What if Editors SOLD Books (in Big Stone Gap)?

nicholeRegular readers will know that I spent a week in NYC last month, doing a couple of events and goofing off visiting my editor Nichole (in the photo) and agent Pamela. During the course of the week, Jack and I were delighted to have a conversation with Ken, head of independent bookstore sales for Macmillan, and his assistant Matt; we talked about coping mechanisms for small guys, marketing strategies for big guys, and the very hopeful demographics showing rises from 2011-2013 not only in sales of books at indie bookstores, but in the number of indie bookstores that are out there.
After the conversation, Nichole made the casual comment that she wished she knew more about how indie bookstores sold books. “It’s like the Gold Standard of bookselling, the handsell. And I’ve certainly recommended lots of books to lots of people, but I’ve never stood in a shop and sold one.”
Thus an idea was born. Nichole and her trusty assistant Laura have been saying repeatedly they’d love to visit Big Stone Gap. In addition, my publicist Jessica is from Richmond, VA, and she’s never been to the more rural climes. So here’s my cunning plan: we need people to explain to Nichole’s editor-in-chief why Nichole and Laura and Jess could really use a week of handselling experience in a small town.laura chasen
Wouldn’t it be great to have Nichole and Laura (in the photo) and Jess spend a few days RUNNING The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap?  Pamela, my agent, has often said that if prospective authors who send pitches to agents had to sell the books they were pitching, they’d change their pitch—and tune. You have to know what will and won’t sell—and how to sell it—to write a good query letter.
Nichole and I have often talked about the failed algorithms of A**zon, how people who want to read books that don’t quite fit a specific category can’t find them, don’t know they’re out there, and how sales reps (that is, those who sell books in bulk to bookstores from publishers) have to make things easy for the stores and build their own relationships of trust in order to do their jobs well. And that there’s a disconnect between the writers, the editorial shapers, and the sellers. Think of it: Manhattan’s finest editors bridging those gaps (in The Gap!).
jessicaSo here’s what we need: leave a comment on this blog saying why Nichole and Laura and Jess (in the photo of her birthday dinner with us in NYC) should get to spend a week (okay, three days) running our shop. (Don’t worry about Pamela and her assistant Michelle; we have a completely different plan for them.) And while the trio are down here we can show them a good time. Please, in your comments, explain why this is a good idea to Nichole’s boss (who will be interested).
And if Nichole and Laura and Jess get to visit, we’ll throw a party, and y’all can come say hi!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

17 responses to “What if Editors SOLD Books (in Big Stone Gap)?

  1. Jo Anne Jones

    It is a wonderful idea and a logical concept. I knew an ad agency that required anyone working on an account visit that company for a full day first and participate in their work. We’ve all known of companies that required career staff to do many jobs to learn every aspect of the company. When I began a long career doing Public Relations with American Red Cross, I participated in every service we offered just so I could talk about what we did – with firsthand knowledge and feeling. When it comes to an editor and publicist – it might be a new concept that they should go see how it feels to be out on all the different branches feeding up to what they are doing. But it makes so much sense. I say all this first without even mentioning that there would be nothing quite like “experiencing” The Little Book Store of Big Stone Gap. It isn’t just a book store – it is a way of life.

  2. YES! This would be an excellent way for them to connect with both readers and writers. Indie bookstores tend to be closely connected with its customers and can provide editors a direct link to a variety of potentially great authors who might never have a chance like this to prove themselves in this difficult market.

    Tales of the Lonesome Pine has a great following from people around the world and is located in what I like to call a literary oasis that has birthed great authors like John Fox Jr. Adriana Trigiani and last but not least, Wendy Welch!

    It’s also a great way to connect with readers and bibliophiles who are not only customers but potential ambassadors. It only takes a few of these ambassadors expose new books to thousands of potential customers through blogging and social media.

    Most of all they’d get to meet some good and honest people who represent the true heart and spirit of indie bookstores and are often loyal and fiercely protective of people and things they care about. These are the types of people you want on your side in battle, they’ll fight for what’s right and advocate for great causes. To independent bookstores is to invite an army of loyal fans, advocates, and customers into your home, life, and hearts.

