Adventures in Bookselling, or Bill Ectric Goes to Hollywood

Being A Writer Bookselling Indie Publishing Science Fiction Southern

Taking advantage of a Hollywood vacation my wife won at her office Christmas party this past December, I decided to visit a few West Coast indie bookstores with copies of my novel, Tamper. This was our first time in California and we loved everything about it. In between sightseeing and dining, I dropped in on four bookstores I had chosen from a list provided by L.A. resident Wanda Shapiro, author of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken, whom I recently befriended on Facebook.

First, I have to say, the printed book is far from dead. On the flight from Jacksonville, Florida and throughout our stay in the Los Angeles area, I lost count of the number of people I saw reading books (not ebooks) at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel lobby, in coffee shops, and on the beach. Once, on my flight back to Jacksonville, I saw no less than three people in a row, all reading books at the same time. I managed to sneak a snapshot of them with my iPhone before the flight attendant reminded me to shut the gadget down while we were in the air.

My strategy was to give free copies of Tamper to each store I visited. If the bookstores sold those, I wanted none of the proceeds, but maybe they would consider ordering more.

“Think of it as a thick business card,” I said more than once. This was not my idea. I read it on a blog somewhere. I wish I could remember which blog it was, but the article suggested that in addition to sending books to reviewers, a good strategy might be to give books to people you meet socially, during travel, etc. The idea was that people would be duly impressed and likely to tell someone else. My reaction at the time was less than enthusiastic, but I’ve come to realize that it costs money to sell books, one way or the other. I’ve paid for blogads and print ads, I’ve paid postage to mail query letters and promotional material, and I’ve made large portions of my book available for free on the Internet (a fairly recent popular theory being that even people who can get books for free will somehow end up buying one), so hey, why not just give away a whole bunch of books?

My first foray was to a narrow little shop called Portrait of a Bookstore, in Studio City, described in one internet review as an “adorable indie bookstore nestled inside the quaint (yet hip) Aroma Cafe.” I should add that Portrait of a Bookstore does not use the word “indie” on their website. What they say on their website is, “Our selection makes for the kind of store you can rely on to carry that book that was just mentioned on NPR or in the New Times, but also the very best books you’ve never heard of . . . our book buyer, Lucia Silva, recommends books seasonally on NPR’s Morning Edition with Susan Stamberg.” What they don’t mention is that the book has to be available on Ingram’s catalog or they can’t purchase it.

Ingram is the same catalog Barnes & Noble buys from, and if you’re not on Ingram, you won’t be at Barnes & Noble or Portrait of a Bookstore. Upside: The lady I spoke to was pleasant and gracious. She asked me if my book was available from Ingram and I said I wasn’t sure. She was nice enough to look it up for me on her computer. It turns out that my first two books, Time Adjusters and Space Savers, are both on Ingram, because I published them through iUniverse, but my novel Tamper is not, apparently because it’s published through CreateSpace, which is affiliated with Amazon.com. It breaks down like this: iUniverse costs more but they have Ingram; CreateSpace costs much less and they have Amazon.com and Kindle. For the best of both worlds, I just sent an email to CreateSpace earlier today, asking if there is any way to get Tamper listed in Ingram’s catalog. So I got some valuable information from the pleasant lady whose name I unfortunately neglected to write down. It couldn’t have been Lucia Silva because she told me, “Our buyer isn’t here right now.” As a matter of fact, at all four bookstores I went to, the first thing they said was, “Our buyer isn’t here right now.” No buyers were ever there right then. But that’s okay, I told them, for I am giving freely with no strings attached. She did accept one copy of Tamper and a couple of my business cards.

Next stop: Metropolis Books, 440 Main Street, downtown Los Angeles. The woman behind the counter looked at me like I was trying to give her a dead possum. “We don’t purchase books on commission,” she said. I explained it was a free copy and all I was asking was that they display it and see if it sells. I had my one and two-line spiels down pretty well (you have to summarize books in one or two lines or the listener will go into a coma). Between my first and second line, she said, “Well, you see, our store is in the process of being sold, so we can’t accept any more products.” I remained upbeat and friendly, focusing gently on the angle that she had nothing to lose by displaying the book, and you never know, someone might buy it, and she allowed me to place one copy on the counter in front of her and promised not to trash it as soon as I walked out the door.

