booksellers and most likely, they’ll go out of the way to help and make you happy!
Stephanie: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Hannah!
A little more about Hannah:
Nicola Yoon, Hannah Walcher, Connie, and David Levithan
Hannah Walcher is starting her third year with Books Inc.. She began as a bookseller in their Burlingame store but now runs their Young Adult author event salon, Not Your Mother’s Book Club (NYMBC). She probably spends too much time on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter, but it’s for work, so it’s ok. When she’s not working, she’s either reading at her local Starbucks or in the middle of a sewing project. She has her Masters in Publishing. You can reach Hannah and witness her strong “gif game” over on Twitter @nymbc .