  3. Janice Brooks-Headrick

    Great Idea!! NYC has its own culture, it would be great for them to see what’s happening in the rest of the country. Jan

    Janice Brooks-Headrick 865-429-1783 Storyteller Author Instigator TALESproject.org Timeline: facebook.com/janice.brooksheadrick Email: janice.brooksheadrick@facebook.com

  4. Elizabeth

    NYC is a fabulous place, but if you come here, you’ll see why we’d rather live here and visit y’all!

  5. Great idea. I would love for someone from amazon to work three days at a small book store in Midway, KY that consistently outsells my book more than amazon. Go for it. Do it. And then consider turn around as fair play. Shouldn’t you get to run their NY shop in their absence?

  6. Oops, put it at FB instead of here.

    Okay, I think that this is a great idea. I think editors should have the experience of being “on the spot” when telling someone who isn’t from the book scene, a regular joe or jane, why this is a great book. After all, the folks in NY or LA can’t be expected to carry the book industry! I do my share of “hand selling” books (abet without a store) and I can attest that books need to click with a person. You need to be able to sell them in a couple of sentences, either with a line about plot or with a quotation from the book, and it doesn’t help if the cover looks like something only a book critic would enjoy. (Patronizing book covers don’t help, either, as when you’re trying to sell a more or less serious mystery and the cover is a quilt and a cat, neither of which figure into the book. Don’t get me wrong, a cat on the cover is liable to make me pick up a book, but if no cat shows up it says to me that nobody took an interest in this book during the design process. One example: Cathy Pickens very good southern mysteries. Reminded me a bit of Margaret Maron, the way she manipulated stereotypes of the south. Not great literature, but certainly several cuts above the usual. What was on the covers? Fried chicken. Pie. ) Or the jacket copy that gives away the big reveal of the book. They would learn that book selling is sometimes like speed dating: you have a brief amount of time to convince someone to try a book, and that the same approach doesn’t work with everyone. Just because two people will like a genre doesn’t mean you can sell ’em on the book in the same way. You have to be nimble. It’s sometimes hard convince people that they’d really like a book about an 11 year old girl who fancies herself a sleuth in 1950s England or a book about a woman detective in Botswana or a book about sisters and a garden in which one of my favorite characters is an apple tree. I’m still trying to figure out how to convince non – sf fans that they will adore Connie Willis’ time traveling students and they really should read all 1200 pages of Blackout and All Clear. Convinced yet? No? Okay, I need more coffee. And heat. And for the cats to stay off the keyboard.

  7. James R

    YES!!! Everything they have said is correct. What it boils down to is that there is nothing like first-hand/hands-on experience to show you what you’re doing right or wrong. Meeting a writing group might be a good idea also.

  8. The hand sell is also a time-proven library technique- maybe they should meet with some accomplished booktalkers as well 🙂 connect-the-dots, oh wendiferous one!

  9. I love this idea so much, Wendy. Can’t wait to read the post about what happens (and learn what you have in store for Pamela and Michelle!)

  10. I was once talking to a publishing rep who told me proudly he never read the books he was selling. He was a salesman, he said, not a reader. His gift, he said, was selling. And maybe that worked for him. But it seems to me that someone who knows the books, the bookstores, and the readers intimately makes the ultimate salesperson. Passion creates passion, we lead readers into new reading experiences because we share what we love.

    Of course now we have people on pub committees who are not passionate readers, not editors, not designers, not writers. And they have a huge shae in making decisions about what gets published in the first place.

    It is crass, and creating a generation of not-readers, or at least not passionate readers but passionate fad followers.

    I know, this isn’t encouraging the publishers to send their people to work in your bookstore, but I had to rant.

    Jane Yolen

  11. My father worked at Eastman Kodak all his life. He developed chemical products and sold them by spending time with and listening to prospective clients across the U.S. If he was working on feed products, he would spend time at a college/university with a strong agriculture department. He used to tell me there was no substitute for getting out in the field and talking/listening to your customers!! They’ll tell you what they want, what sells (and what doesn’t) and what kind of support they need.

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