First off, how about that Internet? I can’t think of anything else that has had as much of an impact on the publishing industry in the past few years. And I’m not talking about the internet bookstores. I’m talking about the word-of-mouth that the internet community creates for books.
It used to be that most romance fans read in splendid isolation. Some of us knew other romance readers, but a lot of us didn’t, and so we ended up buying a lot of books hit-or-miss. Romantic Times filled an important niche, but a lot of people didn’t even know it existed. Then we all started surfing the web and discovered that there were a lot of people who read the same books we did. And we started gabbing. (And boy, do we gab. Go to any book section on AOL. We talk more than any other genre of readers!)
I have discovered so many new writers through the Internet, and I’ve gotten tons of mail beginning with sentences like, “People were talking about you on the listserv…” or “I stumbled into your author folder on AOL…” Readers are much more likely to take a chance on a new author if they’ve heard something good about them. How has the Internet changed your book buying habits? E-mail Laurie.
Another important change brought on by the Internet is reader/author communication. I don’t know about other authors, but I have seen a marked drop in the amount of snail mail fan mail I receive. At the same time, email fan mail has gone through the roof. Plus, I can chat with readers online in chat rooms, listservs, and bulletin boards. I get valuable feedback, and I think the readers really enjoy getting to know the people who write the books they read. What do you think? Email Laurie.
This actually brings me to one more point. Believe it or not, some writers actually – aren’t – on the Internet. If you would like to send them snail mail, here are a few tips:
On the envelope, clearly label her as an author. Otherwise, some drone in the mailroom is going to sit on the letter for weeks, trying to figure out whether Julie Garwood works in editing or marketing.
When you enclose an SASE, please use the long, business-sized kind. It’s hard to fold our replies into those teeny-tiny envelopes.
Please print your address legibly, and it helps if you put it on the letter. Sometimes letters and envelopes get separated (especially if your office looks anything like mine, with papers everywhere!) and if your address is on the letter, the author will definitely be able to get back to you.
Okay, moving on, let me tell you about something new I’m doing as a reader. I’ve decided that I will buy a new-to-me author at least once a month. This ended up working out so well that I’ve been trying lots and lots of new authors. In December I picked up When Lightning Strikes Twice by Barbara Boswell and Stolen Moments by Michelle Martin. November was a big month for new-to-me authors. I bought Pride of Lions by Marsha Canham, The Arrangement by Joan Wolf,Entwined by Emma Jensen, and Night in Eden by Candice Proctor. For January I bought A Rose in Scotland by Joan Overfield and Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson. Since I’m on the Internet, my new author choices are usually influenced by what I hear from other readers, but sometimes I buy the book “just because.” Have you been trying new authors? Has the experience been good or are you getting burned? Email Laurie.
Finally, about two years ago I decided I needed a little extra money for the holidays, so I signed on at the local Barnes & Noble as holiday help. When January rolled around, though, I found I couldn’t bear to part with my employee discount, and I stayed. Since I’ve heard a lot of (usually well- founded) complaints about superstores’ romance sections on-line, I thought I’d share with you a little behind the scenes information.
One thing I’ve noticed is that most romance readers are truly shocked to find someone working in the store who actually knows something about romance novels. When I see someone in the romance section, I always say, “Can I help you find anything?” Nine times out of ten, the woman shakes her head and says, “No, I’m just browsing.” Then, if she seems reasonably friendly, I usually comment on the book she’s looking at. I’ll say something like, “She’s got a new one coming out in March,” or “That one was good, but have you read her older titles? Even better.” Invariably, a conversation begins. The customer is delighted to chat with someone once she knows she isn’t going to be mocked for her reader habits.
I end up doing a lot of hand-selling. If you’re reading this, then you’re well hooked-up with the romance websites and probably hear a lot of word-of- mouth about romance books and authors. You know when your favorite author has a new book coming out, and you’re more likely to try out a newer, less famous author, because you’ve heard a lot of buzz on your listserv/bulletin board/etc. But most readers don’t have those advantages. They have no idea which authors to try. And at $6 and up a pop, they’re wary. So if I recommend something based on who they tell me their favorite authors are, they buy it. And I’ve had people come back and say, “I liked everything you told me to buy. Give me three more!”
We also get complaints. The most common is that the new books are not on the shelf even though you saw them down the street at the mall/supermarket/Wal- Mart/etc. Why does this happen?
There’s a really good chance that the bookstore just doesn’t have the books. Unless the book has a strict on-sale date (and paperback romances almost never do) then it’s just not going to show up everywhere at the same time. In my area, our store usually gets the books before the supermarkets and the mall stores, but I know that in other areas it’s the opposite.
