Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Great Bookstore Experiment

Fellow writers, let us band together and share information for the common good.

I've learned a lot about the bookselling buiness by working as a bookseller, asking questions of booksellers, and observing over 1000 bookstores.

By my count, there are about 680 Walden/Borders Express stores, about 550 Borders stores, and about 600 Barnes & Nobles. My numbers may be off--stores open and close all the time. I'm not sure how many large indie stores there are, or how many Books A Million. If anyone has more accurate numbers, please share them.

By my count, the Mystery/Thriller Section in a chain store averages 250 different authors (authors, not titles). Bigger stores have more, smaller stores have less.

I've hung out in bookstores for hours at a time. I've lurked in the Mystery section, waiting to pounce on anyone who browses there. I've done this at all times of day, all over the country, every day of the week.

And I'm concerned.

Maybe it's a watched pot never boils situation, but I don't see a lot of people buying mysteries.

Sometimes an hour will go by and no one even enters the section. Sometimes a reader will beeline straight for Harlan Coben, grab one, and be on her way ten seconds later. But I don't see a lot of browsing, and I don't see a lot of buying---especially hardcovers.

Booksellers have told me that a face-out book has an eight times better chance of selling than a spine-out book. And I know that a bookstore may only receive three or less copies of a new mystery, keep them on the shelf for three to five months, and then still return copies because they didn't sell. It's possible that your new hardcover may only be selling one copy in five months, per location.

I know booksellers read my blog, and I'd like to ask a question of them. How many customers does your store average per day? And what percentage of that is mystery sales? Feel free to post anonymously.

And for you mystery writers, give me three hours of your time. This is for your benefit as well. Go to your local bookstore, get a cup of coffee, pull out a notepad, and watch the mystery section. Count how many people browse the mystery section, and how many people leave with a book. Then post that info here. Include store, location, and time of day. If you're eagle-eyed, include the book title the customers bought.

What is the point of this experiment?

I'm not sure that writers understand how much the odds are stacked against them.

I spoke to a lot of booksellers on my last tour. And at least a hundred of them--even though they weren't supposed to--shared how many of my books had sold that year. The stores that knew me and supported me have sold between 50 and 180 of my books this year alone. The majority have sold less than ten. Some haven't sold a single book.

I'm guessing that a midlist mystery author might average one sale every two weeks, per location, if they only have a few books in stock and no coop placement.

I have no idea if I'm right or not, but I think I am.

I hope everyone who reads this blog gives this experiment a try. If you don't want to spend that long in a bookstore playing spy, but you are friends with a bookstore employee or manager, ask them how many customers they have per day vs. how many mysteries sold.

If you're a writer, ignorance isn't bliss. It's death. If a customer isn't directly seeking out your book--because they read a review, or had it recommended to them, or learned about it somehow--then the only chance you have of selling it is to a browser, and there aren't that many browsers. Seven paperbacks on the new release tower might have a shot at selling a few by chance. A single hardcover spine-out in the Mystery section has very little chance of selling by chance.

You hear me preach about the importance of meeting booksellers, of self-promotion, of establishing brand and name recognition. Invariably, many writers will tell me that promotion is up to the publisher, that writers can't make a difference, that all they need to concentrate on is writing a good book.

My response is always the same: the bookstore is filled with good books that customers walk right past. If no one knows about your book, it is going to rot on the shelf no matter how good it it.

Take three hours. Visit a bookstore. Post the numbers. Show me that I'm wrong or that I'm right.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Do Something

Many writers, both newbies and pros, engage in some sort of self-promotion.

The reason for this seems obvious: the more you do, the more books you'll potentially sell.

But the vast majority of those who self-promote are doing so with ignorance. They feel they must do something to help their careers, so they look around at what other authors are doing and adopt their methods.

The word lemmings comes to mind.

While I am a stalwart proponant of bettering your career through self-promotion, I've noticed that the difficulty--and resulting dissapointment--most writers are encountering has less to to with their hard work than their apparent lack of goals.

I can say, "Go self-promote," but that doesn't mean anything unless a writer has specific goals in mind, and a plan to attain those goals.

In other words, writers who feel compelled to do something will go out and do something, but their something does nothing for their career.

You must start with a plan. And the plan must be carefully thought-out, with goals more specific than "sell some books."

Let's look at a few standard writer self-promotion strategies, and why they suck. Then let's see if we can make them not suck so bad.

  • Doing a Booksigning. Bestselling authors and booklaunch parties aside, why do writers believe they'll actually get a crowd at a signing? Have you ever been to a booksigning by an unknown author? If so, how many people were there with you? What brought you there---publicity, or random chance?

    While on my tour, I ran into six other signings. One was a multiple author event, with seven authors at tables near the front of a large chain store.

    None of these signings attracted even the smallest of crowds, and in each case I handsold more books in each of these stores than the author did, and I was only there for 15 minutes.
  • Revised Goal. Assume every booksigning you attend will be dead. What should you do? The secret to a successful signing isn't a bowl of candy, or a big poster, or a lot of publicty. The secret is getting up out of the chair and shaking the hand of everyone who walks into the store. If you can't do that, don't do booksignings until you're an NYT bestseller and will draw a crowd. Save your time.

    If the thought of meeting strangers terrifies you, use something to break the ice. I give out signed drink coasters. Bob Morris fries up conch fritters and mixes rum drinks (this costs some bucks, but he always sells well.) Brian Pinkerton stays a minimum of four hours, often longer, and passes out bookmarks made from laminated strips of his handwritten first drafts. The writer needs something to say other than "Buy my book." What is it you're going to say?
  • Touring. Book tours cost mega dollars, and recoup very little. Yet writers are conditioned to believe that they need to tour. Let's break a tour down, cost-wise. Eight cities, eight scheduled events.

