"We try to cater each event to that author and treat the event as if it's really, really, super important because it is important," said Susan Hans O'Connor of Penguin Bookshop
in Sewickley, Pa., during the education session "For Authors: Working with Indie Bookstores," which also featured Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop
in Houston, Tex., and Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books
in San Francisco, Calif.
O'Connor, who worked for a New York publisher before becoming a bookstore owner, noted that "it is all about building relationships. Whether you're an established author, an independently published author, or being published by a big house, it's all about one-on-one relationships with booksellers, bookstore owners, other authors, etc. We always tell authors that when they come to our store, no matter how many people show up, it's worth your time because you've built a relationship with the store."
Although Green Apple offers visiting authors substantial outreach through social media and its e-mail newsletter, Mulvihill said that "we do really rely on authors to help with that effort" before, during and after the event. "We try to reach out beyond the walls of our store to get people in, which is a big reason that we do events at all. We think even if you have an event where only 10 or 12 people come and only sell three or four books, in some ways that's a win. I got 10 people in the door and they have a positive association with this place."
While discussing how authors might contact a bookstore directly about hosting an event, Mulvihill said, "It depends a little bit. If the author does live in our community, and especially in our neighborhood, we love to meet them directly. But if the person who deals with events is unavailable, don't take that as an insult. We all juggle 80 things each day, like everybody else in this world. You could just ask for the person's name and how best to get in touch with him or her."
Koehler cautioned that if authors are "going to approach us directly without some intermediary, like a PR firm or publicist, I would like them to understand what we're all about. So my suggestion is to do some research first. I'm shocked how many people don't do that research before they approach us.... We can't possibly take everything and we would like that fit to be a good fit for our customers."
O'Connor noted that "we do feel that our role is to support our community, which means supporting local authors as well as bringing in different voices. We may not sell a lot of their books on a regular basis, but if it's an opportunity for someone to come in and we feel that they can do excellent outreach and that we can work in a successful partnership, we are pretty much open to any kind of book, within reason."
And sometimes, indie booksellers even approach independent authors: "We've found some of our best small press books by what we're reading," said Koehler, who recalled noticing a local news item about Goodnight Houston, "which is a little picture book. And they didn't approach us. I called them and said this might be a good fit. So remember that we are looking for something to sell in our store that we think is a good fit and that we are going to make money on."