We drove 300 miles in the rain from our home in Montclair, New Jersey to a bookstore in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside DC. We had our freshly pressed clothes hanging in the car, and a box full of books in the trunk. Our first event. I had a bad feeling. In fact I bet Arielle a dollar that there would be less than 20 people in the audience. Still, tingling with excitement, we entered this emporium of books. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the manager didn’t even know an event was scheduled that night. And they only had 3 copies of our books in the store. Their website had two different times for our event. As far as I can tell, they did absolutely no promotion of this event, didn’t try to reach out to the tens of thousands of writers in the area who are our audience. I had to give myself a timeout before I exploded. But even though it was my worst nightmare realized, I was the model of restraint. I smiled and made nice with everyone as I recalled the first stop on our first tour where there were only 2–yes 2–people at the event. One was a mom with three kids running around the store that she had to chase throughout our workshop. The other was an angry drunk man writing a memoir about his horrible father. Sorry, I digress. Turns out this was a huge lesson for me. Trust your own instincts. I KNEW this was the wrong thing to do, but I caved in and did not follow my own instincts. I shall endeavor never to make this mistake again. Sure enough, five people showed up, and two of those were friends of ours. It was an embarrassment. We, the publishing experts draw five people. I was livid. Filled with a furious rage. I must say though that the manager of the bookstore was very gracious and apologized publicly, which made me feel a little better. And our next event is in Pittsburgh, @ Joseph Beth. I just read this morning that the store where we’re performing has been selected for extermination @ the end of the month. They are a walking dead bookstore.
That being said, it was a really fun event. We heard three fantastic pitches. I should explain that our event is called Pitchapalooza. It’s like American Idol for books. Each writer in the audience gets one minute to pitch their book to a panel of experts. Arielle and I are two of the experts, and we have a couple of panelists. One of our guest panelists was a very charming, witty and knowledgeable fellow named Alan Fallow, who is the Features Editor at AARP Magazine. And a long-time publishing veteran. He just could not have been any smarter or nicer. And the other guest publicist was our publicist, Bethanne Patrick, who has read more books than anyone we know. She was able to come up with perfect comparison titles for our three pitchees. The winner, Lisa Lipkind Leibow, gave a great pitch about Iranian women and culture. And everyone who was in attendance, all five of them at any rate, got in-depth expertise about the books they were pitching, and about the publishing business in general. It was actually great fun to do. But we traveled 300 miles to sell three books. That’s 100 miles a book. Something seems very wrong with that. Still, I try to take joy even from these adverse conditions. But it’s a terrible thing to bet against yourself, then win. Valuable lessons were learned. Always trust your instincts. And always bring a box of books.
On the road. Again. Yes, we’ve just taken off to begin our book tour. After all the flight arrangements, rental car machinations, hotel bookings, Facebook event announcements, dry cleaning, haircuts, prepping, packing, and panicking, we are finally embarking on our odyssey, like Odysseus before us. Only instead of Trojan horses, soul sucking sirens and a gigantic cyclops, we will be going up against book critics, baby booming bloggers, and publishing industry at large which is like a leaky rowboat barely staying afloat in the Sea of Recession. But we are brimming with excitement, visions of a rabid readers and writers, the delighted bright eyed booksellers and packed Pitchapaloozas with books flying off shelves dancing in our heads. Plus, we have a lovely and talented three-year-old daughter Olive with us. See you soon, America!
Come pitch your book ideas to us at Books and Company in Dayton on November 9th at 7PM
The Book Doctors are going to be in town to listen to your book proposals.
Here’s a great pitch from the winner of our St. Louis Pitchapalooza, about being a fat bald white guy.
Thanks to our amazing publisher Workman for throwing us some big love.
Robert Gray–Shelf-Awareness columnist, writer, and former bookseller–moderated a panel called “Getting Your Book into Print”, on which Arielle sat at the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association convention last month. Robert had so many interesting things to say about the business that we tracked him down afterwards and interviewed him. Having been at the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont (one of American’s best bookstores) for years, Robert had much to say about how authors should approach independents. And perhaps even more to say about how they should not! We’ve gathered seven essential dos and don’ts here.
Before we get to his list, we wanted to share something Robert said that we love and have used many times since: “Bookstores are the last three feet of the publishing business, the place where the industry and the real world meet.” Bookstores are the rare place where you have access to industry professionals without a connection or having to pay large sums of money. You can’t just call up or pay a visit to an agent, publisher or editor. But you can do this with a bookseller. That’s why it’s incumbent upon authors to consider bookstores sacred spaces and booksellers sacred resources!
And now to the list…
1. Don’t walk blindly into a store. Secretly explore it first.
2. Check out the “staff pick” cards to find a friend–the person who reads the kind of book you’re writing. This person may or may not be a buyer. Then find out when they’re working and start up a conversation about what they’re reading.
3. Whoever you’re talking to at a bookstore, always create a conversation, not a pitch. Booksellers are resistant to pitches.
4. NEVER SAY: Why don’t you have my book?!
5. Booksellers are the most under-appreciated and underpaid people in the industry. They’re expected to have graduate level reading experience at retail salaries. That’s why you must show RESPECT when you approach a bookseller. To receive respect, you must give it!
6. Never go into a bookstore on a Saturday afternoon (and even worse, a Saturday afternoon before Christmas) to hawk your book or get advice from booksellers.
7. Most buyers are not around on Saturdays, often not on Friday either. The exception here is if you’re approaching a very small store where everyone does everything. Ask for the buyer’s email address and try to make an appointment with the buyer. Be a professional.
And here’s one last piece of wisdom from Robert that we didn’t want to lose: You may not realize this, but booksellers, much like writers, are constantly dealing with rejection. Your job as an independent bookseller is to hand sell and create a conversation with customers, i.e. to talk people into buying a book (or, even better, multiple books). Booksellers spend their days pitching books to customers with their hearts and souls and get rejected all the time.