    Let's go cheap, and figure each plane ticket is $150. Times nine (which is the trip back home) is $1350. A rental car at each location is $40, coop for each bookstore is $50, and a food stipend is $30 per day. Hotels can range from $50 to $150, depending on the city, so let's average it to $100. So the minimum cost of this tour is $3110.

    A publisher profits about what you do per book, about $3 a hardcover, sixty cents a paperback.

    In order to justify the cost of the tour, you'd have to sell 1036 hardcovers, or 129 in each location.

    If you sell thirty at a location, you're doing very well. Consistently selling over a hundred hardcovers is almost unheard of.

    Now there are some intangible benefits to touring, just as media exposure and publicity, meeting some booksellers and some fans, and signing stock. But I still find it hard to justify the cost vs. benefit.

  • Revised Goal. Decide what the point of touring is. Getting publicity is always good, but there are a lot of hurdles a reader must overcome to go from hearing you on the radio to visiting you at a signing. Meeting fans is great, but meeting people who have never heard of you may be even more effective. And if those people are booksellers, you've recruited a sales force. Selling books is important, but chances are you won't sell many, and certainly not enough to justify the cost of the tour. Signing stock may help your sell-trhough, but if the stock is more than 20 copies you're probably going to get returns.

    My goals for my last tour were specific. I wanted to meet as many booksellers as I could and explain my series to them. I wanted to sign stock and encourage them to keep me stocked. And I wanted to impress my publisher.

    The cost of me visiting each store was $5.91, compared to $388.75 per store for a tradional tour. In some cases, I recouped the cost immediately, by selling a few books, or getting a free cappucino. A few hundred of the stores ordered more copies of my books after having met me. I met 950 booksellers (compared to perhaps 40 on a traditional tour) who now know me and my books.

    The immediate effects of my tour were free coop placement in high traffic areas, 4000+ signed books which will have a better sell-through than unsigned books, and future word-of-mouth sales from the booksellers, including several who will go on to sell hundreds of my titles.

    The long-term benefits can include broader name recognition, future speaking opportunities, a buzz in the writing community, a lot of word-of-mouth among fans and peers, and hopefully a bigger promotional budget for my next book.

  • Mass Mailings. Authors get ahold of mailing lists, either through a writer's organization, buying the list, or compiling it themselves. Then, when a book comes out, they send out a newsletter or postcard.

    Mailings are notoriously poor ways to sell books, and I've heard statistics that they only have between a 2% to 12% success rate. Crunch those numbers. With stamps at 39 cents, and the cost of printing postcards or newsletters, you can be spending 70 cents to hopefully sell a paperback that will give you 60 cents in royalties. And this will only happen, at best, 12% of the time.

    Have you ever bought a book because you received a mailing? I haven't. The slickest of them (I'm on Evanovich's mailing list) are mini magazines, offerening articles, reports, tour dates, and info about current and upcoming books. The Janet can afford to send this out. Chances are, you can't. Nor will yours be as effective, because The Janet has name recognition, 30 books in print, and keeps the costs down my mailing 300,000.
  • Revised Goal. If you're going to target someone with a mass mailing, target what Julia Spencer-Fleming calls the force multimpliers. These are librarians and booksellers. In fact, while on tour, I was at an indie store in Florida when the mail came, and watched the bookseller open up one of Julia's mailings, which reminded the booksellers that Julia's new book was coming out. This is a much more effective use of your mailing dollar.

    Like The Janet, Julia had more in her mailing than just a jacket photo and some blurbs. She had an interview with another author, some reviews, and a detailed description of her backlist. Plus, sharing costs with another author made the mailing twice as effective, but half as expensive.
  • Build an Internet Presence. You've heard it many times. All writers need a website. All writers need a blog. All writers need to belong to mesaage boards and listserv and newsgroups. All writers need a MySpace account.

    Well... why? What is the reason you have any of those things? If it's to sell books, you're mistaken. A very small percentage of books are sold on the Internet (I've heard that all Internet sales combined account for less than 10% of books sold.)

    These days, everyone is on the net. Everyone has some cyber real estate. But this doesn't directly lead to book sales. It probably won't even lead to return visits, unless you have something that keeps people coming back.
  • Revised Goal. Target a demographic. The fact is, most writing blogs are read by the same 400 people in the publishing industry, and most author websites are simply 24 hour brochures for their books. Neither will help increase your fanbase.

    MJ Rose, who knows a bit about self-promotion, understands this. She realizes that an Internet presence is a way to build name recognition and brand awareness, along with buzz. She also realizes that shouting "Buy My Book" has no effect at all on sales. So MJ's focus online is to offer information and expertise. People continually revist her blogs to learn things, and each day new people find her via search engines, links, and word of mouth. When she does a promotion, as with her current book The Venus Fix, it becomes an event, complete with contests, give-aways, charity donations, and the cutting edge of Internet technology. MJ isn't targeting the writing community with her Vidlit book trailer---she's targeting everyday people who aren't involved in publishing.

    Being online isn't enough. You have to have a reason for being online, and give people a reason to visit you. It's about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell.
  • Giveaways. Bookmarks. Postcards. Business cards. Flyers. Pens. Food items featuring your name. T-shirts featuring your book cover. How many of these things have you gotten? How many have you kept? How many have made you buy the book they're promoting?

    At a booksigning, it's good to have something to give to browsers that they can look at while shopping. It's also smart to have something for the goodie table when you attend conferences. But if it costs more than a few cents, you're losing money on the transaction.

    The fact is, no freebie in the world can make someone buy a book.
  • Revised Goal. Make sure your freebies are cheap, and offer enough information to pique the interest of someone who likes your kind of book. Flyers are the best. I also like chapbooks, as nothing can sell a book like a sample of the writing.

