Effective Marketing: A Bookseller Tells All

A MoRWA Presentation by Wendy Drew

Written up by Adele Parker

 

 

In May, Wendy Drew shared with MoWRA members her expertise as the owner of Rose’s Bookhouse in O’Fallon the past five years. For Wendy, the key to success as both a bookseller and as an author is building a relationship with the reader. The audience is frequently searching for something new, and booksellers and writers are both in a position to answer that call. Wendy does this by having a thorough knowledge of the market and a personal relationship with her clients.

 

Market Trends: Blending genres—the wave of the future

Nationwide, romance fiction makes up half of all paperback sales. It’s no surprise that most of Rose’s Bookhouse’s sales are in this area. Popular romance genres in Wendy’s store include paranormal, romantic comedy, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, and historicals, particularly with a contemporary voice.

According to Wendy, paranormal romances have been on the rise in popularity the past few years and have the most gender-crossover in readers, followed by romantic suspense. She speculates that the trend may be due to paranormals dealing with primal issues, metaphors for real life, and clashes between good and evil.

For some, September 11th marked the end of innocence in the country, leading to a feeling that reality is full of trials and tribulations that defy explanation. It also caused many people to wonder why we are here and question the more nebulous concepts of the human condition. Paranormal romances can safely explore these concepts from a distance, a world that could exist, but isn’t our own.

One of the most popular primal issues, sex, is intimately involved in romance novel sales and trends. The stigma and shame of reading, writing and talking about sex is still present, but on the decline. Instead, it is becoming more acceptable to say, “I like it, and I’m not ashamed.” And the shift in publishing house demands certainly attests to this new freedom.

Wendy used a spectrum to illustrate the way in which sex needs to be integral to the plot of the novel. On a line continuum, sweet romances, at the beginning, contain no sex, such as Harlequin’s Love Inspired line and LaVyrle Spencer novels. More sexual overtones move into sensual books, and on to very sensual as sexual tension and activity increase. The end of the continuum is of particular interest to editors and agents, from spicy, through romantica and on to erotica.

Spicy includes Brava novels, and those by Robin Shone and Sherrilyn Kenyan. Romantica, considered erotic with free word usage, but with a happily ever after, includes Ellora’s Cave and works by Jade Black, Lora Leigh and Sherri L. King. Erotica is set apart with no requirements for a happy ending, and multiple partners acceptable, but not necessarily with an emotional tie, as in romantica.

At the April Romantic Times convention, Wendy learned that Kensington is actively searching for spicy, Brava-type novels, such as Wilde Thing, Too Much Temptation, Strange Attractions, and The Lover. Authors outstanding in this area are Christine Feehan and Laurell K. Hamilton. The market for spicy is hot. One editor said, “I can’t get enough!”

 

Author Promotion: What works and what gets thrown in the trash

Wendy considers bookmarks to be the single most effective item an author can provide the bookseller with, provided it has all the information needed to sell the book. The absolute most important items that need to included—besides the title and author’s name—are the ISBN, the release date, and price. With this snippet, she knows when and where to find your book, and about how many to order. It takes time and effort to look up a book, making it more difficult to place on the shelf. Also helpful on the bookmark are the publisher, an enticing blurb, cover art, backlist, subgenre, and the author’s website. A bookmark can be a great communication device to sell the book to the reader.

Authors have provided Wendy with a number of other give-aways. If an author provides a complimentary book, Wendy gives it to a potential to make a new connection. Pretty, retractable pens with author info are easy to distribute, especially if they’re purple! Magnets can also be a useful goodie. Things that don’t seem to work are postcards, foodstuff, and the more expensive items, such as flashlights, clipboards, and keychains.

Despite the juggle of freebies, Wendy tries to use a newsletter or promotional material as long as it is current. As a bookseller and a romance writer herself, she strives to give each author a fair shot.

 

Personal Contact: A little goes a long way

Meeting authors and receiving their promotional materials provide Wendy with the information to make preorders, sell books, and build relationships with her customers. Wendy offered tips for authors.

Stop by and meet the local booksellers in the phone book, buy something. Make a memorable contact. Cultivate a relationship, and remember to be friendly even in case of mishaps. Be true to promises. Have a business card handy. Better yet, a book, bookmark, and business card. All sage advice for an author in any situation.

 

Websites: Good ones, bad ones, and grr…argh!

Should you have a website? “Yes, yes, yes!” Wendy answers. It is the one promotional device you have control over, so use it! The easiest to find are the ones that are the authorname.com. Goals of an effective website are advertising an author’s work, posting current information, and inviting readers to build a relationship and come back for more.

Common website features are contests, blogs, coming soon announcements or current projects, and book buying links. Wendy recommended book reviews, and cover blurbs or excerpts. Most useful is a printable book list that won’t use lots of pages and ink, but contains the pertinent information a bookseller or reader needs. Some authors include their picture with a bio, links to other authors’ sites, a FAQ section, and a contact e-mail.

Some related advice Wendy gave includes updating your website regularly so fans aren’t frustrated and to keep the buzz going, and to make sure your information is complete. As high speed Internet access becomes more available, a website is an increasingly powerful tool to gather readers in one place, reminding them you’re out there. ”You still have a career, even if the last novel came out two years ago.” Consider a mailing list that comes out regularly to keep your name in the reader’s mind and hold their interest.

Other sources Wendy considers during her twenty hours or so considering purchases every other month are catalogs from her only distributor, Ingram’s, Romantic Times magazine, Amazon.com reviews, and author websites. She tries to obtain information on upcoming releases forty-five to sixty days in advance to make buying decisions. An author’s backlist is also a consideration. If new readers fall in love with an author’s style, it’s easy and profitable to offer more selections by the same person.

 

This glimpse inside the world of a bookseller provided tips authors need to know. Though certain elements of a writer’s style remain part of the creative process, others can be shaped to meet outside demands and stay current. Wendy’s insights into market trends and effective promotional tools give an author an inside track in the business. A fresh perspective and keen advice!

 

Wendy Drew owns Rose’s Bookhouse, a thriving new and used bookstore in O’Fallon, MO. She attended Lindenwood University on a full scholarship with a major in Music Education and has taught flute for seven years. Having owned a bookstore for the last five years, she culls information from a variety of different sources including trade publications, various personal industry contacts, and her most valued asset--her customers. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal chapter and treasurer of the Missouri chapter. A finalist in the Barclay Sterling and Sheila contests, she is currently working on a paranormal trilogy.

 

Copyright 2005.  Originally appeared in Rumpled Sheets, June 2005, Publication of the Missouri Romance Writers of America.  Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for right to reprint.