I spent a mind-numbing, bleary-eye day, today.
I’m developing a book tour for my new book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South, in conjunction with Rowe, The Book Concierge, my publicist. I pulled out my list of bookstores, outdoor and gift stores from the last time I marketed a book; that was 2013.
My book is about the Southeastern national park units, so I want to visit the whole area: Louisiana to the Atlantic Ocean, Kentucky to the US Virgin Islands. OK. Forget the Virgin Islands, unless someone pays my way.
I tried to find the websites for every one of the stores on my list and update their information.
Needless to say, a lot of bookstores have closed. But here’s what I deduced. The bookstores that have stayed in business care about their authors as well as their customers. With only a couple of exceptions, the bookstores that make a book event a pleasure for their authors also treat their customers well and vice-versa.
My home bookstore, Malaprops, is a welcoming place. But many bookstores that didn’t know me also made me feel good about them. Stores like Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and Diana’s bookstore in Elkin know to publicize the event and make sure their customers know that I’m coming. They’ve ordered my books. The host greets me enthusiastically and may offer me a cup of tea, because usually I’ve had a long drive.
If this seems like a no-brainer, it’s not. When I’ve shown up at some events, the one poor staff member left in charge may not know that there’s a book event. There’s no publicity or audience. Many of these bookstores are no longer with us and they’re probably blaming online sales instead of their management methods.
And then there are bookstores that charge for an author to come and speak. If you approach them, instead of the other way around, they must feel that you’re desperate enough to pay $150 and jump through other hoops.
Most authors travel on their own dime. They drive long distances, stay overnight wherever they can, find the bookstore and figure out where to park and hope to have an audience. Some have an entourage, a spouse or best friend, that travels with them. I don’t! I go by myself and work out all the logistics. I may even have written a blog post for the bookstore website about an aspect of my book.
So the fee that some bookstores charge is meant to discourage authors from small, independent publishers. And it’s working. There are many other venues for authors.
Because all my books are about the outdoors, I’ve also spoken at the lot of outfitters. REI in Asheville, Diamond Brand Outdoors and Jesse Browns know how to treat a speaker. I look forward to returning to their stores. Others that I won’t mention seem clueless on how to run a book event.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. If you want me to speak at your place next spring, just contact me.