    I give away signed coasters, which are gimmicky but cheap. They feature my covers, and my URL. Signing them means they're less likely to be thrown away, and a coaster actually has a practical application. Do they sell books? No. Do they get people curious about my books? Perhaps.

    Tim Dorsey takes it to the next level. Rather than give things away, he sells them. And does well at it, too. When people are paying you to advertise your books, you've hit upon a genius idea.
  • Conferences. No matter your genre, there are many conferences each year. Many authors get uptight about what panels they'll be on, or when their scheduled signing time is. The fact is, even if you're a huge bestseller, a conference will never pay for itself in the number of books you sell. The networking and fan-meeting is good for your career, and you can learn a lot in a short amount of time.

    Conferences can teach you how to speak in public, help you understand the business, and assist in building name recognition. But after a dozen or so conventions, the benefits are questionable. You're seeing the same group over and over, you're no longer actively learning anything, and they become an expensive way to drink with your friends rather than a powerful tool for building your career.
  • Revised Goal. If you're a new writer, or an unpublished writer, attend as many conferences as you can afford. But after you've been doing it for a while, start to get choosey. Pick conferences you've never been to before, rather than the same one year after year. Perhaps only go to conferences that pay your way. Consider trade shows, and chain store manager meetings, and industry conventions as alternatives.

    When you do attend conferences, concentrate on meeting new people, not hanging out with those you already know. And remember to schmooze the booksellers.
  • Hire a Publicist. Many writers believe that the first thing they should do after they sign a book deal is hire a publicist. They think that getting on the radio and TV and setting up signings will sell books.

    And it might, but probably not enough to cover the cost of the publicist you hired.

    A publicist, as the name implies, gets you publicity. Publicity, like advertising, doesn't necessarily sell books. It informs people that you and your books exist, which is helpful. But it doesn't herd them into the nearest bookstore and place a copy of your book in their hands. You could spend an awful lot of money on a publicist, and have very little to show for it.
  • Revised Goal. If you hire a publicist, decide exactly what you want her to do, and try to only pay for results rather than attempts. I'm considering hiring a publicist for DIRTY MARTINI, because my previous novels haven't gotten a lot of reviews. This is something my publisher hasn't really been able to do for me, and for my next book I'd like to have a lot of newspaper saturation.

    While reviews can sell books, I don't have much faith that radio or advertising does. At least, I haven't seen their effectiveness when it comes to my own career. Hiring a publicist to get you on NPR could pay off considerably. But getting on Good Morning Sheboygan might not be the best use of your time and money.

If you're going to self-promote, you need to understand what it is you're doing, and why you're doing it. Spending time and money on vague concepts that you feel you should be doing, without understanding their effects, is pointless and stupid.

I just received an email from someone I don't know hawking a new book which details how to promote your mysteries. A few things struck me immediately when visiting their website.

First, I didn't recognize any of the contributors. I know a lot of folks in the mystery community, but to not recognize any of them makes me wonder how effective they are at self-promoting.

Second, though they have a website, there is very little of substance on it. You'd think a book about how to promote would share some of those tips as a teaser to get you to buy the book. They don't even list a table of contents or an overview of subjects covered. There are four super-brief articles you can click on, but the information they cover is either obvious, small potatoes, or contrary to what I've learned about the business.

But you know what? What I've learned about the business may be contrary to what you've learned about the business. My way certainly isn't the only way, and may not be the right way for you.

Try different things. Figure out for yourself what works. Take advice, and hone it.

If you write books, you should do something to help promote them. Just make sure you understand what it is you're doing, and why.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tour Day 52, 53, 54, and 55

Miles driven: 11457
Books signed: 4066
Books hand sold: 214
Booksellers met: 952
Bookstores visited: 504

I'm happy to be home again. But the tour isn't over yet. I'm planning on visiting at least 5 bookstores a day until I finish the Northern Illinois area. Then I'll be doing limited visits to Wisconsin and Michigan, along with a few events in the upcoming months.

Catching up on all of my email is a daunting task--I've got over a thousand in the in-box that require responses--but if you're waiting for some kind of response from me, you should be getting it soon.

Several people have emailed asking how the bookstore visits are going. Are the booksellers always happy to see me? Have there been any strange or terrible signings?

Here are a few snippets from the tour. Each bookstore drop-in begins with me finding my books on the shelf and taking them to the Information Desk (or Customer Service, or a register.)

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Thanks for coming by. Would you like to speak to a manager?

JA: If one is available, I'd love to say hello.

A manager is called. I talk about the series, sign the stock, sign some coasters, and ask who the biggest mystery reader in the store is. That person gets a signed copy of Rusty Nail.

JA: I'm also thanking booksellers in my fourth novel, DIRTY MARTINI, coming out next year. So, if you'd like, write down your names and you'll be immortalized in print.

Booksellers write down their names. There are plenty of smiles and hand shakes and thank yous, and then I'm off to my next store. That's the typical signing, and about how 85% of them play out. It's a good, productive experience for everyone involved.

Ten percent of them played out like this:

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Oh my god, I love your books!

JA: Thanks!

Bookseller: I still can't eat Halloween candy after that scene in your first one.

JA: Thank you.

Bookseller: Wait right here, I have to introduce you to some of my co-workers.

In some cases, the booksellers were expecting me, and had anywhere from 20 to 140 copies of my books for me to sign. This happened roughly a dozen times, and every time I was humbled and thrilled.

Did I meet with some apathy? Sure. Usually, booksellers love to meet authors and love to read. But all businesses employ some people who hate their jobs. Here are a few episodes that stand out:

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Okay.

JA: Can we check to see if there are any others in the store?

Bookseller: Check the mystery section.

