Interview with a Bookseller: Susan Warren
Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with real, experienced
booksellers. Come here each month to learn what they have to say about
selling books! This one’s from Susan Warren of Books ‘n Stuff in Southport,
Victoria: Who are you and how long have you been
Susan: Susan Warren, 19 years as a bookseller in a
"brick and mortar" location. 5 years selling on ABEbooks, but I’ve stopped;
I have too much going on for now. Also, I edit and read manuscripts on a
contract basis, am published in magazines and short story format. Found I
like editing. Belong to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and NC
Victoria: What is the name of your store and where
Susan: Books 'n Stuff, 4961-11 Long Beach Road,
Southport, NC 28461. I don’t have a website, but my e-mail address is
[email protected]. I don't like getting faxes advertising books, it's a
pet peeve of mine – don’t use my resources to advertise your product!
Victoria: Does your store have a particular focus?
Susan: My store was set up for the entertainment
reading market. I sell new and used paperbacks and collectibles. I do not
sell a book used if it's still selling new. I want authors to get their
Victoria: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in
bookselling in the last year?
Susan: More and more books coming out in hardback
that shouldn't be. Not every book is of "hardback" quality. I believe this
is what's hurt the mass market sales. At one time, if you bought a hardback,
it was so good you wanted to keep it. Now, it's really just an entertainment
read so the book goes to the used book store, eBay or any other book site.
People just don't keep them anymore. They may be good reads, but they're NOT
"keepers." So, by the time the book comes out in mass market (where it
should have come out in to begin with) people have bought it for $1 on eBay
or $3 on the remainder table.
There is nothing wrong with being published in
paperback! So as an author, do you want to sell 100,000 paperbacks and get
your name out there, or 10,000 hardbacks that will never translate to sales
of paperbacks because eBay, used stores, Sam's, or Costco have totally taken
your market away from you. People are perfectly willing to buy 3 or 4
paperbacks at a time, especially if I tell them they're good. My customers
know I won't lie to sell them a book, there's too many to read plus I want
them to trust me. So, if I don't like a book, I'll tell them so. But, I will
also tell them why I didn't like it, maybe the reason I didn't like it is
the reason they would like it -- make sense? Key is, be honest with
Victoria: What’s the biggest change you expect in
selling books in the next year?
Susan: People want to be entertained and they are
not stupid. They want good stories, not clones. Just because a lawyer writes
a good legal book it doesn't mean every mystery for the next 10 years needs
to be a legal thriller clone. There is plenty of room for creativity -- give
the authors some free rein.
Sadly for the sake of money, I expect publishers to
keep pushing the trade size and the new longer, easier to read (translation:
more expensive) paperbacks. I think they will price themselves out of reach
for the avid reader or the reader wanting to try someone new. The publishers
will then blame the "market" saying people just aren't buying. Not true,
keep hiking those prices up and publishing everything in hardback, now
that's what's killing the paperback market. Do publishers really think
people don't know the new longer books are just so they can be charged $2
more!? They aren't easier to read! Please!
I really hope more new writers are given a chance
this next year. My customers are looking for new writers; the old reliables
are becoming the old predictables.
Victoria: How should a would-be writer approach a
bookseller, say, for example, for a reading or signing, or simply for
Susan: Make sure they're not busy. Call to make an
appointment and understand that if a customer is there, step aside. Give
them a copy of the book -- booksellers are great at recommending books. One
of the local Wilmington authors came in and introduced herself and gave me a
book. I hand-sold over 3 CASES of her 2 titles. We are now waiting for
number 3. Never, but never underestimate the power of the local, independent
bookseller. If giving bookmarks, postcards, etc., be sure they say when the
book is coming out and if it's paperback or hardback. Understand book
signings are very expensive. Ads, refreshments, signs and getting the books
are all a huge expense. If you're local, you have a better chance, try to
get maybe the local library and the bookstore to combine a signing. Contact
local papers for interviews and send a book for review.
Victoria: What is your feeling about POD books?
Susan: I don't order POD's as a rule. The discount
is too low and the returns are too difficult. Most of the covers have a
self-published look to them. They also tend to be more expensive to the
customer, who is less than willing to try a new author if it's expensive.
Victoria: What is the greatest frustration that you
have with mainstream publishers?
Susan: Cookie cutter stories, i.e. DaVinci Code.
Now every adventure or spy book is advertising itself as "the new DaVinci
Code." so we'll have 1500 DaVinci wanna be's out instead of interesting
Also see #4, they’re publishing too many mid-list
writers in hardback. The writers have a chance in paperback, but no one is
going to pay hardback price for a new writer or a book that will only take a
couple of hours to read (enter eBay, used sites, etc). They will, however,
gladly pay paperback prices plus buy several others as well. I wish
publishers would quit using all their money on big advances for tired old
writers and spread it around to the great mid-list and new writers coming
Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring
Susan: Don't give up! I wish publishers and authors
would understand there is NOTHING wrong with being a paperback writer!!!!
Victoria: Thanks, Susan, for your informative and
candid interview! To my readers, if you want to contact Susan directly,
write to her at [email protected]. If you’re a bookseller (owner or
manager) and you want to be considered for this series, send an e-mail to me
at Grossackva at Yahoo dot com .
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