I love you. I do. I hadn’t planned on writing this and was, in fact, in the middle of writing something else when I realized I needed to get this off my chest. I had been reading a book I was enjoying and realized that I was probably judging it more kindly because I had met the author and found her delightful. And then I realized that the converse can be true and I needed to be honest with you; to lay all my cards on the table in the hope that, in doing so, I could make you realize how damaging your behavior can occasionally be. I feel as if we’ve had this conversation before, but either I’m mistaken or you just didn’t take my advice to heart. No matter. These things bear repeating. (And before you #notallauthors me, I know it’s not all authors, but it’s enough that someone needs to say something.) Please understand that I am coming from a place of love. I want you to succeed and you occasionally do things that get in the way of that success. I just want you to be aware of these things and to maybe stop yourselves from doing them.
- Don’t be shy. Or stealthy or coy or anything other than straightforward and friendly. If you come into a bookstore, hoping to see your book on the shelf and just skulk around or send someone else to inquire on your behalf, we usually figure it out and it doesn’t really make the best impression. Instead, take a moment to introduce yourself. Even if we don’t have your book in stock, we’re more likely to make an effort to change that. We’re also more likely to make mention of your visit on social media and talk about how nice you were, and that’s not a bad thing, is it?
- Don’t be pushy. By all means, advocate for your book, but recognize that if we say it’s not a good fit for our store, we’re not trying to be mean. It’s not personal. It really, truly is that your book is just not right for our store and the more you try insisting otherwise, the less likely we are to want to bring it in if circumstances change. An initial inquiry, a follow-up, and then a “thank you for your consideration” is really all you need. E-mail is best for this. Drop-ins and phone calls take time that we need for other tasks, like helping customers. E-mails allow us to respond when we have time. They also make things less awkward for everyone concerned.
- Offer to provide a sample. This is especially important if your book is heavily illustrated. If you need the sample back, let us know that and provide us with a means of getting it back to you at no cost to us. Bookstores operate on slim margins, and asking us to pay for postage to return your book to you just leaves a bad impression. We also get a lot of books for consideration, so letting us know that you need yours back means it won’t get shuffled into a pile and forgotten about. [Editor’s note: For many stores, it’s best if you can provide a link to a sample online instead of a physical sample. Have you ever seen the average back office of an independent bookstore? If we can’t find our own lunches, we don’t want to be responsible for returning unsolicited books. We don’t want your work to get lost.]
- Don’t expect us to go out of our way for you if you don’t reciprocate. At the very least, shop at our stores. But more, if you convince us to carry your book or schedule an event with you, don’t leave all the promotion up to us. Send readers to us through your website and social medial. Don’t be disappointed at a small event audience if you haven’t reached out to your friends and family and fans to get them in seats.We’ll do our part, but you need to do yours, too.
- Be professional. If you’re at a trade show or a convention or a dinner, it’s good to have fun and enjoy yourself, but remember that you’re at work. Don’t do or say anything that you wouldn’t do in any other professional environment. The not-so-secret secret is that booksellers talk to each other and to others in the industry, and your bad behavior will be known far and wide faster than a toddler can demolish an eye-level shelf of board books.
- Obey Wheaton’s Law. Whether in person or on social media or via e-mail, be nice. Or, if you can’t be nice, be cordial. Okay, really, this should probably be first. Everything else stems from this. Put yourself in our shoes and ask yourself how you would react to your actions. If they would annoy or frustrate you, chances are good that we will be having the same feelings.
Honestly, authors, we really, really do want you to succeed. Your success and our success depend upon each other. But, we need you to be considerate of our time and resources and to understand that “no” is not personal. If you work with us, this relationship can be good for us both. If you work only for yourself, then the relationship will end before it ever has a chance to begin.
With honest love and respect,
Billie Bloebaum is a bookseller at Third Street Books in McMinnville, OR. She has the greatest respect for authors because she knows she has neither the discipline nor the skills to write an entire book. Even these columns are a challenge. If you’ve written an entire book, even if it’s living in a desk drawer never to see the light of day, she applauds you.