How authors can work with local booksellers to help create a thriving community, share ideas, and sell some books too.
As independent book reps, we spend most of our time talking to booksellers about what’s happening in their local communities. Time and time again we hear from them that having strong links to local authors helps them sell books. And when booksellers get behind a local book, the opportunities for increased benefits for everyone in that community spiral outwards organically.
Unlike most other retail outlets, bookstores are cultural gathering places. Everyone who comes through the door of their local bookstore comes in contact with authors and ideas. Through their published works, authors are sharing their message, and bookstore staff become part of their team in sharing those ideas. This can lead to connections in the community that the author themselves could not have imagined, such as links to other authors, introductions to media influencers, and potential collaborations.
Having a writer in the neighbourhood is naturally a good reason for a bookstore buyer to take a chance on a new title. They do this because they know that their customers (and they themselves) want to read books that reflect the personality of their community. This means local books often get special attention from staff members at the shop: they get featured on tables, in staff picks and become a part of seasonal advertising campaigns — ultimately increasing an author’s presence in-store — and elsewhere.
Bookstores contribute their cultural community not only by being a physical hub, but by also acting as repositories of information on what is piquing local interest. Booksellers are often called upon to provide commentary on local issues in print media, as well as regional radio and tv. They are also a regular source for bestseller lists, which can lead to ongoing publicity; for example, the Alberta Book Publishers Association collects sales and anecdotal information from key stores like Audrey’s Books and Glass Books in Edmonton. Recently, this led to more exposure for a long-time bestseller, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, on Edmonton-based website AlbertaPolitics.ca. This will have brought new audiences to the book, the author, and the bookstores. In fact, this title is a prime example of a five-year-old title that slowly worked its way onto The New York Times bestseller list over the past two years, mostly due to word-of-mouth by indie booksellers and their customers. If an author works alone to promote their books directly to consumers, they may make a higher return or a better connection in the short term; however, they will lose out on the exponential, word-of-mouth growth that can lead new ideas, a connected community, and a longer life for their book.
When authors partner with local bookstores, it also ensures that other shops outside of just that one community will hear about it when it takes off. Stores use various title-tracking services, and through these, staff are able to see what’s selling at other independents across the country. They often increase their quantities based on what is selling in other stores. Publishers also communicate this information to sales reps like us — so a book may get noticed in a bigger market if local shops really get behind it and push sales.
This symbiosis between author and bookstore also encourages other writers to bring their works forth. When other writers see their contemporaries being championed in the community, it can make it less daunting for them to put their own ideas out there — knowing they will find support, and perhaps even comradeship, locally. This ecosystem encourages the creation of art in a sustainable and nourishing way, rather than the author creating one-to-one relationships which may not link together — and feed back to each other – in the same way.
At the end of the day, booksellers can hand-sell a local book like no one else. They make personal recommendations every single day — so having them on your side is a huge advantage.
They are independent business owners with a strong voice that resonates far beyond their store walls. With people wanting to shop local now even more than ever, they are a real asset in getting your book into the hands of readers.