Friday, June 10, 2011

How Can Readers Help Debut Authors?

I've been awaiting the release of Matt Blackstone's debut, A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE, for months now.  It's everything I love wrapped into one package.  It's YA.  It's contemporary.  It has substance.  And the OCD storyline pertains to my background in education, particularly my Master's in Special Education.  As a former educator, I believe there is a need for high interest literature addressing mental illness in teens.  Matt's novel will spotlight that poor kid in the classroom who pisses off everyone, including the teacher, because he or she is misunderstood.

Last night, I happened to receive an invitation to Matt's book signing via the almighty facebook.  Normally, I ignore these, as I have never once stumbled upon one close to where I live.  But this one is doable, and for this book - and this author - I would make the effort. 

The plan was to buy the book first thing that day, then read it on the train on route to the signing.  When I arrived at Borders this morning, I asked the manager if they were getting any in stock.  Of course, he told me no, and that I'd need to pre-order it on the website.  Unfortunately, pre-ordering does not work if you want it in your hands the day it's released (it wouldn't arrive for another 3-5 days).

I called our local B&N and got the same answer.  I went through the list of Indie bookstores - all of which have not yet ordered any.  And then, out of curiosity, I went back to the Borders manager and asked him to look up other books I'm anticipating.  Out of seven, a whopping one has been ordered for the store.

The manager could tell I wasn't happy.  I started thinking about a side of this business I hadn't previously considered: that it is bloody murder for a debut author to get his book on the shelves.  Mr. Manager said it's based on a number of factors: genre, publisher, demographics, early reviews, endorsements, blurbing, and more.  I said that sucks.

But, I also walked away with valuable information on how readers can help our favorite debut authors:

1.  When a book of interest is scheduled for release, always ask the customer service desk if the store will get copies in stock.  Even if the answer is no, you are "title dropping."  If enough people consistently ask for a title, managers will recognize it by name and be more likely to place an order.

2.  When you pre-order a book, do it in a bookstore and have a bookseller assist you.  Yes, most of us can do it ourselves, but this method once again allows staff members to hear a customer asking for a title.  The more it happens, the more likely they are to order it for their store.

3.  The major chains (i.e. B&N and Borders) order on a store by store basis.  Corporate does not dictate what the stores carry; each location is responsible for their own inventory.  But, managers do converse with one another.  If an unknown book (or unknown author) starts selling in one store, it is likely that name/title will be passed along to other managers in the network.  They want to carry what sells.  Help your books sell.

4.  When you see your favorite books in stores, pick them up.  Browse the pages, even if you've already read it.  Take it to the cafe, sit with it for a while, and leave it on the table.  The manager told me it's certainly annoying when people do not put books away, but at the same time, he pays attention to the titles pulled from shelves.  It means someone picked it up and was interested in the book.

5.  Call bookstores you don't visit and ask if they are carrying (or plan to carry) a certain title you want to read.  Many stores keep a log of what customers are asking for.  When the same title starts appearing often, they will strongly consider giving it a shot and ordering some copies for the store.

How else can readers promote their favorite debut authors?

Publishers Weekly Reviews A Scary Scene In A Scary Movie By Matt Blackstone:

“Blackstone makes a bold and idiosyncratic debut with this boisterous novel about a 14-year-old boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The author effectively renders the messy, noisy interior world of Rene Fowler, who lives alone with his single mother and struggles to not just survive but enjoy the chaos of high school. Rene is wedded to his routines and his habits (perpetually smelling his left hand, wearing rubber bands on his wrists, not moving if the time adds up to 13–8:32 or 5:44, for example), and relying on his Batman cape for security. He also has a serious crush, red-haired Ariel, his ‘angel,’ and a new friend–a ‘freakishly tall,’ social butterfly, Gio. When Rene’s long-estranged and boorish father returns home, Gio and Rene run away to Manhattan, where they come across Ariel, and their paradise/nightmare adventure there takes up the last third of the book. Rene’s honest, often humorous voice is as compelling as it is exhausting. Blackstone succeeds in creating a singular teenager who happens to have OCD; readers will emerge with a close understanding of the mind and heart of someone with this disorder.”   Ages 12–up. (July)


  1. I have to admit, this is something I have never thought about! It's easy to just assume: publication = books on shelves. I love your ideas Paul, and to be sure I'm going to put some in practice this summer. I remember a blog post Austin James made ages and ages ago where he asked something like: 'what do you do apart from blogging to network as an author?' and one of his answers was to make connections with local bookstores, as they are more likely to stock your book if they know you than if you are just another debut author!

  2. Those are great ideas and something I should do at my local bookstore. They never have the books I want on the day the book is released.

  3. Those are great tips for things readers can do in the real world! There's a ton of things they can to help online as well.

  4. Excellent points. I wonder if those Espresso printing machines will ever catch on. Given the cost and continued market sharking by e-books, probably not, but it'd be perfect for these sort of situations.

  5. Much needed information. Thank you for writing and sharing with us.

  6. That was very interesting and thought stimulating. I can certainly see smaller books being overlooked as the bigger publishers blitz stores with their blockbuster titles, would be great to find ways to fight back.

    Great post.

  7. This is a great set of strategies for people to help the debut author!

  8. Great points for helping the debut author. I've tried to do my part online. Reviews, blog tours, etc. to get the word out about an author.
    I will have to try your suggestions.

  9. Paul, honestly, this is THE BEST post I've read in awhile! Wow! I didn't know some of this and I am changing my habits pronto! Thank you for this information.

  10. Those are some great tips. I wonder if an author could get enough people to start asking. You know, I'll be around B&N in the next couple weeks, I'm sure. I'll have to ask about The Great Lenore.

  11. Luke: Great point - "It's easy to just assume: publication = books on shelves." I would agree that is the general assumption. Apparently, it's also very far from the truth. And I remember Austin's post well. That is a big reason why I try to befriend my local bookstore staff. Well, that and the fact they give me free coffee. You never pass up free coffee.

    Patricia: I have a hard time finding books on release dates also. It's frustrating, because when I pre-order, they usually don't arrive until a few days after the book has been released.

    Alex: Online is definitely the writer's pub.

    Bane: We can always hope, right?

    Tymothy: My pleasure.

    Jeff: Thanks for stopping in, bro!

    Christine: You do a great job online. Blog tours and reviews are how I build my reading list. It's a great way for an author to get his or her name out into cyberspace.

    Michele: You're too kind. I was rather enlightened by this information myself. It seems to make sense though; if the customer demands a product, the stores will carry it.

    Becky: Thanks! Glad you stopped in for a visit.

    Draven: It would be interesting to see how many requests it will take for a writer to get his book stocked. That's probably hard to find out though.

  12. Mood: Go ahead and punch me in the face for missing you. No really; deck me. It will make me feel a lot better. Go on...knock me out!

    And yes, I think the big names and celebrities dominate the ordering. Debut and less popular authors probably have to prove online their sales are worthy of being carried in stores. I assume that when sales ranking increases, stores start ordering more copies.

  13. Paul - thank you for this informative and compelling piece. I learned alot.

  14. No problem, Lisa. I'm so glad you found it helpful. Thank you for stopping in.

  15. Fantastic tips. I hadn't considered making a show of reading the book but it makes sense. I'm always checking out what people are reading on the trains in particular.


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