Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dan: Nothing Beats a Bookseller

I just got back from almost a full month of touring, in Germany, England, and the US, and overall it was a big success. Sometimes I had huge groups at my signings, and sometimes I had no one at all, but even the bad events were good, in a way, because they allowed me to meet the booksellers and shake their hands and talk about my book, and no offense to the readers out there but a single bookseller on my team is usually more valuable, long term, than a whole group of you. Why are booksellers so important? I will illustrate.

I visited a Borders in San Diego (in Mission Valley—say hi to Christina and RJ while you’re there), on an unscheduled stop on my way to another signing, and as soon as I walked in and introduced myself the clerk said “Oh good! We’ve been expecting you!” This was news to me, since I hadn’t even been expecting myself until 30 seconds earlier when I’d found the place by accident. The clerk introduced me to the manager, RJ, who introduced me to one of the booksellers on staff, Christina, who literally clapped her hands when she saw me. “I saw your book a few weeks ago when I was stocking the shelves,” she said, “and I thought it looked interesting. I read it and I LOVED IT! I knew you were on tour in the area, so I told everyone to watch for you in case you stopped by.”

I nodded and smiled happily, thanking her, and RJ handed me a big stack of books. “She hand-sold our first batch in the next few days. This is our second shipment, and she’s already sold a bunch of these, two.”

I looked at the stack of books. “How many are there?”

“Only seventeen left. She’s been selling them quite a bit.”

I literally whistled, right there, which I didn’t think people actually did. Every Borders I’d visited on my tour had had five copies, or maybe four if they’d gotten lucky and managed to sell one. This store, and this bookseller, had already sold at least twice that. Christina and RJ both wanted personalized copies, so there was two more sales, and then I signed the other fifteen copies, and on the way out I saw Christina already pitching the book to another customer.

I don’t say this to brag—it was far more common for me to show up at a store, introduce myself, and get completely disinterested shrugs from the manager. Especially at the B&N in Burbank; that manager could not possibly have cared less that I even existed. No, what I’m trying to point out is that having a couple of really good booksellers on your side is just about the best possible thing that can happen to an author. That Borders in Mission Valley will sell a zillion copies of my book (relatively speaking), not because they’re getting special treatment, or because the people in the area read more thrillers or buy more books in general, but because Christina and RJ have read my book, and liked it, and now they suggest it to everyone who comes in. In most stores the customers are on their own—they’ll only buy my book if they happen to walk past the right section, go down the right aisle, look at the right shelf, see the right cover, and become intrigued. Even then, there’s no guarantee that “intrigued” will translate into “purchased.” Having a bookseller like your book will increase its visibility by a hundred-fold, and give you an on-site advocate ready to hand-sell your book to everyone who walks in.


  1. Booksellers are so important! And usually such interesting and nice people. Sounds like a super trip.

  2. How did you find Germany and England? I'm a Brit but spent my late teens and early 20's living in Berlin. I'd love to hear what the reception was like in those two countries.

    The advice you gave was really sound - as we say in England.

    Enjoyed your post - THANKS!

  3. I had to hunt your book down, was successful on the second try. I hope my purchase leads to there being more on the shelf at my local B&N than the one I grabbed greedily off their shelves.

  4. There is a fine art to handselling, and as a former bookseller I can attest to how vital it is to the success of a book on both sides. Obviously for the writers and publishers sales are good, but equally so for the bookstores and their customers. I think this is the largest overlooked element in the eBook trend, the lack of personalized customer service.

  5. Dan--There's nothing like word of mouth...

  6. Wow! What good fortune for you to have happened to walk in!