“We’re all looking for that magic. We want to feel a story powerfully again.”
Margot Sage-El, Watchung Booksellers
Indie bookstore owners can be an author’ best friend — and one of the best authors’ friends around is Margot Sage-EL of Watchung Booksellers in my hometown of Montclair. Over the years, I’ve attended many book signings and events in her lovely community bookstore. Margot was recently interviewed by Judith Lindbergh, Founder and Director of The Writers Circle, which runs an exciting array of creative writing workshops for adults and children. To help guide us all, some of Margot’s insights are shared here. For the full interview, see the Writers Circle blog at writerscircleworkshops.com.
“We have meetings with the publishers’ sales reps and are presented with their lists. The “Big 5” lists have thousands of books on them, and the rep goes through them with us. Some reps know our store and our tastes – somewhere between suburban and urban, willing to experiment a little with high literature, but also commercial…. Beyond the must-have titles, we face a lot of split decisions. If it’s a book by an unknown author, we consider the subject, the book cover, where the author comes from, and the rep’s advice.”
“Accessibility is really important. A publisher’s distribution is key. Booksellers need to have easy ordering and easy returns. When we reorder backlist from someone like Penguin-Random House, we can only stock enough to last a week, then we reorder. With smaller publishers, there’s often a minimum to reorder, so we have to wait before we can get more…. If you go with a small publisher, check out their distribution. Interview them. How do booksellers know about their books? What do they do to promote their authors?”
“Indie authors need to know their target market, have a good marketing package, catalogue copy, book cover. (I’m a book cover snob. Perseus’ covers are gorgeous.) Most of those books look self-published when I put them on the table. And I’m not even getting into editorial content. Indie authors need to work with editors. It can’t be someone’s daughter who is a paralegal, which an indie author told me once.”
“We’re asked to read thousands of books. We spent hours going through catalogues, deciding which books to choose and figuring out the right number that we think will sell to our community….We’re vetting for our customers….We read a lot. Every six books that I read, maybe one I pass on to others.”
“We’re searching, just as readers are. We want a good book also.”
Bravo, Margot! Encouraged and emboldened, let’s write on!