What do booksellers look for?

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
18,616
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
@HareBrain suggested I start this thread since I now spend (not for the first time!) a good proportion of my time buying books (I opened a bookstore this year). Most books I buy from an online catalogue and, apart from margin, what else attracts me to a book? I’m hoping this might help those looking at bringing out books or with small publishers where some of the marketing lies with you. Feel free to ask anything (including things like how to approach shops)

Here goes:

The cover. Definitely a big part of the equation. The cover should indicate the genre (I really need to upgrade Inish Carraig which I suspect might have been a bigger hit with a more clearly SF cover and title) if possible. Go to a bookstore and look at the covers of books in your genre. A space marine in armour? Military sf. Two kids running away from a laser coming down from the sky? YA sf adventure. Ones that work well on the shelf: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of... series, very clearly SF: The Martian, ditto: Gaiman’s titles as very clearly branded. Ones that don’t work well - could be SF or fantasy, and then where do I put it (this will become a theme), unknown author name and strange title (this from the lady who has a SF called Inish Carraig) that doesn’t denote genre: ditto.

The Title: strong indication of genre, something that invokes some kind of good, ‘what’s that, then?‘ I see, literally, tons of titles. Most pass me by. A few I’ve bought recently just on the title: Challenger Deep, a YA book (good cover, too), Meanwhile in Dopamine City.

this is important - most booksellers won’t read your book and they may not read your genre. Unless you make it easy for them to know what theyre buying, they won’t because they won‘t know how to recommend it.

the blurb - don’t leave me wondering what in the heck your book is about. I have one in the shop (The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters) that is supposed to be brilliant. But it’s kind of steam punk mixed with mystery and reads kind of crime like but it’s actually urban fantasy. I’ve put it everywhere and nowhere feels quite right. It’s a great eye catching cover from a big publisher but I can’t understand where it goes. (Sometimes this can work though -
The Liar’s Dictionary, a new release, is an intriguing enough cover to excuse the fact it doesn’t quite tell me what the book is about). Be clear, tell me the genre and keep it short. Some author quotes help but they should also be clear: ‘a great, brash space adventure’ works better than ‘a wondrous book full of great concepts!‘ ditto ‘a clever and intelligent writer’ tells me more than ‘terrific writing, I just loved it’.

Quality - this is something I’ll be looking at for sure. Most self published books are terrible on the shelf. They are cheap looking because their spines bend and the paper is thinner and they just look a bit wick (a local term, naff is closest I think) on the shelf. you can get away with that at conventions since your book mostly won‘t be sitting alongside others. but once it’s sitting with others it’s important it looks good quality.
check out the latest Terry Pratchett discworld hardbacks, they are lovely. Many paper book buyers are looking to treat themselves. Pretty sells. Thin paper, curling and bowing books aren’t pretty. They feel cheap, even though they’re mostly more expensive than equivalent paperbacks. I’m not sure what the answer to that is, but I’ll be exploring it for my next release, even though mine are okay on the shelf as it stands, they could be prettier.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
18,616
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
Good rundown, though I was a bit surprised by this:



Does your display differentiate between the two? Most shops I've seen recently merge them. (Some even lump in horror.)
I’m a geek with bookshelves to play with! Mixing them.... shudder. ;) I have one bookcase for sf, another for fantasy and a small one for horror.
most good bookstores do split them but they often do it within one big section (usually fantasy first and then sf at the bottom.) fantasy is usually the bigger section but for some odd reason I have more sci fi ;) :D
 

Ambrose

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
129
Thanks, Jo Zebedee.
As to covers: ny brother in law worked for a paaper-back publisher. He told me that is a pb was not doing well, and they were getting lots of 'returns' they would stip the cover, redesign and put on a new one. Often it would then take off. And sometimes there would be compliants from purchasers of the old one, who then bought the new thinking it was new inside.
 

Joshua Jones

When all is said and done, all's quiet and boring.
Joined
Apr 6, 2017
Messages
1,437
Location
Maryland
This is incredibly useful; thank you so much for sharing! If I ever get to visit Ireland, I'll have to come by and see your bookstore!
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Supporter
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
346
Location
UK
Great thread. Looking forward to future instalments.

I'm on the verge of self publishing my first novel. I may send you a copy just to see how well (or not) it fits on your shelves!
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Supporter
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
346
Location
UK
No worries. I have one in from a small publisher last week and it’s a disgrace. Cover flimsy and bending and it feels cheap :(
Do you think it's driven by a desire to keep the price down and compete with e-books?

If so, it misses the point of the physical product in my view.
 

Luiglin

by day Stuart Orford by night Dark Lord's scribe
Supporter
Joined
Mar 22, 2012
Messages
2,185
Location
Mercia, UK
I'm in a bit of a quandary as to covers. I've potentially got a series of novella sized stories with the same characters. What's held me back from sticking them on Amazon is the lack of any chance of getting any covers that reflect the comedic fantasy content... unless I win the lottery and employ an artist.

It's damn frustrating.

So, I leave them unfinished. Which is a shame as apparently a body of work helps with Amazon rankings.
 

Similar threads


Top