A Virginia Barnes & Noble experiments with local author events

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are celebrating with Virginia-based author Martin Davis, because Barnes & Noble managers in his part of the country are warmly welcoming local authors. We are aware of authors nationwide who have been turned away from their local B&N stores by managers who make it nearly impossible to consider a local event. We also are publishing Martin’s column to encourage B&N executives nationally to build on this successful experience Martin is describing, thanks to the encouragement of B&N’s Jane Keller in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Author of 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches

Walk around your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore—and have a look at the book jackets in the horror section, or the romance section, or fiction, or nonfiction.

There’s a sterile predictability to them.

That’s the reality of traditional publishing today. Facing tight margins, five giants—Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan—produce more than half of all new books released each year. Their large-scale deals with bricks-and-mortar stores mean that they control the lion’s share of shelf space.

As I tour the shelves of the remaining big-box bookstores, their offerings seem predictable.

What’s an independently minded writer to do?

To pursue creative new projects, indie writers have been turning to self-publishing and hybrid publishing—publishing houses that will give the untried a shot, and a chance to live their dream of writing a book.

Front Edge Publishing has been on the cutting edge of the hybrid movement since 2007.

But, all nontraditional publishers face the same high hurdles thrown up largely by the Big Five’s long-standing deals with bookstores, especially the remaining “big box” stores. Indie publishers and authors don’t have an easy pathway from printed book to physical placement on bookstore shelves.

Barnes & Noble, the largest brick-and-mortar bookstore in the U.S., has come to appreciate this surging indie market and has launched a new program that empowers local B&N store managers to promote local authors—even those who are self- or hybrid-published.

‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober, Sell Your Book’

The Fredericksburg, Virginia, area is rich in local writers. So rich, in fact, that successful crime writer Rick Pullen has launched the Write Drunk, Edit Sober Secret Society (sorry, but I can’t give you the website—it’s a secret society, and there’s booze involved). Twice a year, we gather at a local restaurant and share stories about our publishing journeys, gripe about agents and editors, and listen to a guest speaker.

Jane Keller came to our last meeting over the summer. The Lead Bookseller at the Fredericksburg B&N, she talked about the company’s new program to promote local writers by offering book signings and an opportunity to get their books on the shelves of the store.

It’s a relatively painless process. A call to Jane the week after our meeting, a quick discussion, signing a two-page agreement, and I was scheduled for my first book signing that occurred September 30.

I was paired with a fellow Write Drunk, Edit Sober member Jack Bales. For two hours on a Saturday afternoon we met local book shoppers, sold some books, and had a great time talking with fans.

Who knew we had fans?!

The pairing was not accidental. My own book, 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches, is a book for sports fans. Jack’s is the incredible story of The Chicago Cub Shot for Love: A Showgirl’s Crime of Passion and the 1932 World Series.

Jane put us together in an effort to attract more sports fans to the store. She promoted our appearance on the local website, and put attractive posters announcing the signing on the front doors of the store a week before the signing.

In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the posters until my son called one evening and said, “Did you know you and your book are being promoted?”

By the end of the day, I had sold 10 copies. The store paid out in cash, with 60% of the purchase price going to me, and 40% going to the store. Not a bad deal at all.

As the day wound down, Jane purchased four copies, asked that I sign them, popped  “Autographed Copy” stickers on them, and they are now on the shelf at B&N for folks to purchase.

How Can You Make This Happen?

How likely your B&N is to promoting your book depends entirely upon local store management. In Fredericksburg, Jane ran with this idea and we all benefitted.

So contact your local B&N and ask. If the answer is no, don’t despair.

The manager is a business person, after all, and they have to see a benefit. If you’re the only author who has asked, the manager may not see the benefit of a one-off experiment.

So, find other writers in your community and start a writer’s group. We find that German food and beer is nice magnet—but, hey, those are our tastes. See what works in your region.

As your group grows, reach out to the local B&N and let them know what you have going. That increases the odds that the local manager will agree.

In addition to our recent signing, our friend Jim Hall had a signing for his book Condemned for Love in Old Virginia. And others are coming.

As for me and Jack—our hats are off to B&N and to Jane especially for doing what’s best for local writers.

Creativity and originality still have a chance even when those five powerful giants are looming on the horizon, gobbling up all the shelf space they can consume.

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