Information from Sue Grimshaw - National Romance Buyer for Borders Book Group

What You Should Know about Book Selling

Well, here's exactly why you should join RWA and a local and/or on line chapter. This week (May 8, 2004) Sue Grimshaw was the featured speaker at the San Francisco Area RWA local chapter. Here's a re-cap of what she said and what I learned:

Some Background

Pay close attention to this, there are huge! implications for your career as a Romance author:

  1. Waldenbooks is 20 percent of the Romance market.
  2. If you include Borders, that percentage rises to 30.
  3. 1/3 of romance is bought at a mall.
  4. Readers rely on bookstore staff for recommendations.
  5. Romance is 5-20% of a store's sales.

In case you weren't paying attention: 30% of all romances sold? Readers rely on staff recommendations? That means whatever you can to do increase your buy and visibility at Waldenbooks will have a significant effect on YOUR bottom line.

The Buy

Titles are bought at least four months before the publication date. The print run helps determine what and how much to buy, as does the imprint and, of course, track record. The publisher's return policy can make or break the decision to buy. Interestingly enough, knowing the author's home town makes a difference since they can make a larger buy for that local market. Any book that is 10 or more years old can be treated as new.

The most important thing to know is what the book is about. Not all about the author, but all about the book. What kind of story is it, what other books is it like? This helps them determine how to position the book.

The Buy and The Cover

Waldenbooks has input on the cover. Let me say that again: Waldenbooks has input on the cover!! They are well aware of what kind of covers sell (yellow and white are not good) and they have in the past asked a publisher to change a cover, and been successful. Covers should match the story and the characters. Note to self: Well, now, readers (and authors) say exactly the same thing about covers, yet publishers insist/persist, in giving books covers that have nothing to do with the story inside the book. Also, cut-outs are bad. They tear. Bookshelvers hate them. As a reader, I don't care for them either, because they tear.

More on Covers

Readers typically scan a cover for five to ten seconds. That isn't long. That's why the cover is important. Imagine yourself in a bookstore, I know you are there often. Your gut should tell you that this is right. I know it is. I have myself bought book solely because I liked the cover. I have also not given some books a second look because I disliked the cover. Why? Because the subtle message is that the publisher didn't care enough to give the story a great cover and why did they not care? Because the story isn't any good. Sad but true psychology. Your cover affects your sales. This is something worth fighting for.

Carolyn's Note on Covers

Sue praised the cover for Lord Ruin, and rightly so (in my rarely humble opinion). The colors are unusual for a romance and they stand out for that reason. AND the two figures on the cover embody my characters, they are Anne and Ruan. Small image of Cover. Here's a larger image (be careful if you're on dial up.) Now, given that both readers and booksellers complain about covers that do not in some way represent the story, why would a publisher put out a book in which, oh, let's say a woman is in a bathtub but there is no scene in the book in which the heroine is in a bathtub? This for a talented, RITA nominated author (who, by the way, is not me -- someday maybe, but with a cover that matches the story I wrote)

Marketing Notes

Shelf Talkers are those colorful little paper things that highlight a particular title. A shelf talker increases sales 20%. Note to self: this is something to negotiate for with your publisher. Sue checks author websites to find out more about titles and the upcoming book.

The more the reader is educated about the books, the more she buys: shelf talkers, covers that relay the story, a back blurb that describes the story, sales staff that knows your story and recommends you. Author signed books make a difference. Having your book in the front of the store during the first two weeks is important, but the buy must warrant 8-10 books per store. A debut author is likely going to get 4 books per store. Word of mouth can net you 10% more in sales.

More Marketing That Matters

  1. In Store signings
  2. Warehouse signing (at a binders or distributor)
  3. Shelf Talkers
  4. E-mails, mailings and ARCS to Romance experts/staff
  5. Visit chat sites
  6. Two weeks before the book goes on sale, send bookmarks (at least 100) pads and pens to the staff experts

Good Months and Bad Months

February is the best month to release (on sale the last Tuesday of January) January is good. June and July are good. September and October are good. The holidays are not. Note to self: That means March, April, May, August, November and December are not good release months and am willing to bet that's in increasing order of not-goodness. Further note to self: That's six good months and six bad ones. You have a 50/50 chance of releasing in a good month.

OK, Now What?

Read on for Carolyn's Marketing/Career Development Plan.

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