There has been a screw-up in shipping. This happens, and man, does it piss us off. One book in particular I remember never getting was Breath of Magicby Teresa Medeiros. We kept waiting and it never showed up, even though all the other Bantams did. So we special-ordered a dozen as fast as we could. What happened? Some other B&N probably got a double order. We’ve been on the opposite end of this particular type of mix-up as well, receiving 12 copies of books we should have only gotten four of.
Unfortunately, when problems like this arise, they often go unnoticed. At my store, there are two people who keep up with romance – the manager and me. So if a title doesn’t show up, we usually notice. But if a store doesn’t have a romance reader, then the missing book is likely to slip through the cracks. And before everyone gets up in arms over this, trust me when I say that other genres probably suffer even more through this than we do.
The person who shelves romance isn’t working that day. This is a bigger deal than you would think. Where I work, no one is allowed to shelve romance but me and Lorna (the manager). If the books come in on a Wednesday and neither of us is there, they sit until Thursday. Why? Because the other shelversreally mess up the section, and I get irate. They don’t know which books are new and which are “essential backlist.” They don’t even know how to recognize the different Harlequin/Silhouette lines or even category vs. single title. Maybe I’m anal, but I take a lot of pride in my little section. We carry books other stores don’t. We are neat and well-organized, and barring a huge space crunch, the new books are always face-out. I don’t want someone else coming in there and putting the Special Editions with the Desires, or mixing the Regencies up with the regular historicals.
If you are lucky enough to have a store which has a romance-reading bookseller, then you should be glad that no one else is messing with her section. She can go through there and notice instantly what is selling and what is not, and decide what needs reordering. Also, if I see a midlist author selling particularly well, I will make an effort to order some of her older titles for the shelves.
I kind of liken the entire situation to houseplants. If you’re part of a couple, only one person should do the watering (in my case, my husband!) Otherwise, you’re never going to know when they were watered, do they need plant food, etc. At the bookstore, I can keep track of the entire romance section in my head, but only if no one else is screwing up my work. (I make the occasional exception for Lorna, since she, after all, is my boss .)
Another question I get a lot is why do we carry a gazillion Johanna Lindsey titles but only the latest by Mary Midlist? Well, the sad truth is that any given Johanna Lindsey backlist title sells more copies than Mary Midlist’s newest title. Midlist authors (a group which most certainly includes me!) constantly lament that we don’t get the space we deserve, and yes, people do come to the store looking for older titles by midlist authors but not nearly as often as they come looking for older Garwood, McNaught, etc. Superstores are running businesses. They have to stock what sells.
Lately, however, B&N has been modeling (putting on automatic reorder so the book is always on the shelves) midlist authors. Some midlist authors who are modeled include:
I realize that some of the above women are lead authors at their publishing houses, but in this particular instance I am referring to authors who don’t hit the NYT or NYT extended list regularly.
Some of the funniest moments at the store have to do with the fact that I write books myself. I usually don’t mention it to people unless we have a conversation going, and I honestly think they would like my books (they’ve indicated a preference for humor or regency-historicals, for example.)
Here are some of the funniest moments:
I mentioned to someone that I write romances, she looked at my name tag, and burst out, “Oh my god! Are you Julie Garwood?” (Yeah, I wish…)
Just the other day I was shelving some backlist and I asked a woman if she needed help finding anything and she said, “Actually, I have a really weird question. One of the pictures in the back of one of the romance books… It looks just like you!”
And my all-time favorite day. . .
I was taking care of the new paperback section and I saw a woman looking at Catherine Coulter’s favorite. So I mentioned to her that I’d seen some reviews online about it, and we got to talking about the romances that happened to be in the new paperback section, and all of a sudden she pointed to my book (Everything & the Moon) and said, “I didn’t like this one at all.”
I gulped and said, “Oh?”
And she said, “Everything else she did was really good, but this was just terrible.”
Well, I had no idea what to say, so I mumbled something like, “Oh,” again. I never did tell her who I was, because honestly, I think that would have been really mean. The poor woman would have been mortified. But just to prove that life really is one big circle, the very same day, I was switching over the category romances, and a woman was in the section browsing, and I asked her if I could help her find anything, and she said, “Actually, yes. There is a local author who always signs her books – Julia Quinn. When is her next book coming out, because she is wonderful!”
I just blinked a few times and squeaked, “That’s me!”
She said, “No way.”
I said, “Way!”
I’ll sign off for now. Hope you enjoyed the guest column. Feel free to let me know what you thought by emailing me here or visit my webpage (http://www.juliaquinn.com) and sign my guestbook.
Best wishes, Julie Q.
Read responses to this column Julia Quinn at AAR
Special note from Laurie Likes Books:
On December 17th, I posted a note on All About Romance that I was under the weather and would be unable to write my December 20 column. The next day, like an early Hannukah present, I received Julie’s guest column. Thanks, Julie!
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
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