During my time at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) I experienced something I had not experienced before. While on the show floor I was approached by several self-published authors who wanted me to take a copy of their book. Since my name badge had “buyer” prominently displayed this made me a primary target. One distributor told me some of them approached his booth wanting to know if they could get their book distributed through them. He was not interested—it simply was not the time or place. Some authors were content just to give me their book, others wanted to provide a brief explanation and others offered (unsolicited) a complete history of their story. The last time I attended ICRS was in 2002 and this was virtually absent then. My manager and assistant manager who accompanied me this year, and who attended last year’s show, said they had not seen this before either so this is a recent phenomenon. We suspect these authors were told this was the place to be to get exposure for their books. They were probably encouraged to get the books into the hands of the buyers and once we read them we would then take orders. There is nothing to say this can’t happen and I applaud them for their hard work at trying to get some visibility for their book in a very competitive market. But, this is not the way to do it. The aggressiveness of some of them was enough to put me off. Even if I had liked their book the thought of having to work with them in placing orders and doing returns was unthinkable. Since this is probably not going to go away here are a couple of things I would suggest.
Suggestion to CBA: Create an area for self-published authors. This would make them formally a part of the show and not some kind of leech swimming through a stream of buyers.
Suggestion to authors: If the above suggestion is taken then take full advantage of it. In addition to giving copies of your book you should create an information sheet with at least the following information (in no particular order): your name and contact information, a brief synopsis of your book, the terms you would like to work with (I need to know if you are going to require a minimum order, what discount you will provide, who will pay shipping costs both to and from my store, and will you take returns), do you want payment for the books or can we work a consignment, ideally your picture should be on the sheet as well (I’m better with faces than names), if you are local to the area or will be in the area will you be open to an in-store event, how can you help me promote your book, and what advertising have you already done or will do for the book. This sheet should be professionally done and in full color. Remember, this sheet will form the basis of our first impression of you. If this looks like a high school book report I won’t be impressed. The better the quality of your information sheet, the better I’m going to understand you are serious about this and that you are worth the investment. If CBA doesn’t provide an area for you should you go to ICRS? Yes, it is a great place to be. It is the hub of the industry. Approach buyers with consideration of their time and busy schedule. (And not on the show room floor which I’ve subsequently learned is against ICRS policy.) You can offer them your book and explain that you have an information sheet with everything they will need to know about your book and the terms you’re looking for. This will go a long way because it shows you understand the needs of the bookstore and are willing to work with them. Thank them for their time and let them go. If they have questions they will ask you and if they have questions later they have your contact info. Remember, you are asking me to provide shelf space for your book in my store. You’re not only competing against all the books published through traditional publishers but also against all the other self-published authors as well (some of which I already have on my shelves). At the end of the day it is the quality of your book and whether or not it will sell in my market that will determine whether it gets on my shelf or not. Don’t blow those chances by making a poor first impression. You sometimes only have seconds to make a good first impression. Everything you do matters. By the end of the show I’ve got dozens of flyers, handouts, and gimmicky materials. Some are very well done. Many are not and simply fill my trash can. Where do you want yours to end up? With no promises or guarantees the better your quality the longer life it will have on my desk before I toss it or pick up the phone to give you a call.