Romancing the Bookseller

In English Language, Resources by Guest Contributor

Author MJ Rose

The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of working with booksellers to promote your books.

DISCUSS: Authors, What are Your “Best Practices” for Working with Booksellers?

By M.J. Rose

When I was growing up we lived on Madison Avenue and 80th street in New York City. Often, after dinner, my mother and I would take a walk down Fifth Avenue. Our destination? The Doubleday Bookstore on 56th street. These days it’s a Prada. But it used to be a three-story wonderland complete with listening booths where you could sample LPs before you bought them.

The storefront’s oversize windows were always stacked with a tantalizing array of new releases. And before we went inside, my mom and I would stand there and pre-browse.

“When your first novel gets published,” my mom would often muse, sure even when I was little that I’d turn out to be a writer, “we’ll come here and look at it in the window.”

By the time that first novel finally did get published so many years later, the bookstore -– and thousands more like it — was gone and so was my mom.

But my love affair with bookstores and booksellers is still going strong.

As an reader it’s an easy one. As an author it’s more complicated.

We each have such different needs and expectations. What should authors do and what shouldn’t we do? How can we best support amazing wonderful stores and people who stock and sell our tomes? I asked several publishing personalities to contribute their thoughts:

Lee Child — Author, #1 Bestseller

I think this is one of the areas where instinct and conventional wisdom are wrong. On the face of it, visiting and ingratiating oneself with bookstore staff seems like a good idea. But the two greatest proponents of that idea were both dropped by their publishers after declining sales and have been reduced to e-book self-publishing. They visited 600 and 1,000 bookstores respectively. The thing is, bookstore staff love books, not authors. They’re usually uncomfortable being co-opted into a promotion mechanism. They often resent the attempt. So, my approach is a quick thank-you for being sellers of books (not just my books) and then I ask, so, what are you reading now? What’s good? That turns the conversation to a neutral area they’re enthusiastic about.

C.W. Gortner — Historical Fiction Writer

Never walk in, check front tables and shelves, and ask: “Why don’t you carry my book?” I know it sounds obvious, but I have actually been in a store when another author did exactly that. Not pretty. Every time you visit a bookstore, buy a book. And be pleasant, even if your own book isn’t currently stocked. There are a lot more books published than any one store can carry and first impressions are everything. If you can establish a rapport, the bookseller will remember you and perhaps order a copy or three.

Mary Alice Gorman — Owner, The Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, PA

Announce your new book in an email to your newsletter list with a link to only one store and offer to sign all books bought there. This “virtual signing” for an author who moved from our area a few years ago now guarantees 50 or more sales in the first week. No choices…one note…one store.

When you do an event always bring a sweet treat for the staff who will be there when all others are gone putting away chairs and cleaning up…quick energy…Also, shake hands and take names of all workers.

Ian Kern — The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, NY

Don’t waste your money on bookmarks, postcards, trinkets, etc. No shop has enough room to put all of these out and they’ll most likely end up being recycled. Focus on mailing copies of your book to those shops/media outlets best suited to promoting your title.

Katherine Weber -– Author, True Confections

Well in advance, ask the events manager if there are any book groups connected to the store or local library who should be told about your event — offer to have coffee or a drink with the group, before or after your event.

Don’t have a tantrum when you discover that they forgot to order your book, forgot to run notices of the event, or scheduled you at the same moment as Philip Roth and Jodi Picoult in conversation across the street. You can be dignified in undignified circumstances, and while we all want to avoid the avoidable dud events, once it’s happening, you can and should be graceful and pleasant to the people in the store, no matter whose fault the empty chairs, the missing books, and your wasted time and energy may be.

Susan Henderson – Author, Up From The Blue

Don’t just show up, but try to bring a crowd. You and the bookstore are both trying to drum up business and enthusiasm so the reading is a win-win.

Steve Berry — NYT Bestselling Author of The Emperors Tomb

Visit bookstores whenever you are in town. Sign stock. Shake everyone’s hand. Talk to them. Follow up your visit with a personal card or note (not an e-mail). It’s a southern tradition to say thank you and people remember that. What we do now is, with the advanced readers copies that are sent to booksellers, a letter from me is included, written by me and signed by me personally in blue ink.

Don’t ever complain about the number of copies or placement in the store. That leaves a bad taste in the bookseller’s mouth.

Be cooperative and willing to do whatever they need to make things work. Focus on the task at hand. No cell phone calls, no texting. You are there for them. And, always, be yourself. That will never let you down.

Laurie R. King — NYT Bestselling Author

At events, I always make a point of reminding the audience that it has cost the bookstore to put on the event, and that the way to say thanks is to buy a book.

I do promotions just for Indie bookstores with each book — the last two years, it’s been one of the special broadsides (illustrated short-short stories) given to a number of those (like, one in ten) who mail or email me the book’s receipt from an Indie store. I make sure to tell the store beforehand, and for supportive bookshops where I won’t be doing an event, I’ve mailed them a packet before pub date with news about the giveaway, a note of appreciation, and the bookmark cards I use.

And I mention indie bookstores often on my blog and Facebook.

MJ Rose is the internationally best selling author of eleven novels (The Hypnotist 2010), founder of, founding boardmember of ITW, and co-founder of

Today, at BookExpo America MJ Rose is participating on the panel:

Evergreen Book Marketing That Works Beyond Pub Dates and Front List Efforts

Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Location: Room 1E13

An in depth look at various methods of how books and authors are connecting with new readers and communities using digital platforms, tools and channels long after publishers have relinquished their promotional efforts,


  • Rachel Chou, Chief Marketing Officer, Open Road
  • Pauline Hubert, Founder,
  • Gretchen Crary, Co-founder, February Partners
  • MJ Rose, Founder, AuthorBuzz, Co-founder and VP of Marketing,
  • Moderator: John Mutter, Editor-in-Chief, Shelf Awareness
About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.