Monday, December 11, 2006

Getting Books in the Stores

This year a very small percentage of No Tell Books were sold in/to bookstores. The majority of my sales are online (Lulu, Amazon, B&N) or in person (readings, conferences). Last year I read an article that I remember said less than 10% of all poetry books are sold in brick and mortar stores. I haven't been able to locate this article, so I'm going by memory, but I'm pretty sure that's what I read. Yet everyone wants their books in the stores, and I can't argue. I want them there too.

The majority of No Tell Books in stores are there on a consignment basis. It's no secret independent stores are struggling and to be perfectly blunt, taking our books is fairly risky -- there's a good chance they won't sell. They're poetry. By a small unknown press. And they're not written by Billy Collins. So I'd rather give the books to a store knowing it's likely I'll never receive any payment than not to have the books there at all.

In New Haven we went to one independent bookstore where Bruce used to be a book buyer when it was under different ownership. The owners were lovely people, but made it clear they couldn't buy any books. We said no problem, consignment would work. They said somebody would have to come by to pick up the books if we ever wanted them back because they couldn't pay for postage. We wouldn't hassle them for the books back, I said. Even then, they were hesitant, went into great detail how poorly poetry books sell. When you get that speech you have to nod your head, not yell YES, I KNOW. I KNOW VERY WELL! Yelling is not a good sales technique and sometimes it's not easy to give poetry books away, which was basically what we were doing.

After that we went to The Yale Bookstore, a giant Barnes and Noble. I thought Bruce was nuts for taking us there and PF and I shook our heads. The buyer couldn't meet with us until the next day, which was bad because that meant no Bruce to do all the talking.

I almost didn't go the next day because I thought it would be a waste of time. PF asked if I wanted him to come along and of course I said yes and we went. He asked if I knew what I was going to say and I did. I listened very carefully to Bruce's advice:

* Point out the CT connections of two of the authors
* Mention the upcoming Rain Taxi review of Rebecca's chapbook (which I haven't received my tear sheet of yet, but am told it's in there)
* Mention the books can be re-ordered through Ingram (B&N preferred distributor)
* Mention my inclusion in BAP

I really bristled at that last suggestion. I'm very uncomfortable touting that in conversation, it feels like bragging, trying to prove some kind of legitimacy by inclusion in an anthology and considering all the grief I get for it, well, it's mentioned in my bio but rarely over drinks.

I started my pitch with the CT connections and the Rain Taxi review -- received a polite smile, was quickly losing the buyer's interest, he was getting ready to give the poetry doesn't sell speech. Then I blurted, I'M IN THIS YEAR'S BEST AMERICAN POETRY and whoah, his attention, his eyes, his interest. I was no longer just another crazy lady carrying a box of books into his store. "Congratulations!" he said, "I met Billy Collins, he's fabulous!" I sealed the deal with "you can order the books on Ingram." The buyer ordered 3 copies of each title (sans the chapbooks, he had no idea what chapbooks were and with no ISBN, he wasn't interested) on the computer right in front of us.

See, I'm so used to talking with poets, the seething insinuations, the anonymous hatemail/comments, I forget that it's not all nasty scorn. Generally speaking, subtracting the poets, people like BAP especially booksellers, because it consistently sells.

9 No Tell Books sold. Billy Collins = poetry sales. It's the truth.

Here is the updated list of bookstores carrying No Tell Books.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Collin said...

Bruce should try either Acapella or Bound to Be Read books in Atlanta. They would probaby take the No Tell Books on consignment. Also, the B&N at Georgia Tech.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

I think almost all of my book sales have been in person, online or at a reading too. I've never even seen my book in a bookstore, except in cases when I was in the store to do a reading.

I haven't taken copies of my book there yet, but a friend told me St. Mark's Bookstore in NYC is very willing to take poetry books on consignment (and has a substantial consignment section in the poetry corner, I've seen). Have you tried them?

At 6:13 PM, Blogger K-Oh said...

Funny story!

You get grief from other poets about BAP? Hmmm.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger C. Dale said...

That is hilarious! Once, being in BAP got me a reservation at a very fancy restaurant in NYC (the reservationist was an MFA student in Poetry at Columbia by day).

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Charles said...

Congratulations on getting the books out. You know, who cares how you do it? You're supporting your authors, and I can't think of many (any?) other press editors who are walking into bookstores to find retailers for their authors.

I will say that Persea Books has really hustled for their authors to get personal appearances in Arizona.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Helen Losse said...

Hi Reb, Why not try Burke's Books owned and run by poet Corey Meslar and his wife?

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Tell Books are available through Ingram? Awesome!


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