Emma Straub’s How To Be an Indie Bookseller’s Dream

Emma Straub has worked for independent booksellers for three years and in a recent Wall Street Journal article brings home some hard cold facts on what to do at your authorial appearances:

1. Try not to read your material, or at least not much of it. What? This is your chance to share with the world! Yes, you might have hours to fill, depending on what you’ve been allowed to schedule, but if people wanted their first impression of your book to be that of someone reading it aloud, they’d buy or rent the audio book. So unless your book is hysterically funny or you have it memorized and are prepared to act out scenes, keep reading time limited to 10 to 30 minutes. And if you’re going to read aloud for thirty minutes, have it be your most exciting scene ever or you’ll look up at the end to a slumber party. One neat idea I’ve heard for reading from your work without spoon feeding the audience something you want them to buy is to read a scene you’ve cut. Remember all those beautiful darlings? Find the very best, polish them and read them. Then you can have a question and answer as to why you cut them.

2. Fill up the rest of your time talking about things related to your book. For instance, I will probably discuss history, martial arts, research and possibly computer game and movie versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, since that’s what my book is based on. I hope to also do some talks demonstrating self defense simply because it’s an active, audience-participation-based thing to do and has value to them. I have one friend who comes to her talks dressed in the period costume she made. She talks about the wool industry and how it changed the English countryside and how that shaped the making of her book. Her talks are informative and interesting and bring out details in the book you wouldn’t otherwise catch.

3. Come prepared to be outlandishly helpful to the booksellers. These are the people you want on your side, suggesting your book. Bring treats (if possible, ones related to your topic) and share with the booksellers and the crowd. (I plan on bringing Chinese sweets mentioned in one of my scenes.) Write down the booksellers’ names, complete with correct spellings and send them individualized Thank You notes after the event. If possible, remind them of a specific thing you’re thankful to each person for. Yes, I’m terrible at Thank You notes, too.

4. After you’ve sent your Thank You notes, do NOT forget about these places, though they be across the country. No. You tweet them. You friend/like redirect buyers to them. You continue to care about them and send all those new friends in the city (where you met and made friends, right?) to the bookstore with gift certificates.

So even if you’re unprepared for publication right now, think about how you might promote yourself and drive business to your friends, the local indies. What are you planning to do? Whatever it is, just remember, keep your audience involved or you might as well bring out the pillows and blankets.




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19 Responses to โ€œEmma Straub’s How To Be an Indie Bookseller’s Dreamโ€

  1. Giora says:

    In the building's complex where I live we have a major Bookstore in Toronto, where many authors (some very famous, like Bill Clinton) come for a book event. They follow point 1, but reading little from their book (most of them don't read at all) and spend most of the time telling stories and then answering many questions, and then sign the book.
    Wishing you, Victoria, to have your own book event in a book store in 2012-2013. Amen!

  2. Barbara Ann Wright says:

    OMG, such good advice. I'm going to print this out.

  3. Natalie Aguirre says:

    This is all such great advice. Though to be honest, I'm still terrified of the idea of doing a book signing and worrying no one will show up.

  4. Victoria Dixon says:

    You paint such a paradise of Toronto, Giora, I've GOT to go there if I ever get this thing published. Thank you for the encouragement!

    Thanks, Barbara. Natalie just reminded me of advice I saw somewhere of what to do before the signing: contact your online buddies who live in the general area and ask them to put out fliers for you. Then take them out for dinner and give them your book with a nice, signed thank you. If nothing else, you're likely to see their friendly faces at your signing. ;D Otherwise, I agree, Natalie. You can wind up at these things and hear crickets. Yikes!

  5. Giora says:

    Oh, No, Victoria. Toronto isn't paradise. It's too cold to be one. Usually people associate paradise with places like Hawaii. But it's the biggest city in Canada, so every author who want to sell books in Canada, makes a stop here. Today we have Anne Rice in the Public Library steps from me, but the event was overbooked. The most impressive author for me was Jefrey Archer from England. He was here about 2 years ago and told so many interesting stories about how he became a best seller author and how he writes. He has a special pen for writing, not a computer. With his British accent and many little stories it was really fascinating so sit and hear him.
    Now, the city has about 500,000 Chinese with their newspapers and TV and radio stations, so you can find people here who can relate to what you write about. Also many people from other Asian countries, like India and the Phillipines.
    I only met one Chinese author here, the mother of Iris Chang who wrote "The Rape of Nanking". Themother wrote a book about the sad death of her daugther Iris. Next month we'll have a good American Chinese author, Ming Mei Yip. I hope to say hello to her. Check her website
    So, no, it's definetly not a paradise here, but maybe the most Asian city in North America.

  6. Victoria Dixon says:

    Actually, I meant it to be a paradise precisely to people who would love to get more steeped in Chinese culture, but can't afford to go to China. Also, it has a major professional draw for me.
    I've been in Toronto once – more than fifteen years ago – but I wasn't quite so obsessed back then. It was one short summer afternoon, which probably paints everything beautifully in my memory. LOL I remember black squirrels and the best pizza I've ever had from a little hole in the wall joint around the corner from the University.
    My favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay, lives up there and (I think) teaches at the University. I wish I'd had the guts to see if he happened to be in at the time. That's one of many things I'd try to find out before my next trip.
    I'd also look into the wider community for places to go see, people to meet. There's too many wonderful people to meet and things to see to allow pizza and squirrels to be your only memory of a place! LOL

  7. Giora says:

    Okay, now I get the "Paradise." I just e-mailed a woman who knows Guy Kay Gavriel very well, to ask him if you can interview him for your blog … him, being your favourite author. I'll let you know her response.

  8. Victoria Dixon says:

    Oh, thanks for the offer, but I've already interviewed him! I think the interview was either last spring or the Spring 2010. I have access if I want to speak with him again, but the effort is greatly appreciated!

  9. Rachna Chhabria says:

    Great advice Victoria. I am going to bookmark this post.

  10. Victoria Dixon says:

    So glad it was useful or thought provoking, Rachna. ๐Ÿ™‚ You're welcome.

  11. Stephen Tremp says:

    Interesting to come dressed up in an outfit related to the book and describe it. I used an invisibility jumpsuit for a couple chapters. Maybe I could show up in one and then start talking to the audience.

  12. Victoria Dixon says:

    Now wouldn't THAT be a book signing to remember! It would probably involve running and screaming and then a lot of people wanting to get naked to try out your suit. LOL Great idea! Hee heee

  13. Kathi Oram Peterson says:

    Those are great tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  14. Melissa Bradley says:

    Wow! This is extraodinarily good advice. I have not done book store signings as yet, but I am planning to so this absolutely stuff I need to know

  15. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Kathi and Melissa. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. David Ferretti III says:

    This is awesome advice for a first-time author's event. Thank you for reproducing this. Some day soon I hope to bring a lot of history and anecdotes to my own signing. I suspect that you can also use some of this information for your first-time radio interview.

  17. Victoria Dixon says:

    I would think so, but thanks for pointing that out, David. In fact, I suspect the rule of not reading too much applies even more to a radio "appearance" than it does to a live event. We've trained our minds to not pay attention to fireside chats any more.

  18. DWei says:

    Handy to know if I ever plan to do anything related to this.

  19. Victoria Dixon says:

    Glad to know it was helpful, DWei. ๐Ÿ™‚

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