JA: I just checked the mystery section. That's where I found these. Do you have any others?

Bookseller: Maybe there are more on a table somewhere.

JA: Can you help me find them?

Bookseller: I can't be bothered with that.

I'm shocked by this. I've met over 900 booksellers, and they have always been helpful and courteous. I look around, but don't see any other customers in the building, so it isn't as if I'm preventing her from helping anyone else.

JA: Well, I'll go take another look.

I find some copies on an endcap and bring them back to the Information desk.

JA: I found a few. Thanks for having them on the endcap.

Bookseller: You can't sign those.

JA: Pardon me?

Bookseller: If you sign them, we can't return them.

JA: Actually, you can return signed copies. Stores do it all the time.

Bookseller: Well, you're not signing them.

JA: Can I speak to a manager?

Bookseller: I am a manager.

JA: I'm confused. Normally, managers are happy that I'm signing copies, because they have a better sell-through.

Bookseller: You're not signing anything in this store.

JA: Well. Nice to meet you. What's your name again?

Bookseller: Diane.

JA: Thanks for your help, Diane. Do you have a last name?

Bookseller: I don't give that out.

JA: So on your business cards it just says Diane?

Bookseller: I don't have a business card.

JA: A pity.

I left the above store wondering if I should alert a GM or DM or someone to let them know that they have a crazy person working for them. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to let it go. There's nothing that could be done to Diane that real life already hasn't done to her.

I was also refused signing stock at another store, and it played out like this:

Bookseller: It's a corporate policy. We don't allow signing stock.

JA: Really? I've already signed stock at over forty of your other locations.

Bookseller: They shouldn't have allowed it.

JA: The last one gave me extra stickers from your store that say AUTOGRAPHED COPY. See? These are from your chain.

Bookseller: We can't sign returned stock.

JA: Why is that?

Bookseller: They don't accept them back.

JA: But how do they know the copies are signed, when they're returned? Don't you strip off the paperback covers?

Bookseller: The sticker on the front. We're not supposed to put stickers on the covers.

JA: What about that big stack of books over there, with the 30% off stickers on them?

Bookseller: We don't allow authors to sign books.

JA: How about I put a signed coaster in each book?

Bookseller: That would be fine.

While Diane was openly hostile, this manager simply seemed robotic. I signed some coasters and left.

Like everything you do in life, you can't have a 100% success rate. Here's a scenario that happened to me twice:

JA: Hi, I'm an author. Is a manager around?

Bookseller: Sure. I'll find one.

I wait around for five minutes, then find another bookseller.

JA: Can I speak to a manager? I'm a writer on a national tour and am in town for a limited time. I dropped in to sign stock and say hello.

Bookseller #2: I'll get one for you.

I wait another five minutes.

Bookseller #2: The manager is busy right now. Can you wait a minute?

JA: Sure.

I wait for ten more minutes. No manager appears. I try to engage a few other booksellers by asking if they like mysteries. None of them do. I sign the stock and put it back on the shelf myself.

Now, I probably wasn't purposely snubbed. It may have simply been some miscommunication, or the manager on duty was super busy. Usually, booksellers are happy to help me. I've met almost a thousand booksellers, and 99.9% of them were experts in customer service.

Some, like this one, were not:

JA: Thanks for carrying my books. Can we check to see if there are any more paperbacks in the store?

Bookseller: We had a bunch. I just stripped them and sent them back.

JA: Ouch. You stripped them?

Bookseller: If they don't sell in 90 days, they get returned.

JA: You know, the book has only been out for 45 days.

Bookseller: Well, we needed the shelf space.

Ouch indeed. At another store, I pulled some of my paperbacks from the shelf, and the cover on one was 95% cut off, hanging by a thread. Apparently the earnest bookseller had stripped one too many, and reshelved it.

Those were the only two stores where I encountered returns. In at least 200 of the stores I visited, the booksellers ordered more copies after meeting me. Which, of course, always resulted in an outpouring of gratitude from me.

The following strange scenario happened to me twice:

JA: Thanks for carrying my books. Do you mind if I sign them for you?

Bookseller: Can I see some ID?

This puzzled me. If I were some lunatic, signing other people's books, wouldn't I pick an author more well known than JA Konrath? Wouldn't I try to signed some Koontz or Clancy?

In both cases, I showed ID, and the visit turned out to be worthwhile. Still, what an odd thing to ask.

I was also very surprised by how many stores stocked all three of my titles. At least half, probably more. In 3 of the 5 major chains, my books were stocked automatically, so even if they were missing a title, a quick computer check showed that some were on order. That felt really good.

The following scenario happened a handful of times, and it always blew me away:

Bookseller: Everyone in the store loves your books!

JA: Thanks! That means a lot. Really. Without people like you, I wouldn't have a career.

Bookseller: I'm buying this one. Can you sign a copy for me?

JA: I'd love to.

Bookseller #2: I want a copy too. Can you sign it?

JA: Absolutely.

Bookseller #3, #4, & #5: We're buying these. Please sign them for us.

JA: Sure. Thanks. You guys are awesome.

In a few cases, maybe ten, I visited stores and they didn't have any copies of my books. I'd give them a free copy of RUSTY NAIL and say that I hope they stock them in the future. Most of them ordered copies right then.

Several times on tour, an author friend would invite me to do an impromptu speech at a bookstore, where a writer group was meeting. The last time this happened was in Tampa, where I met a few Florida writers.

Big hugs and sloopy kisses to Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen, who invited me to the shindig and then took me out for a lovely lunch. If you like my writing, you'll also enjoy Jeff's, who writes with the same combination of funny and twisted. Lynne does horror for the YA crowd, and if you have children, her books come highly recommended by me.

So, what's the final verdict? Was all of my running around worthwhile?

