Interview with a Bookseller: Susan Warren
     Victoria Grossack

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, North Carolina.

Victoria: Who are you and how long have you been selling books?

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 Writers Network.

Victoria: What is the name of your store and where is it?

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 money!

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 customers.

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 advice?

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 NEW stories.

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 along.

Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

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 .

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.


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About the Writer:

Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which, by the way, is an excellent example of a book with plot-driven chapters and cliffhangers. There's exciting news about Iokaste: even the Greeks are reading it! Learn more about Iokaste and other books in the series at Tapestry of Bronze

Victoria was a moderator of a critique group for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the Writing Historical Fiction workshop for Coffeehouse for Writers.