Pub Rants

Tips From A Borders Buyer

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STATUS: I put another project out on submission this week. That’s always exciting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NO SURRENDER by Bruce Springsteen

When I was at the CRW conference this weekend, I had a chance to hear Sue Grimshaw give a talk to a room of already published authors. Sue is the Romance buyer for Borders and has the inside scoop on buying for that industry but I think some of her tips can cross over to other genres.

First, some interesting general factoids:

1. Readers do pay attention to author quotes on the cover.
(Good to know so going after those blurbs can be worthwhile)

2. On the Borders e-newsletter, readers have more click-throughs on author letters to the reader than on the Borders coupons.
(I don’t know what this means but it sounds like readers like to hear from authors and feel personally connected).

Some interesting romance-specific factoids:

1. Sexy covers continue to sell well
(so take that shirt off…but only if you are a guy)

2. Paranormal is still selling well. Readers like tortured heroes. Vampires are in abundance so think outside the box.

3. Sales for historicals are still flat.
(So if you are a fan and want this to reignite, go out and buy more books. Editors, however, are asking for historicals—as long as they are sexy).

Some marketing hints:

1. Have a website but also have something that brings people back to that site time and time again.

2. Interview your own characters. Readers love to know the hidden back story that might not be in the novel itself.

3. Post an excerpt on your website but not necessarily the opening chapters. (Sometimes readers might mistake that for having already read the book). Use a tension-building, exciting, or slightly sexy excerpt instead.

4. Get thinking about Book Trailers. Borders does feature them on their site and in their e-newsletters.
(Professionally done folks. 1 Minute or less. And if in romance, shadow the hero. )

5. Get to know your local booksellers. Sign stock (and yes, it’s just a myth that book stores can’t return those copies because they can). Have your own autograph stickers on hand though.

6. Ask your editor/publisher about a pre-sale tools such as Shelf talkers.

7. Advertise in industry publications.

21 Responses

  1. beverley said:

    I was just commenting that I am not buying as many historicals anymore. I will have to start buying contemporaries again (and I’m a wanna be published historical author). The reason? Almost every novel has some sort of intrigue, spy, mystery premise. I want my historical romances to mostly be about the heroine and the hero and their emotional conflict. If I pick up anything that has spying for the Crown, or dangerous secret, even if the overall plot might sound pretty good, I will immediately put the book back on the shelf.

  2. Ryan Field said:

    If anyone’s interested, the wonderful writer Barbara Wood has a web site that’s a very good example of getting people to return…and participate.

    All these are excellent tips, and often are ignored after a book is published. There are many things writers can do to help sell their work and they should take advantage of them all.

  3. Kimber An said:

    Great tips!

    I wonder about the historicals though. Sure, they may be selling flat right now, but I don’t see that it’s because they’re not sexy enough. In fact, I see the opposite. Most of them have a contemporary voice and love scenes. I love historicals because I love history, which means I know enough about history that these two problems make me want to gag. If I wanted a contemporary, I would buy a contemporary. It’s another case of a reader buying one thing and getting another, and becoming rather cranky as a result. Instead of making them more sexy, I think authors need to make them feel more believable. That’s just my opinion as someone who reads a lot and interracts with a lot of readers through my blog.

  4. Cindy Procter-King said:

    What do you mean by “shadow the hero” in a book trailer? The only thing that pops to MY admittedly quirky mind is that you’re suggesting to put him in silhouette, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why.


  5. Kris Eton said:

    Cindy, personally, I *hate* being given an exact picture of the hero. Everyone has a different idea of what is ‘hot’ or ‘gorgeous.’ I prefer book covers with torsos or body parts rather than faces. I think that is what she meant here. Keep the hero in silhouette so that the reader can imagine her fantasy man. 🙂

  6. Travis Erwin said:

    I am a guy, but I’m afraid my taking my shirt off wouldn’t help sell anthing. Except maybe Pepto Bismol.