Absolutely. While every bookstore I visited didn't result in a home run, the vast majority of them were terrific. Meeting booksellers, signing stock, and passing our free books, is easily the most effective thing I've ever done for my career. I feel like I've actually made a difference, and I believe I'll continue to benefit from this tour for years to come.

Plus, who else can say they were on tour for so long that they actually got callouses on their fingers from driving?

If you're looking for signed JA Konrath books, look no further than these fine establishments:

Books & Books Coral Gables FL

BN Coral Gables FL

BN Naples FL

Border Naples FL

Borders Sarasota FL

BN Ft. Myers FL

Walden Ft. Myers FL

BAM Ft. Myers FL

Walden Port Charlotte FL

BN Sarasota FL

Walden 3501 Tamiami Sarasote FL

Walden 8201 Tamiami Sarasota FL

Borders Plantation FL

BAM Sunrise FL

Borders 909 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders 12500 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders St. Perersburg FL

BN 213 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

BN 11802 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

BN St. Petersburg FL

Walden West Shore Blvd Tampa FL

Walden West Shore Mall Tampa FL

Walden Folwer Tampa FL

Walden Citrus PArk Tampa FL

BN Ocala FL

MAN Ocala FL

BN Gainesville FL

Borders Gainesville FL

Walden Gainesville FL

BN Macon GA

BAM Centerville GA

BAM Macon GA

BAM Valdosta GA

Book Warehouse Lake Park GA

BN Schaumburg IL

Borders Schaumburg IL

Walden Schaumburg Woodfield IL

I'm going to continue to post tour stats on my blog, as I visit more local stores, but from this moment on blog entries will revert to my pre-tour intention: posting about the publishing business, how it works, and what newbies need to know.

While I'm happy to be done, I'm only getting started...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tour Day 49, 50, and 51

Miles driven: 10007
Books signed: 3964
Books hand sold: 203
Booksellers met: 936
Bookstores visited: 500

I rock.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Tour Day 44, 45, 46, 47, and 48

Miles driven so far: 9150
Bookstores visited so far: 466
Books signed so far: 3706
Books hand sold so far: 198
Bookstores remaining: 34
Booksellers met so far: 833
Coasters signed on tour: 8950
Coasters signed this year: 17988
Coasters signed since Whiskey Sour debuted: 28000
Rough estimate of books signed since Whiskey Sour debuted: 13500

Though I didn't start the driving part of the tour until July 5, I began this tour June 29 at Thrillerfest, so technically I've been on tour for 52 days now.

That's a long time for an author to tour.

If all goes well, I'll reach my goal of 500 in Tampa on Saturday, then hit a few dozen extra stores driving home from Florida, and close to a hundred more in Chicago and Wisconsin.

September brings the Midwest Literary Festival, Bouchercon, and a mini tour of Michigan with author David Ellis to coincide with a book festival in Grand Haven.

I was tired four weeks ago. Now I'm flat-out exhausted. But my spirits remain high, in a large part thanks to other authors who are meeting me on the road.

In the last few days I have enjoyed the hospitality of Bob Morris, author of Jamaica Me Dead, James O. Born, author of Escape Clause, and PJ Parrish, author of An Unquiet Grave. Not only did these authors welcome me into their homes, each also cooked me dinner; shrimp and grits, garlic chicken, and homemade spaghetti, respectively. Bob's was excellent, as was Kris Montee's. Jim is still trying to convince me that what I ate was, indeed, chicken. But the potatoes weren't bad---assuming they were actually potatoes. Actually, they were pretty bad. I think he seasoned them with sand. I enjoy his books--they're gritty. Unfortunately, so is his cooking. Jim does have a really nice house, though.

I also got to meet the bundle of positive energy that is Barbara Parker (author of The Perfect Fake), and hung out with the always wonderful Christine Kling (author of Bitter End.)

Thanks to Barry Eisler as well. Even though he finished his own exhausting 60 day/320 bookstore tour a few weeks ago, Barry has kept in touch with me while I'm on the road, which has saved me several times from falling asleep behind the wheel of the Rustymobile and dying in a buring, bleeding, screaming explosion of hot asphalt death and signed coasters.

I also was treated to a free night in an apartment, thanks to fan Terrie Moran. She read about my tour, and graciously allowed me to stay in her home in Delray Beach while she was in New York. Thanks, Terrie!

I'm getting worried that my acknowledgements page in Dirty Martini will be longer than the actual book.

Speaking of Dirty Martinis...

Coming Summer 2007.

The art department at Hyperion continues to amaze me with their brilliance. I LOVE this cover.

And if you're looking for current autographed JA Konrath titles, visit one of the following fine literary establishments:

Murder On The Beach, Delray Beach FL

Borders Aventura FL

BN Aventura FL

BN Pembroke Pines FL

BN Palm Beach Gardens FL

BN Hollywood FL

Walden Aventura FL

Walden Pembroke Pines FL

Borders Jensen Beach FL

Walden Palm Beach Gardens FL

Borders Winter Park FL

Borders Sand Lake Orlando FL

Borders Ocoee FL

BN Colonial Drive Orlando FL

BN Orange Blossum Orlando FL

BN Altamonte Springs FL

BN Sand Lake Orlando FL

BN Alafaya Orlando FL

BN Oveido FL

Walden Colonial Orlando FL

Walden Conroy Orlando FL

Walden Winter Park FL

Walden Organe Blossum Orlando FL

Borders Jacksonville FL

BN Atlantic Jacksonville FL

BN San Jose Jacksonville FL

Borders Sandford FL

Borders Altamonte Springs FL

BN Daytona Beach FL

Walden Daytona Beach FL

BAM Cassel Berry FL

BAM San Jose Jacksonville FL

BN St. Augustine FL

BAM Daytona Beach FL

BAM Sandford FL

Walden Boynton Beach FL

BN Boynton Beach FL

Borders Coral Springs FL

BAM Delray Beach FL

Walden Pomano Beach FL

BN Wellington FL

BN Boca Raton FL

Walden Boca Raton FL

Borders Ft. Lauderdale FL

BN West Palm Beach FL

Borders Boca Raton FL

Walden Coral Springs FL

BAM Deerfeild Beach FL

Walden Wellington FL

Back to the road...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tour Day 41, 42, and 43