The last two stores were, by far, the most receptive and understanding. They were Skylight Books, near the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, and Small World Books on the rockin’ free-wheelin’ & funky boardwalk at Venice Beach, with its sidewalk vendors and street performers.

Even though their buyers weren’t there right then, the people who worked in these two stores (again, I regret not getting names) seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about the book and expressed no reservations about dealing with an unknown fly-by-night like myself. The young man at Skylight said he was reluctant to accept a free book because, he said, “I know how much books cost” and he didn’t want to deplete my inventory. I pulled the “think of it as a thick business card” line. Works every time.

The folks at Small, who I will call Earth Mother and The Coolly Studious Guy, put me at such ease that I let my hair down a bit and expressed lamentations over the plight of indie booksellers everywhere. Unprofessional, I know. I felt like I had returned to a familiar continuum in time and space, where people were real. The Earth Mother assured me that Small World Books is not tied to a particular catalog and the Coolly Studious Guy accepted two copies of Tamper, sensing that it would appease my torment.

Upon arriving back in muggy-hot, mosquito-infested, and recently smoke-from-forest-fire-filled Jacksonville, Florida, I received an awesome email from Skylight Books. They wanted to buy two copies of Tamper for their store! Whoo-Hoo! The email even contained information as to what type of invoice they needed to receive with the order, which was quite helpful.

This wasn't my first sale to a bookstore, but it's the first time a bookstore outside of Florida has placed an order for Tamper. I might just print that email and frame it.

10 Responses to "Adventures in Bookselling, or Bill Ectric Goes to Hollywood"

by mayowa on

Good stuff, Bill. I dread having to do this (the bookstore visits) but this doesnt sound so bad.

The very first sentence that caught my attention when I saw this article, was the first one of your second paragraph. It filled with with such relief and hope; I've read so many articles, papers, and blog posts where writers lament over a "dying" print industry. I haven't realized just how many people still read books until you pointed out how many you've seen during your travel. It made me think back on my commutes and, sure enough, I definitely remember a good handful of people who still read.

I enjoyed this article very much, and I am pleased to see that the tactic you used to publicize your book went well! I hope you continue to have good luck with your books, and with all your personal endeavors, in the future! :)

by TKG on

Hi Bill,

Great story.

Why didn't you get a hold of me when you were in LA?

Thanks for the comments. Mayowa, with your outgoing personality, you should be a natural at promoting books.

A. E. Stover, I think print books will be around for a long time. Ebooks are great, too. Right now, I'm reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which was free on Kindle. On the other hand, I'm also reading the graphic novel Watchmen, which somehow feels better as a print book. I think there's a time & place for both formats. My goal is to make my writing available in every format.

TKG, there were a number of people I thought about looking up while in L.A. and I probably should have. At the time, I felt hurried, but looking back on it now, I don't know why I felt that way.

by Claudia on

Bill, what a great tactic to use your book as a business card for bookstores. That way you combined your family vacation with promoting your novel. By the way, you're not the first one to think of this strategy: I think John Grisham did something similar too. It sure worked for him! I hope it works for you too.

I live here and I haven't done this yet - which is pretty stupid, but it feels so much like begging that I haven't gotten around to it.

by judih on

Bill, great work. Hope this focused effort leads to more ventures into bookstore territory. Let me know when you hit Tel Aviv or Be'er Sheva.

by Milton on

Bill,

Glad you had a mostly positive experience with our bookstores out here. I basically used to live at Skylight, by the way; my favorite bookstore in the city.

I have a friend who sold a couple copies of a self-published book at Skylight that she got on the shelves basically the same way you did. They paid her pretty promptly for what she sold.

Good luck with everything, and I'll keep a look out for your book next time I'm there -- I admire your hustle.

Skylight Books did seem to be the kind of bookstore in which I would enjoy hanging out, as well as Small Word Books. Both were very cool.

Update! . . . Update! . . . Update! . . .

I was informed today by CreateSpace that my novel, Tamper, is now available through both Ingram and Lightning Source.

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