A local in the window?

A post on my personal blog yesterday noted the encouraging success of writer, editor and publisher Colleen Dunn Bates of Pasadena, whose book Hometown Pasadena was the subject of a story this week in the LA Times.

I was disappointed with the story, which I thought could have been much more fun and informative. But, Bates saw the blog post and was kind enough to write a note that filled in some of my blanks.

Most important to writers of unpublished books (that would be me) was how Bates managed to get the gatekeepers of a Pasadena Barnes & Noble to stock her book, let alone put it in the window.

The answer: A good book (well written and attractively packaged) really does sell itself, if you talk to the right person.

Once contacted about the product, the chain's regional buyer realized the value of what they were looking at and gave it front-window display space.

To understand how significant that is, it helps to know a bit about the industry. Display placement doesn't just happen. Most authors never see the light of a center table in a bookstore (bargain bins excluded), let alone the front window. The displays shoppers see just inside the front door of corporate bookstores, those tables with copies of the latest book artfully arranged, are often purchased, which means they have nothing to do with what the wise employees of the store think about the book.

Publishers pay fees for prime placement, often what's called a "co-op" (I think the grocery industry calls them "endcaps"). Only the biggest names, or those expected to become big names, can count on a publisher to invest in this kind of play, so for a local writer to make it into the front window on merit is a very big deal.

There's a lot more to the marketing stragegy employed by Bates. She obviously did not go into this effort blindly. As a veteran of the New York publishing machine, she knows her way around the engine. That aside, anyone can do what she did. This success wasn't the product of a complicated rebuild, nor was it the result of name dropping, or calling in favors to do the heavy lifting. Rather, it looks to be proof of the benefits of smart and deliberate planning.

Also encouraging was Bates' experience with Borders, yet another chain that signed up to stock her book. Say what you will about the corporate monsters (and I've said a few things about them lately), but Borders provides a budget to buy and sell the work of local authors. They don't get credit for many socially responsible acts, but this one is worthy of it (also worthy of note is the fact that I'm unaware of how big, or small, this local book budget may be).

As for the fun part ... how many copies of Hometown Pasadena were able to fit in the Subaru Outback that Bates used to deliver them ... the answer was 17 cases, or 544 books per haul. (Pssst, Subaru: The literary demographic buys cars too, not just that call-of-the-wild segment of the market. With a little encouragement, I bet you could even persuade Bates to run through couple mud puddles on her way to selling the next 10,000 copies of Hometown Pasadena.)

[CROSS POSTED at TJ Sullivan in LA.]

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