I remember, oh-so-long ago (like, May) when I thought that getting published meant *poof!*, your book would magically appear in all the bookstores up and down the country -- around the world, even.
Well, a few short months later, and my illusion has crumbled. Now I know the power lies in the hands of the mighty distributor, who's kind of like a door-to-door salesman for publishers. In my own very simplistic way, I liken the process to that of a vacuum-cleaner salesman. Say he has 100 brands to sell, from Electrolux (which he knows works and is a popular sell) all the way down to a new-fangled, shiny, but completely unknown brand. He mentions the unknown brand once, maybe twice, but the customer keeps going with the Electrolux. In the end, he stops talking about the new-fangled vacuum altogether and sticks with what he knows works.
It's the same thing with books (as far as I know; I must admit I don't have much insight into the process). The distributor meets with bookstore reps to sell the titles in their catalogues. Of course they're going to push the biggies while the little ones fall by the wayside. That's what will help them reach their sales targets, after all.
So smaller publishers (and authors by default) have to rely on their own marketing means to get their bookstores to order their books. For the past few months, I've cringed at tales of authors going into bookstores to plead their case. While I'm generally a friendly person and I can schmooze with the best of them, I have to admit that I don't really enjoy pushing things on people. In fact, one of my worst jobs ever was when I had to stand on the street in my hometown of Halifax, handing out flyers to passersby. Every flyer I forced onto some poor pedestrian was likely ten times as torturous for me as it was for my victim.
But today was the day. I was going to get my book into my local Waterstone's if it killed me. This bookstore has an added emotional pull for me -- it's just down the street, and even before I started seriously pursuing writing I used to go stare at the local author's section (in Notting Hill Gate, there's a whole shelf-full of local writers!) and imagine my name there.
But I needed to brush my hair (a real event before noon), put on some half-decent shoes and look the part of a real author (whatever that looks like -- I figured my black leather motorcycle jacket might help me look tough and artistic, anyway). With a few deep breaths, I gathered my book and a folder I'd put together and walked the short 200 metres to the Notting Hill Gate Waterstone's, practising my pitch in my head. It's a London guide book, it's not like the rest, I'm a local author...
I breezed through the door, trying to look nonchalant but sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Already published -- and stocked -- books leered out at me from the shelves. We're good enough! We're good enough! I clutched my book like a lifeline.
Spotting two employees by the desk, I made my way over and asked to speak to the manager.
'I'm the assistant manager,' one said, eyeing me with slight trepidation.
'Um, hello, I'm a local author,' I began. Why can't I breathe? 'I've written a London guide book...' I tug it out of my bag and hand it over. 'But it's not like other London guide books,' I rush, trying to preempt any objections. 'This one's arranged hour by hour...'
I watch as he and his colleague flip through the book, making approving noises (thank God). The he types the ISBN into his computer as I hold my breath.
'Clever concept,' he says and I can't hide the smile on my face. 'I'll order five, because you're local.'
I thank him and beat a hasty retreat before he changes his mind. Sure, it's only five but... RESULT! Now I really can go into Waterstone's and gaze lovingly at my book on the shelf!