SHY EXPLORER SERIES: Asking the Experts by Judy Clement Wall
I’m on a quest, asking the experts – people already in the industry – for publishing advice to writers.
Despite the doomsday predictions about the future of books and, by extension, bookstores, I remain obstinately optimistic; it’s just too sad to think otherwise. I hope to see my books on a shelf in a real live, brick and mortar store someday, so I bought Veronica Brooks Sigler, writer, teacher and bookseller, a virtual cup of coffee and I asked her to tell me what writers need to know about getting their books into stores.
Veronica is the “Social Medium” at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans, and she has spent the bulk of her working life as a teacher. She teaches middle and high school students through a virtual program based in Exeter, NH. She is also the author of Five Finger Fiction, a wonderful, quirky, coming-of-age novel.
j: You are a bookseller and a writer. Do you think one informs the other?
Veronica: As a bookseller, I have seen some really cringe-worthy author attempts to get bookstores to notice them. One husband of an author critiqued our website, which did not endear him to us.
I certainly didn’t do everything right when I was first out there, and not every bookstore, seller, reviewer is the same. If I had to do the promotions of my book all over again, I would do things a bit differently. I think booksellers are pretty overwhelmed in general and they can’t vet every author/book combo coming through the doors.
j: The idea for this series started with a cautionary tweet to writers by Bethanne Patrick. What is the role of social media in publishing today, and how do you think it’s changing the landscape for writers?
Veronica: It is necessary for authors to be “out there,” perhaps more than ever. What I found, though, is as I became comfortable on Twitter, it wasn’t about my book anymore, it was about my interactions with others. I just wanted to hang with the “tweeps.”
Social media does give people the pretense of familiarity, and so some do abuse the graces of others.
j: I think it’s hard to get the balance right between personal, fun, engaging tweets and self promotion. Do you think it’s possible that “hanging with the tweeps” also sells books?
Veronica: I definitely think “hanging with the tweeps” leads to book sales, even if that is not your intention. People become your friends and want to know more about you and your book(s).
j: What advice do you have for writers who are (wisely) trying to use social media to build a platform and get noticed?
a. Avoid talking incessantly about your book.
b. If a person does not respond to your first or second attempt at interacting, don’t keep going at him or her.
c. Be yourself. That sounds obvious, but what I mean is be your witty, funky, Colson Whitehead self.
d. Do not post random things on bookstore Facebook pages or tag bookstores in photos of your book cover. One author did ask us if he could post something on our wall, and I thought, “Now that guy got it right.”
e. Try to find out how a reviewer, bookstore, publisher would like to be approached. Phone? E-mail? Facebook? Carrier pigeon?
f. Avoid sending the Amazon link to your book with a note about how you want the book in an indie store.
g. Social media does breed familiarity, but that doesn’t mean your note to us should not be in proper format.
j: How do writers, especially indie writers who do not have the backing of a major publishing house, make themselves more attractive to booksellers?
Veronica: You have to bring added value to the store. Be prepared with a list of attendees to your event. Understand you have to be an entertainer of sorts. Demonstrate you are familiar with PR and that you are out there working for yourself as well.
j: Are there things you’ve learned as an indie bookseller that you wish you’d known as a writer?
Veronica: I worked at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT, back in 2004/2005; however, I didn’t have exposure to many of the things I’m experiencing now at Maple Street Book Shop in NOLA. We all have access to our main e-mail account, so I see the e-mails from authors. I’m also doing much of the social media, so people contact me directly. Overall, I wish I had understood how inundated booksellers are, especially with all the new avenues for publication.
j: If you could offer one piece of advice to writers hoping to see their book on a shelf in your store, what would it be?
Veronica: This is tricky because I’m not sure what the magic formula is. I would say be as professional as possible in all communications with the store/buyer. In general, it is probably best not to demand things of the people you want to sell your books. Authors who are polite, professional, and have some PR possibilities in place have an edge.
j: Last question: What do you like to read and what are you reading now?
Veronica: I’ll read almost anything. Just finished WOLF HALL. Starting WAR and PEACE for the group read in February.