The Care and Feeding of Bookstore Staff

Authors need to support libraries and bookstores.  Here is an enlightening article by author and bookstore owner Emma Straub.  Self-publishers, in particular, have an uphill battle getting into bookstores.  If and when you do, here are some tips to increase the chance of a repeat performance.

How to Be an Indie Bookseller’s Dream

By Emma Straub

I’ve worked as a bookseller for almost three years, and in that time, I’ve witnessed a vast number of readings and book parties. The bookstore hosts up to six events a week, and I often stick around, even if I’m no longer on the clock. In my time at the bookstore, I’ve codified a simple list (in my head, until this very moment) of ways in which certain authors get gold stars, and others go down in (sorry, sorry) flames. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll be an indie bookstore darling before you know it!

The beginning is simple: the people who work at the bookstore the night of your event also sell books all day long, which means they are very, very powerful people. If you are rude to them, guess what?! Your book will not be the first one they try to handsell to customers. If you are nice to them, they will always think of you fondly, and your book is more likely to be one they recommend. This is not bribery, mind you, it is basic human decency. (Note: some authors do bring candy, which is maybe bribery, but also thoughtful and delicious. I am prone to such bribery myself, and would encourage the trait in others.) The morning after your event, when everyone’s names are still fresh in your mind, write a thank you note to the bookstore. This should be obvious, but many authors seem to have been raised in barns.

Now, about the reading itself. I can count the times on one hand—no, make that one finger, and name it Colm Toibin—where an author has read for forty minutes and no one has fallen asleep. Call me dictatorial, but I don’t think anyone should read for longer than twenty minutes, maybe thirty if you’ve recently won a Pulitzer Prize. If you are reading with another writer, then certainly no more than fifteen. If you are reading with several other writers, then no more than ten. I’m waiting for the day when gongs become socially acceptable in bookstores, and everyone lives in fear of over-burdening the audience’s ears and bottoms.

As to what you’re reading, that too depends. Humor helps, as it can be hard to absorb material for the first time hearing it read aloud, but that won’t work for everyone. So if being funny isn’t an option, then at least remember to smile, and make witty asides. This is why the audience is there, to see you, dear writer. If they simply wanted to hear the work read aloud, they would have bought the audiobook, and had someone with proper training recite the words perfectly.

So now that you’ve shaken hands, and read, and thanked everyone for having you, what do you do now? If you live across the country, you might think you are done. You have your own local bookstore, so why would you keep checking in? Because you like bookstores, and you want them to stay in business forever and ever. So you tweet at them, you Facebook them, you send friends in that city gift certificates for their birthdays. This is good not only for the bookstore but also for your karma. Karma points! You’re shopping local, long-distance. We’re all very impressed.

Emma Straub is a bookseller and the author of “Other People We Married,” a story collection. Her novel is due out from Riverhead Books. She is based in Brooklyn.

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