Friday, April 2, 2010

Top 5 Things Authors do to Piss Off Booksellers

Top 5 Things Authors do to Piss Off Booksellers

Before I was an author I spent many years as a bookseller.

What authors don’t realise is that, unless they are a big name, booksellers are just about their most important customer. It is the individual bookseller who ultimately makes the really big decisions about how many copies of your book they will order, where they will place it in the store, how much they will promote and hand-sell it, and whether or not they will continue to keep it in stock as a backlist item after the book’s initial release.

But most authors treat booksellers with contempt and frequently establish a hostile relationship with them. When I was a bookseller I would often be subjected to a tirade from some C-list (and sometimes from A-list ones, but they can normally get away with it) author, and you can bet the tales of his/her arrogance and repulsiveness would spread like wildfire through the industry.

Authors need to cultivate the best possible relationship with booksellers – all booksellers. You need them. They don’t need you. Ponder that power imbalance for a while before you next decide to whine at one.

So, for the benefit of new, or even established, authors, allow me to present to you the Top 5 things that authors do to piss off booksellers:

1. Whine about your book not being in stock: It’s not your business, and they are under no obligation to stock your book, no matter how brilliant you might think it is. There are all kinds of reasons you might not be able to see your book on their shelves – not least of which being that it might have just sold out and they are about to order 10 more because they love it so much. If they really are not stocking your book, respect their choice, and try to think of a way to charm/convince them into believing that they should. Send them a reading copy. Introduce yourself, give them a flier about your book and tell them that you love their shop and want to be able to send locals to it.

2. Whine about your book not being in a prominent position: This is a remarkably common occurrence. The author of some obscure book comes in and complains that their book isn’t displayed on the front counter, or in a huge pile at the front next to the Twilight books. I remember once a really horrible woman came and did this to me when I was just starting out in the trade. I looked her book up on the inventory system and in the notes field it said “Small, dull purple book. Author is an absolute bitch.” A year later I was backlist buyer, and when this same book came up on my list to re-order I took great pleasure in changing its status to “Customer Order Only.”

3. Whine about not having enough stock of your book: Most bookstores carry an enormous quantity of books – tens of thousands of different titles in some cases. For the most part this stock is managed by sophisticated and complicated electronic inventory systems, backed up by literate and experienced buyers who know their customers well. If there’s only one copy of your book in stock there’s normally a really good reason for it. If you want that to change, then pull your finger out and get promoting your book using any means possible. Don’t blame the bookseller. On the other hand, I was working one day when a very friendly and charming American woman came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Robin Norwood, author of Women Who Love too Much. I just wanted to tell you what a beautiful store you have – I have been in here for hours!” I thanked her and told her that we had some of her books in stock. “You keep my books!" she cried. “Why, that’s a real honour. Thank you so much.” A very classy lady. For the rest of my buying career I always kept face-out quantities of Robin Norwood books in stock.

4. Make a big fuss about holding a reading/signing/other event and then have no-one turn up: Yes, I know it is a bookseller’s responsibility to promote such events, but I have seen too often a new or unknown author harass a bookseller into hosting an event for them. Then the author does absolutely nothing to promote it, brings along no-one, and the whole thing becomes a dismal flop and a waste of time. If you are starting out and someone is kind enough to host an event for you, you really do have an obligation to lean on your friends, family, cheerleading crew etc. to come along to these events and make them a success. This is just really basic stuff.

5. Be rude to/harass counter staff in your quest to get to the buyer/manager/owner: There is no small fry in the world of bookselling. Those people out front are the very same ones who are going to be recommending your book, pointing it out to shoppers, talking about it, and asking the buyers why the hell it’s not in stock because they could have sold a dozen copies of it yesterday. You NEED those people on your side. In the same vein, if you are lucky enough to have a reading/signing or other event at a bookstore, treat all the staff with courtesy and regard. The people who serve at the counters and stack the shelves at bookstores tend to be among the most educated, creative and intelligent in the world, and most of them are gonna be someone someday soon. You can’t afford to appear arrogant or contemptuous to anyone in a bookstore – they might be publishing your next book in a couple of years time.


  1. Great points, and something that both authors and booksellers should read.

    Of course, while I agree with your points here (as both an author and a bookseller), I think that the relationship between author and bookseller can be more of a symbiotic one. I'd argue that authors need booksellers and booksellers need authors, and together they both have much to gain by cooperating with one another.

  2. As a bookseller I'd argue that Mark misses the point

  3. Great post Walter


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