Several times a week, I receive solicitations from authors hoping to get their book(s) carried in my store. While I’m a big believer in self-promotion, I’ve discovered that (as in any other endeavor) there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach it, and the differences between these two methods are small, but significant.
Two years ago, at the World Horror Convention in Phoenix AZ, I spent an afternoon drinking and sermonizing about the ins and outs of the book business, concentrating on what grabs my attention as a manager and a merchandiser. Some highlights included:
- If you send me a letter, make sure to follow the basic, minimum tenets of Strunk & White. If you can’t write a simple letter, why should I believe you can write anything else?
- Always get a wedge of lime for your Corona. It just doesn’t taste right without it.
- Never call a bookstore and promote a fictitious appearance or media interview just to generate an order. This pisses the management off, and ensures you’ll never get shelf space in my store.
- Don’t bother sending me a copy of your book cover unless there’s a copy of the book attached to it. You think most authors are poor? Booksellers are even more destitute and fewer people offer to buy them drinks at conventions. We’ve got to stretch the budget where we can, and free books are one of the few perks of our gig.
- Access to a copier, construction paper and a stapler do not make you a publisher, no matter what the documentation that came with your computer says (unless, of course, you’ve written a story about zombie strippers, barber shops and mullets, and you blackmail . . . <ahem> . . . persuade a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner into drawing the cover).
- When you come to visit my store, under no circumstances should you allow your agent/manager/spouse to rearrange my displays to better feature your book. I get paid to shelve things and I know where they go. Your wife doesn’t.
That was the gist. Some of the audience listened. Most didn’t.
J A Konrath does it right. Brian Keene (the aforementioned Stoker Winner with a penchant for art) understands. So do a lot of the writers I call peers and friends. It’s one of the reasons we’re friends.
And then, there’s Fred.
Of course his name really isn’t Fred, but I’ll bet all the money in my pocket against all the money in your pocket that if you saw him walking down the street, you’d think he looked like a Fred.
Fred’s written a book and Fred would like me to carry his book in my store. Fred spent some coin and took the time to assemble and mail a query packet to my store touting his book. He included a personalized letter with all the information I’d need to order his book and attached several clippings to entice me to do so.
So far, so good.
As I read the material, I noticed that Fred had listed several endorsements for his book. Some were collected on a single sheet and others had photocopies enclosed. I recognized several of the names, but one of Fred’s blurbs really caught my eye.
In his letter to me, Fred mentioned a particular review, and while the man’s name didn’t ring any bells, his company did. Again, I won’t mention the business’s name, but anybody who reads more than two books a year probably has a few of their paperbacks on their shelves. This puzzled me, since the business in question had nothing to do with the publication of Fred’s book.
I quickly discovered the connection.
This review went a little something like this:
Although your concept is interesting and you obviously have great skill as a writer, your book does not fit our current needs. Perhaps another, smaller, publisher might be a better match for your work. I wish you much luck in the future and great success with your writing career.
After I read the letter, I checked the letterhead. Then I read the letter again, just in case my suspicions were wrong.
Anybody else have a drawer full of these in their desk? I know I’ve got a bunch, and I’m a notorious (and unrepentant) procrastinator when it comes to submissions. Any writer who has more than a casual interest in publishing possesses at least one of these, and I know people who have bound volumes of them.
They’re the most frustrating missives a writer can receive. They’re the most disappointing letters the postman can deliver. They depress us. They discourage us. Sometimes they inspire us or motivate us or instruct us, but they usually give us an excuse to take a day off from the keyboard and play video games or catch up on our TIVO.
They’re rejection letters, and Fred had included one in his press kit.
I did a little more research and discovered that Fred’s book was published by Fred’s Publishing, which made the faux pas a bit more understandable, but no less funny. It also gave me a new topic in case this year’s World Horror Convention included an impromptu discussion of how to get a book on a bookstore’s shelves.
It also provided me with a new strategy for my next round of novel submissions. After all, if it worked for Fred . . .
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .