Notes from a Book Buyer

At the “Writer’s and Scribblers” retreat this past August, I was able to attend a lecture from local book buyer, Jeanne Costello, buyer for a medium-sized indie bookstore in Durango, CO. She had a lot of great insights! I go into a little more depth in the podcast, but there’s a written set of notes below.

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  • There are 40-50k books published every year by traditional publishers (This doesn’t take into account all the self-published books)
  • Maria’s Bookstore (mid-size store) carries about 10k books in their shop
    • 2/3 are older books
    • they pick up about 5k new titles per year
      • 25-30% of those are returned to the publisher with ZERO sales
      • many books only sell ONE copy/year
      • decent sales for regular books are 2-3/year
  • When thinking about approaching a bookstore to carry your books, consider how people discover books and where your would be found on a bookshelf
  • Each bookstore has specific needs
    • Durango:
      • literary fiction, travel/outdoors, natural sciences, unplug/retreat/de-stress
  • With Fiction:
    • representation matters a lot
    • to the buyer and the reader
      • is it a professional product?
  • Cover art is IMPORTANT
    • needs to speak to the person who will love your book – not just to YOU
    • should be used as a marketing tool
    • Being simply an extension of your art doesn’t always work if it’s not communicating the right message
    • must indicate clearly to readers WHY they want to read your book
    • acts as a “short cut” to telling readers about your book
  • It’s important to understand destination and discovery
    • DESTINATION
      • have a particular book in mind before approaching a book buyer
        • specific topics/need
      • work to have “critical conversations” about your book to garner interest
    • DISCOVERY
      • there are SO many books to compete with
      • cover must speak to readers and buyer
        • pay attention to conventions of genre
      • know where your book would be placed on the shelves (specific category)
        • ask yourself where readers who will love your book will go looking for it
      • know comparable books
        • easier for staff to recommend to readers
  • Identify what your ambitions are
    • big chain store? small to mid store?
    • 2-3 sales/yr? 100s sales/yr?
      • if booksellers love your book it’s a great way to make inroads and gain exposure
      • having a book on the shelves alone will NOT help you reach critical mass goals
  • Self-published
    • what the book buyer needs to know:
      • how to buy your book
      • how to reorder
        • direct from author is very hard on buyer!
        • returnable is very important to stores!
          • allows them to “try out” books
        • local stores sometimes offer “consignment basis”
  • Book sales are up…
    • but not in proportion to number of books being published
  • Amazon doesn’t sell books to make money
    • they sell them to attract shoppers who will then buy more expensive/profitable items
  • Indie stores are more relevant the last five years – important to communities and creating buzz in communities
    • 6-7% up in sales
    • paperback book sales are up
    • ebooks sale have plateaued

For a more detailed discussion, listen to the podcast!

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