Thursday, October 09, 2008

Selling Your Title: Whose Responsibility? - Austin

I’m an author, a librarian and a bookstore employee. I love words. I love the wonder of language, its incredible versatility, its dynamic and its power. I’m thrilled when someone tells me how much they’ve enjoyed a book. I often joke that I couldn’t sell water on the Sahara, but something about books changes me. I’m not ‘selling’ something. I’m sharing a treasure. I get an almost identical thrill in the library as in the bookstore. (If I owned the store and had to pay the bills I might see things differently.)

I find great satisfaction in promoting authors I know, but my role as a bookstore employee and as a librarian is broader than that. In most cases where I have opportunity to make suggestions to a customer or someone browsing library shelves, I’ll offer a selection that fits a theme. It might on rare occasions even include my own work if someone expresses an interest in poetry, or is looking for resources on grieving. But it will always include other work presented in the best light possible. I am frequently disappointed in the choices customers make, but if I have given them a fair selection with an indication of the strengths of a number of titles, the final choice is theirs. When I present Hot Apple Cider alongside another anthology, I know both are excellent books. But there are several thousand excellent choices in our store as well as quite a few not so excellent.

But – when it all boils down – whose responsibility is it to sell YOUR title? Is it the bookstore’s responsibility? Is it the publishers? Is it yours?

I’ll risk saying all three, but ultimately the biggest responsibility falls to the author. I would love to tell you that your title landing on our shelves automatically translates into sales. It doesn’t! With a gripping cover and excellent back-cover copy it stands a good chance of getting picked up by customers. That is a big start, but only a start. If you are fortunate enough that someone on staff takes the book home and reads it, that’s another big plus for you. Still, it sits on a shelf beside many other titles. Customers have limited funds and limited time. They may make a decision based on those three or four one-line blurbs on the back cover. They may make a decision based on the title and the cover illustration. They may make a decision totally on price – your title lists at $16.99 and the one beside it is selling at $11.99.

As an author, I want stores to do more for “my” titles. I think they should somehow get special treatment. Out of the thousands of new titles released each year and the tens of thousands of backlist titles available, I want “my” titles featured front and centre, read and endorsed and promoted by every staff member. As an employee, however, my title ranks exactly the same as every other title in the store.

Your title, wherever it fits in any store, is the product of your dream and passion and labour of love. But the title beside it also represents an author’s dream and passion and labour of love. Yet the responsibility for your title, still remains primarily with you.

Brian Austin

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