Miles driven so far: 8359
Bookstores visited so far: 415
Books signed so far: 3355
Books hand sold so far: 191
Bookstores remaining: 85
Money spent on gas: $987
Money spent on hotels: $1122
Money spent on food: $371
Tour cost per store: $5.91

I'm currently in Florida, and will be here for the next few days. The goal of 500 seems within reach, and I'm confident my final bookstore tally will be above that.

I'm thrilled my cost per bookstore is under $6. Add the free hardcover I give to bookstores (which costs my publisher around $6 as well) and I feel I'm doing a lot of good for a total cost of $12. Compare that to advertising, or a conventional tour, and this really seems like the most bang for the buck that any author can do to increase brand awareness.

Waldenbooks is still having a computer problem where they can't order my latest book through BITS (though it can be orders through BIPS), but the last few I've visited have had many copies of RUSTY NAIL on the shelves (something I haven't seen all tour), so it looks like they are finally being shipped. Woo hoo!!! As I've preached before, taking up shelf space is essential to finding readers.

Of course, the only sure-fire way to sell a book is word-of-mouth. This can be done by the author, friends, family, booksellers, librarians, and to a lesser extent with reviews, ads, and publicity.

But word of mouth won't lead to a point-of-sale purchase if your book isn't in the store.

Like all sales, the goal is three-fold:

1. Inform consumers that the product exists.
2. Attract those consumers who are interested in your type of product.
3. Make it really easy for them to buy your product.

Writers are lucky in that readers actively seek out books. While nothing beats a solid recommendation, many books are sold accidentally, by a consumer browsing the shelves for something of interest.

Real estate plays a large part in these accidental discoveries. The more titles you have in print, and the more copies of each individual title a bookstore carries, the likelier you are to be discovered. Face out has a better chance of being sold than spine out. The new release tables, the paperback towers, the dump boxes, the end caps, the counter displays, and the staff recommended picks, all get many more looks than the books shelved in the sections. A big stack of a single title subconsciously tells buyers it's an important book that is obviously selling well.

Publishers know this. They pay big money for coop in these prime real estate places. They print oodles of books so bookstores order oodles of copies and create these displays. And there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at play here---more books printed usually means more books sold.

But not always.

I've learned two disturbing terms on this tour. One is called "remaindered on shelf."

When a book is remaindered, no more orders are coming in, and the warehouse discounts its copies to sell at a loss. If you've ever bought a hardcover in a bookstore for $5.99, it was a remainder. Here's how the process works:

1. A bookstore orders 100 copies of a new hardcover. They can order from the publisher at a discount of 42%-50% off cover price, or from a distributor at typically 40% off (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners, CDS, Koen, etc).

2. They sell 60 copies. Then they ship the other 40 copies back and get a refund.

3. After a title is no longer being ordered, the publisher remainders it, selling it at a loss to recoup printing cost. The author makes no money from this sale, but that's not a bad thing--remember, the more books you have 'out there' the likelier you are to be discovered.

4. Bookstores buy remainder titles in bulk for a few dollars a book, then sell them for a few bucks more.

As I understand it, bookstores are fine with buying large numbers of a new hardcover, because they can return them if needed. However, the return process is a pain, and it is costly (the bookstore usually pays for shipping back the books.)

Enter "remaindered on shelf." Instead of shipping back the books, a bookstore is given a partial refund and told to keep the book and discount it 50% off. This eliminates the need for shipping back and forth (which is expensive and time consuming.)

Is this the way of the future? Time will tell.

Another current trend is called "strip and bind." When the hardcovers come back, rather than get remaindered they get stripped of their covers and rebound as trade paperbacks, which typically have a longer shelf life than hardcovers.

Is this a smart way to save some money, or is this a gentle hint to publishers that perhaps they are printing waaaaay too many books?

But therein lies the problem. The more books in print, the more that will sell. So publishers have to print too many, in order to sell a lot.

As long as books are returnable or refundable, there will be waste. If a book is lucky, the waste becomes a remainder, a remainder on shelf, or a strip and bind. Unlucky books go into the pulping machine, which isn't helpful to anyone, unless you're a spruce.

Which brings me back to shelf space. More is better. This involves an element of risk on behalf of the publisher, because a poor sell through and big returns can be a financial disaster. But if the books are good, backlist sales are steady, and word of mouth is spreading, bookstore real estate is the next logical step. Coop dollars for the new release tables, and a high enough print run to justify a bigger discount to bookstores (which is passed on to the reader as a 20% discount that most stores have) will go a long way toward making an author a bestseller.