    Thanks for sharing the great tips.

  7. Carlie said:

    Historical romances are the only romances I like, and yes for the historical aspect of them. I also agree with beverley – I like a sub plot but the main plot has to be the romance. I do like my romances to be sexy too, so I’ve stopped buying Harliquin because I find that they aren’t sexy enough. For me Avon – while more expensive – are more likely to get a bit heavy. Anyway –
    * romance as main plot
    * sexy
    * but historical
    Yeah, I’m not asking for much 😛

  8. Maprilynne said:

    OKay, this is going to sound really dumb, but what is an autograph sticker? A sticker you put on the inside of the book and then write your name on? A little sticker you put on the cover sayinf this is an autpgraphed copy? (This is a dumb enough question I’m assuming half you commenters will know. Help me out please!!):)

  9. Katherine E. Hazen said:

    Maprilynne, they are small stickers placed on the cover of the book indicating that the author has signed the inside. You can see an image of an example at:

    Most book stores in my area seem to keep a specific shelf for the signed copies they have in stock. I’ve found a few little treasures on those shelves. Sadly, I missed the authors visit when they were there to sign them.

  10. gimme da factoids, ma'am said:

    “First, some interesting general factoids”

    Facts would be preferable. “Factoids,” by definition, are spurious pseudo-facts, urban myths or absurdities.

  11. It's a fact! said:

    Gimme is right. Wikipedia says:

    The term was coined by Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe.[2] Mailer described a factoid as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”, and created the word by combining the word “fact” and the ending “-oid” to mean “like a fact”.

  12. Kalen Hughes said:

    Historicals are “flat” at 40% of the market. Paranormals are at less than 10% of the market (and have not expanded their market share over the past several years). I love how the talks always make it look like paranormals are bigger than historicals. *roll eyes*

    As to the issue of intrigue, suspense, spies and such in historicals, I can tell you first hand that if you write character-driven historicals where the focus of the book is on the romance, you’ll get told to add more outside conflict (usually with specific suggestions of some kind of spying or mystery). As both a reader and a writer I prefer books that are ABOUT the romance, but in the current market you pretty much have to mix in some kind of shiny McGuffin.

  13. Hollyridge Press said:

    That’s an interesting note about the interest in author quotes on the cover. At a recent book party for Chuck Rosenthal’s The Heart of Mars, a new work of literary sci-fi, we watched the partiers when they examined the book. They studied the book flaps as if the copy were the Talmud. Way before they ever opened to the actual book, they were reading and re-reading the flap copy. So there’s a lesson to us in the future.

  14. Camilla said:

    For the most part, with the stock romance characters and plots that have been circulating for the past few years, there isn’t enough true conflict to carry the story the entire 380 pages–which is why “McGuffin’s”, as Kalen calls them, are added to dilute the reader’s realization that there is no substance to the novel. Despite my WIP being a “dreaded” Victorian spy novel, I’ve found that my MS cannot rest on the external conflict between the characters due to their construction(and Beverley–the spying is based on historical tensions *g*).

    And I am very skeptical about sexing up historicals to sell them–agree with you Kimber An–because that creates even more of a void for unique, fully-fleshed characters and their steering of the plot because the “historical” aspects are thrown out the window to accommodate maneuvering the h/h into dozens of intimate situations.

    As a historical reader and writer, I just want a spellbinding story I cannot predict with character whose actions and reactions I can’t predict. If we can’t find this, aren’t we justifying outsider claims that romance novels are formulaic?

  15. Sarah said:

    I definitely pay attention to author quotes for about half of my book-buying. So many of the books I buy, I buy because I know the author, or the author’s going to be at some event I’m going to, or my students have asked if I’ll add it to our curriculum, that for all the book budget (of both time and money) that I have left, a book had better have fabulous reviews in Locus, fabulous word of mouth, or a fabulous blurb by some other author I really love.