March 28, 2018

Be a Bookstore Champion

By Karen Sargent

The first time I saw my book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, I mortified my teenage daughter and misrepresented dignified authors everywhere. (My apologies!) It was a quiet weekday afternoon, so my little ruckus attracted the attention of a staff member, who attempted to stroll by casually and ask if she could help me. My response jumbled out: “This is my book! My book.” I pointed to my name on the cover. “That’s me. I wrote this. It’s mine!”

Then I remembered my manners, and “thank you thank you thank you” tumbled forth in rapid succession. I explained I had published with a small press and never expected my book to be among the 1% that make it to brick and mortar stores.

The staff member smiled and walked toward a group of other staff members that had gathered nearby. She lowered her voice, but I heard her say, “She’s an author.” A few moments later she returned with an “autographed by the author” sticker and a Sharpie. Within seconds, I had signed my first book at Barnes & Noble! (Should I confess I was sitting on the floor because alphabetically my book ended up on a lower shelf and I was taking selfies? No? Okay. Forget I said that.)

Then the store manager approached. She chatted, I blabbered, and guess who got to hold a book signing at B&N? This girl!

I’m pretty sure the store manager didn’t schedule an author event for me because she wanted to host a debut idiot with zero name recognition. Instead, I believe my inability to control my gushing gratitude influenced her invitation. That day I learned how important it is to appreciate the people who sell our books for us.

Now when I visit a bookstore and see my book on the shelf, I find the store manager and introduce myself: “I’m a debut author, and you have my book in your store. I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your support.” One or two questions always follow that statement:

Would you like to sign a copy for us?

Would you like to schedule a book signing?

When I travel I visit independent bookstores. First, I make a purchase—maybe a gift or a title from my to-be-read list—because the independent bookstores deserve our patronage. I ask to speak with the owner or manager and thank them for supporting readers and authors, which usually leads to a conversation about the challenges faced by a small bookstore. Then I give them a signed copy of my book to keep, to sell, to give away, or to put in the staff breakroom. Their response comes in many forms—smiles, handshakes, even hugs.

I know what you’re thinking. Giving away books is costly. Yes, it is. But if booksellers read my book and like it, they may decide to stock it…and position it for visibility…and recommend it to readers.

But a risk comes with all this gratitude and gifting. You could be tempted to think this is about book sales. It’s not. It’s about people. Approach booksellers with genuine appreciation, not an ulterior motive. There’s a difference and it will show.

In my short year in this publishing world, I’ve learned to give more than is expected, and to give without expecting anything in return. When relationships come first, book sales follow.
Karen Sargent is an award-winning author whose debut novel, Waiting for Butterflies, is the 2017 IAN Book of the Year. She writes “stories that stir the soul” with characters whose imperfect faith collides with real-life conflicts. A romantic element is woven within. In addition to writing inspirational novels, she blogs at The MOM Journey, where moms aren’t perfect and that’s perfectly okay. Her writing has been featured in Guidepost’s Angels on Earth magazine and online at Writer’s Digest, Positive Writer, Seekerville, and now Suite T. She is the volunteer coordinator for WFWA and a member of ACFW, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and the SEMO Writers’ Guild. When she’s not writing, she teaches high school and college English and resides in the beautiful Arcadia Valley with her husband and two daughters. Website: 

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