If I were published by a Big House, would I be blogging with the other writers? Getting information, tips, and comments from John Grisham or Sue Grafton? I don't think so. Sure it's harder getting your books on the shelves if you're with a small press, but it's not impossible. In the process of setting up my mega book signing tour, I've talked to close to a hundred bookstores in Georgia and Florida (because they are close to where I live), in New Mexico (because my book is set there), in Texas (because I pass through there on my way to New Mexico), in Arizona (because I pass through there on my way to PSWA), and in southern Colorado because I don't know when to leave well enough alone.
How did I do? Struck out completely in Arizona. Ditto with Florida. I guess proximity isn't a selling point. I have three signings in Texas, but I contacted about 25 stores to get those three. I have about a dozen signings in New Mexico and expect that number to grow by another three or four before I start the tour.
What have I learned? Mainly this - you can't generalize about bookstores. One Barnes & Noble in El Paso turned me down because they "don't do POD books." The other B&N across town jumped at the chance to host a signing and even agreed to pay for an ad in the newspaper. They want my poster ASAP so they can place it prominently in the store and drum up interest, and they plan to keep the book in stock.
A small restaurant in Chama, NM (pop. 1250) called Cookin’ Books because they sell books on the side wants enough posters to cover all the surrounding towns that are even smaller, and I can tell from owner and cook Maureen that she is going to drag half the citizens of Rio Arriba County to my signing.
One store in Santa Fe isn’t doing signings at this point, but I kept talking to the owner after she told me that, chatting about Santa Fe, and after she asked more about my book, she decided to order it and keep it in stock even though she won’t do a signing. A bookstore owner in Silver City said his space was too small, but after we chatted for a while, he suggested I call the museum there, told me the person to talk to, and said to tell them he had urged me to call. He’s also going to stock my book.
There are a lot of nice people in the bookstore business who enjoy helping writers. One of them is my local Waldenbooks manager, Doug. You can find them in the chains and you can find them in the indies. And you can find a lot of people that are not pleasant to deal with and you wonder why they’re in the business, and they are at both chains and indies, too.
I know I’m fortunate to have summers off, so I can take the time to travel and do signings. I’ve enjoyed the trials and tribulations of putting this together, so I see it as one of many advantages of being with a small press. O.K., I admit that I always dreamed of walking into a book store and seeing my book on the same shelf with Robert Parker and Lawrence Block. And thanks to some really great bookstore people, I’ll have that experience. It won’t happen in LA or NYC, but at least I’ll be able to walk in to a B&N in El Paso, my local Waldenbooks, and a dozen or so indies in New Mexico and see that great looking cover. Or even better, a sign where the two copies used to be saying, “This title is on backorder.”