If you need signed JA Konrath books, look to these fine establishments:

Joseph-Beth Charlotte NC

Borders Morrocroft Charlotte NC

Borders Stonecrest Charlotte NC

Borders Cary NC

BN Cary NC

BN New Hope Commons Charlottee NC

BN Sharon Charlottee NC

BN Arboretum Charlotte NC

BN Pineville NC

BAM Burlington NC

Walden Pineville NC

BAM Salisbury NC

BAM Concord NC

Walden Durham NC

BN Greensboro NC

Walden Greensboro NC

Borders Greensboro NC

Walden Winston-Salem NC

BN Winston-Salem NC

Borders Winston-Salen NC

Aliens and Alibis Columbia SC

BN Forest Acres SC

BN Columbia SC

Waldenbooks Dutch Square Columbia SC

Waldenbooks Columbiana Circle Columbia SC

The Happy Bookseller Columbia SC

BAM 4080 Forest Columbia SC

BAM 275 Harrison Columbia SC

Walden Orangeburg SC

BAM Savannah GA

BN Savannah GA

Walden Savannah GA

BN Atlantic Jacksonville FL

BAM Brunswick GA

BAM Atlantic Jacksonville FL

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tour Day 36, 37, 38, 39, and 40

Miles driven so far: 7566
Bookstores visited so far: 378
Books signed so far: 3095
Books hand sold so far: 186
Bookstores remaining: 122
States visited so far: 17 + Washington DC

Not only do I believe that this tour is the most effective thing I've done for my career, as a bonus it has reaffirmed my faith in the kindness of human beings.

I keep running into wonderful, generous people who allow me into their homes, buy me food, and go out of their way to help me out.

Two such folks, Cynthia and Bill Johnson, treated me like royalty when I stayed at their gorgeous home near Richmond, VA.

They're moving this fall, and their show-stopper of a house is on the market. If you, and anyone you know, is moving to Virginia, check out their listing HERE.

Thanks again to Bill and Cynthia for their hospitality. And also to Ann, who met us at a great Mexican resturant and bought us all drinks.

While in VA, I met up with fellow writers and bloggers Bill Blume and Patrick Phillips, and Bill treated me to some damn good Chinese food.

Then I met up with some thriller writers in Raleigh, NC, including David Terrenoire, J.D. Rhoades, Alexandra Sokoloff, and Stacey Cochran. Alex bought me dinner, and Stacey allowed me to crash at his lovely home. If you've been dying to help me out on this tour, but I won't be near your city, you can support me by supporting these fine folks and buying their books.

Over the next few days I'll be in SC, GA, and FLA. If you've been trying to get in touch via email, I'm not ignoring you--I simply have a limited amount of time to reply. Once this tour is over, I'll respond to everyone who has written to me.

If you absolutely need to get in touch, email me your phone number. My wife checks my email for me several times a day, and will pass along your number.

If you absolutely need to get a signed JA Konrath book, visit one of these fine bookstores:

Olssons Alexandra VA

Olssons 19th Street DC

Olssons 7th Street DC

Borders Friendship Heights DC

Borders K Street DC

Borders 14th Street DC

BN 12th Street DC

BN Georgetown DC

Walden Alexandra VA

Walden Bethesda MD

BN Bethesda MD

Walden Silver Springs MD

Borders Germantown MD

BN Rockville MD

BN Gaithersburg MD

Borders Gaithersburg MD

Walden Gaithersburg MD

Borders Kensington MD

BAM Richmond VA

BN Newport News VA

Creatures 'n Crooks Richmond VA

Borders 9750 Broad Street Richmond VA

BN Libbie Place Richmond VA

BN Glen Allen VA

BN Chesapeake VA

Walden Chesapeake VA

BN Short Pump Richmond VA

Walden Parham Rd. Richmond VA

Walden Glen Allen VA

BN Midlothian VA

Fountain Books Richmond VA

BN Hampton VA

BAM Willimasburg VA

Borders Newport News VA

BAM Richmond VA

Carytown Books Richmond VA

Broad Street Books Norfolk VA

BN Commonwealth Midlothian VA

Borders Central Raleigh NC

Borders North Raleigh NC

BN Triangle Town Raleigh NC

BN Crabtree Raleigh NC

BAM Raleigh NC

And finally, ten years ago today I officially became the happiest man on earth. Happy anniversary, Maria! Without your love, support, and encouragement, I wouldn't be where I am today... in North Carolina.

Thanks for ten of the best years a man could have ever asked for. I miss you terribly, and I promise I'll be home soon. Remind the kids they still have a father. Make them visit so they remember what I look like.

I love you today.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tour Day 33, 34, and 35

Miles driven so far: 6887
Bookstores visited so far: 332
Books signed so far: 2872
Books hand sold so far: 178
Bookstores remaining: 168

I'm currently in Maryland, staying with writer friend Wayne Thomas Batson, author of the Door Within trilogy, a YA fantasy series that's a cross between Aragon and CS Lewis. Wayne a great guy, and we visited bookstores throughout the state yesterday.

Prior to that, I was in PA and NY hitting as many stores as I could.

So far, this tour has gone off without any major problems, and I feel as if I'm doing a lot of good. I'm finding it hard to stay connected with people, however. Sometimes I go without internet access for a few days at a stretch, and recently Outlook Express crashed on me, which caused my computer to send dozens of the same emails to the same few people, and reject many others. If you're having problems getting in touch with me, I promise that I'm not ignoring you---wifi simply hates me.

This tour is taking a bit longer than my original plan, and as a result I'm a few days behind schedule according to the dates I posted on my website. If you are planning to meet me somewhere on the road, or were planning to meet me and we missed each other, I apologize. That apology extends to the bookstores I've intended to visit---sometimes I may be late, or may even have to skip a store or two, depending on how things are rolling. Keep in mind that I'm trying my best.

Which brings me to some bad news/good news.

The bad news is that I won't be visiting California on this tour, as I'd anticipated. My lovely wife and darling children were supposed to meet me in Florida for a few days of R & R, then I'd fly to San Diego and they'd take the Rustymobile back home. That isn't going to happen. Due to booming business my wife isn't able to get away from work for a week. My deepest regrets to my friends on the West Coast.

But since I'm forced to take the Rustymobile home, I'll be adding some states to the tour. In the latter part of August I'll be visiting Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri (including St. Louis.)

