Work Title: Local Flavor: Increasing Sales With Hometown Authors
Work Author(s): Randall Ham
Byline: Randall Ham
I stand in awe of the tenacity and talent of writers. As a bookseller, for years I took pride in doing my part to help provide exposure for new and exciting writers. Now, as a buyer for Hastings Entertainment, a chain of 154 bookstores in the Western United States, I meet a lot of writers, between looking for new products and coordinating signings for the chain. Instead of viewing my position as Gatekeeper to the Shelves of Hastings, I feel like a facilitator, helping our stores put the right books into the right hands.
Our most successful events are always those that feature local, self-published authors. It is easy to contact them; local media love to advertise and cover these events; and turnout is always high. Customers invariably enjoy meeting these writers. Working with hundreds of book managers and even more booksellers, Hastings does an excellent job of contacting and collaborating with these local celebrities.
Unfortunately, when we speak to them, we are often reminded of these publishing novices' biggest weakness: their lack of knowledge of the publishing and retail business. Many authors are under the impression that putting one or two copies on the shelves of a bookstore chain will result in enough sales to allow them to retire. They are shocked when they learn the realities: most books are not stocked in all stores, placement is funded by publishers, and bookstores rarely pay an author for an in-store appearance.
Without an established publisher behind their books, self-published authors must also become publicists, marketing consultants, and more. Most writers are not adept at these "outgoing" positions, and they have no feel for how to approach potential retailers. They also tend to shun a suggestion of regional placement, wanting instead to compete against Grisham in the novel section. Booksellers know that for many authors, placement in a regional or local author section will actually increase their chance of selling their book, as it will appeal to many of the customers looking for local flavor. Increased sales make authors and bookstores happy.
It is very rewarding for a bookseller to help an author navigate these uncharted...