If anyone knows any must-visit bookstores in these states, post them on this blog and I'll do my darnedest to fit them in.

Does this mean I won't reach 500? Hardly.

I'm at 332 stores now, and today will be visiting DC. Then I'll be in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, plus the states I mentioned above.

Florida alone has close to a hundred bookstores in it. Plus I haven't hit my hometown yet. Chicago and the suburbs have close to a hundred bookstores as well.

I will reach, and probably surpass, my original goal. The Rusty Nail 600, perhaps?

I'd like to thank everyone who has been offering encouragement and support and this tour. I've received many calls and emails from writers and fans, and they mean a lot. Really.

If you haven't read the Huffington Post lately, there's a nice article about the bookstore vs. blogosphere competition MJ Rose and I are having. If you haven't linked to MJ's vidlit yet, you need to do so. Also, buy her new book, The Venus Fix--it's a stunner.

If you're looking for signed JA Konrath books, look to these stores:

Chester County Book and Music Company West Chester PA

Borders Express Cherry Hill NJ

BN Marlton NJ

Borders Marlton NJ

BN Langhorne PA

Borders Wilmington DE

Borders Langhorne PA

Walden Bensalem PA

Borders Mt. Laurel NJ

BE Moorestown NJ

BN Wilmington DE

Borders Ft. Lee NJ

Borders Wayne NJ

Borders Livingston NJ

BN Edgewater NJ

BN Clifton NJ

BN Livingston NJ

BN Clark NJ

BN Springfield NJ

Borders Watchung NJ

BN Bridgewater NJ

Walden Trenton NJ

Borders Princeton NJ

BN Princeton NJ

BN Hackensack NJ

Borders Express Baltimore MD

Borders Timonium MD

Borders Express Glen Burnie MD

Borders Express Owings Mills MD

Borders Columbia MD

BN Baltimore MD

BN Towson MD

BN White Marsh MD

BN Ellicott City MD

Walden 200 Pratt Baltimore MD

Walden Eastpoint Mall Baltimore MD

Walden Glen Burnie MD

Walden Towson MD

And now, back to the road...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tour Day 30, 31, and 32

Miles driven so far: 6289
Bookstores visited so far: 291
Books signed so far: 2548
Books hand sold so far: 169
Bookstores remaining: 209

Rustymobile stories:

  • Barry Eisler, while driving the Rustymobile through NY, was unimpressed with the less-than-responsive acceleration of my Suzuki Sidekick. To quote Barry: "What have you got under the hood, a sewing machine?" I responded that it got 32 stitches to the gallon. Then I began to sing the Welcome Back Kotter theme when we entered Brooklyn, which annoyed him to no end.

  • In West Haven Connecticut I got a flat tire. The culprit was a screw. I'm not sure how a screw, lying on the road, can pierce a steel belted radial, but this one did. I removed it with, you guessed it, a screwdriver, then did the rubber patch/fix a flat thing.

  • The Rustymobile's air conditioning is functioning in this heat wave, but the leak is producing large amounts of water. I had to buy a bigger bucket to catch the dripping on the passenger side.

  • I was almost hit by a truck the other day. It was entirely the other driver's fault. I was eating a sandwich, talking on the phone, programming my GPS, and I'd drifted into his lane and he didn't honk his horn fast enough. Some people shouldn't be allowed on the road.

  • I locked my keys in my car at a gas station. Since I only have one key, I always check my pockets before I lock the doors. In this case, I was getting rid of some accumlated garbage and left my keys on the front seat, then slammed the door without thinking. Luckily, the window was open a centimeter. I taped together some gas station straws and made the end into a hook, then fished the keys off the seat. My wife told me that I was really clever, but a clever man wouldn't have locked his keys in the car in the first place.

  • The aforementioned Barry Eisler, disgusted at how filthy my windshield was, finally pulled into a gas station to clean it himself. True to form, he did a great job, and made it seem like natural causes. Welcome back, Barry!

  • I stayed overnight at the lovely and talented Jackie Kessler's house, and we tag-teamed a few stores. (Jackie writes paranormal romance, and her new book, Hell's Belles, comes out next year. Check out her new website.) The Rustymobile has a tiny quirk where the passenger side door doesn't lock unless you lift the handle while closing it. Between this, and the water dripping between her feet from the air conditioning, Jackie sweetly said in reference to the Rustymobile, "I really like those signs your publisher made for you."

For those interested, I'll be on World Talk Radio Writer's Roundtable today from 12pm until 2pm Eastern. Click on the above link to listen live, or visit it later to hear it in the archives. James Rollins will also be on with me.

For those looking to buy signed copies of my books, here's where I've been lately:

Borders North Attleboro MA

Borders Express North Attleboror MA

BN Warwick NY

BN Middletown RI

The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza Albany NY

Borders Albany NY

Borders Clifton Park NY

BN Albany NY

BN Schenectady NY

Walden Albany NY

Walden Latham NY

Borders Express Schenectady NY

Borders Saratoga Springs NY

BN Saratoga Springs NY

Walden Warwick RI

BN Dartmouth MA

BN East Walpole MA

Walden Saratoga Springa NY

BN Bellingham MA

BN Holyoke MA

BN Pittsfield MA

BN Kingston NY

Walden Kingston NY

Walden Paramus NJ

BN Pughkeepsie NY

Borders Poughkeepsie NY

BN Newbury NY

Borders Ramsey NJ

Borders 230 Garden State Plaza Paramus NJ

Borders Rt 17 Paramus NJ

BN Paramus NJ

Also, the other night I had dinner with the very funny mystery writer Tom Schreck, who just signed a two book deal. He paid for dinner, so I urge everyone reading this to buy his Short stories. Click here for the latest. It's funny. You'll like it. And it's only 49 cents.