Author Etiquette 101

Lesson no. 1: Be nice to booksellers1

If you’re an author or wannabe author never do the following:

  • have a bookseller check on the availability and price of a book and then when they offer to order it for you tell them, “No thanks, I’ll get it on Amazon—it’s cheaper.”
  • Think about it: many independent booksellers are struggling to survive in a market dominated by the big chains and online booksellers. The words “Amazon” and “Barnes & Noble” frequently make them sad. You can just say, “No, no need to order that book. Thanks so much for finding the info for me. I really appreciate it.”

  • Do not expect your local book shop to order in your book in huge quantities sight unseen.
  • Go in, talk to the buyer, the manger, or the owner—or all three. Give them a copy of your book. Tell them you are a local author, extoll the virtues of your book. Then they either will or won’t order it. If they do, offer to sign copies for them, give them the tschotkes you’ve had made—bookmarks, postcards, whatever—to promote said book. Buy one of their books. Buy two. Show you support them as much as they support you. Besides, many bookshops give authors a discount.

  • When you’re doing an event at a bookshop, no matter how famous you are, no matter how long you’ve been on the road spruiking your books, do not treat the booksellers as if they are your servants.
  • Do I really need to explain this one? And, yes, I have seen it happen. More than once.

If you haven’t already here’s something you should do: make friends with your local booksellers. First up, like librarians they’re usually fabulous. They like books; we writers like books. Together we can all talk and argue about books. Fun!

I have many friends and acquaintances in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York City and San Francisco who are booksellers. The Australian ones were friends of mine long before I started publishing books. We became friends because I’ve been buying books from them since before I was a teenager. I’m a book addict. I haunt bookshops and libraries. Booksellers and librarians are my kind of people. (Archivists, too, though they can be kind of weird. In a good way!)

Since I published my first book a really cool and unexpected thing has happened: those booksellers got behind it, plugged it big time, and sold many more copies than you’d expect for such a book. And they’ve got behind Magic or Madness in an even bigger way. They’ve been amazing. The handselling of my book that’s gone on at bookshops like Books of Wonder, Galaxy, Gleebooks and Pulp Fiction (Ron, when are you getting a website?)—well—I blush! I totally blush.

So there you have it: booksellers are your friends. Do not cross them! They will remember.

  1. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to any booksellers or librarians I have ever offended. I was young and knew not what I did. And if it was more recent, well, then, um, that book that I ranted about and called the worse book ever, after you’d just told me you loved it so much you had to read it twice in a row? That book? Turns out it is a work of genius. Ooops! Sorry, Stephanie . . . []


  1. Jason Erik Lundberg on #

    Hear hear. I’m a bookstore haunter meself, and I also worked in one (Waldenbooks) for a year and a half, so I know both sides of the story. Independent booksellers are your friends, no matter if you’re an author or reader (or both).

  2. Little Willow on #

    Kudos to your post! I am a bookseller, and I assure you, you did not offend me. Kudos also on Magic or Madness. I look forward to Magic Lessons and I wish both you and Scott Westerfeld the best of luck with your future book endeavors! Always a treat.

  3. Jennifer (aka Literaticat) on #

    You are too right!

    It depresses the living hell out of me when people say they will get it on amazon. Especially when I have given them my advice, time and energy for free. It makes me go mental, actually.

    I want to tell them that if they are so keen on Amazon, perhaps they should wait outside of the Amazon warehouse for an author to come do an event. Or perhaps they should ask Amazon if they will have a bookfair benefitting their kids school. Or maybe they should ask someone at Amazon if they will read stories aloud to their children so they can have a moments peace to shop. Better yet, why don’t they ask AMAZON to pay LOCAL TAXES which benefit the entire community.



  4. Justine on #

    Thanks all!

    So, Little Willow, Jennifer, are there any other things you think should be added to the be-nice-to-booksellers section of Author Etiquette 101?

  5. Jennifer (aka Literaticat) on #

    we love authors! if you reveal yourself to us immediately, we will be kind to you and treat you like a superstar. I have made windows or massive displays or had events for local authors who simply walk in, introduce themselves, ask if they can sign stock, tell me a little about themselves and the book… you know, act like normal human beings.

    If you sneak around clandestinely putting your own book on display, special ordering books and not buying them so that “we will have stock”, harrassing employees by pretending to be a customer and having a tantrum when we don’t have the book, or trying to “ambush” or otherwise trick employees into giving you sales or ordering info… well, these are black mark. And they happen all the time.

    Shocking behaviour from adults.

  6. Justine on #

    So, um, you frown on us putting our books face out? Not that I’ve ever done that, mind [crosses fingers while typing]

  7. Jennifer (aka Literaticat) on #

    haha… no, i certainly understand the impulse to face out. i frown on actually REMOVING another book that is on a display and REPLACING it with your own. Often, books are on display for a reason. (There has just been a NYT book review, it is a staff favourite, the author lives next door, we have a deal with the publisher to display the book for two weeks in exchange for a bigger discount… something like that)

    Particularly because, honestly, if you have signed stock for me and been friendly, I will put your book in a place of pride with a gold “autographed” sticker on it gladly without your asking me… and it will probably be a lot more visible than whatever place you have chosen.

  8. Justine on #

    Oh Good! Facing out books not crime against booksellers. Phew! Not that I’ve ever done that . . . [whistles—or would whistle if I could]

    I only recently learned about how those big ole displays work and how much manoeuvering and big discounting and etc. publishers have to go through to get them into bookshops. Fascinating!

    “Planogram” also a new word.

  9. ron on #

    lol! you are wonderful as always… laughed and laughed… and a website soon – i promise! (no, really!)

    i also have a bit of a problem – huge really! – with the attitude of some of the self-published authors who have approached us over the last couple of years. Two guys especially stick out. I’m usually pretty placid but ended up in a screaming match here in the shop with these clueless idiots who were telling me things like I was ripping off authors by not selling their books at retail price – and passing the entire amount on to them…

    “after all, you’re not doing anything – just selling the book. that’s totally passive…”

    In both cases these dolts swore that they had canvassed other bookshops long and hard for advice before they’d gone to print. interestingly, i’m the only specialist in town and they never came and asked us for any industry info – just to sell the end result.

    i still can’t believe the blazing ignorance of these guys. one poor lad – who was really a very sweet young man – had paid some local vanity press to publish his tome and the’d done a pretty awful job of it and he wanted me to take copies of the expensive end result on a firm sale basis. i couldn’t do it.

    i told him he should just write and do the best job writing he could and then submit his work to one of the big publishing houses and let them handle the publishing and selling of the book. he looked so confused.

    “but how could i afford that?” he said.

    he thought that an author had to pay a publisher – just like he did with the vanity press – and that if the awful vanity press was nearly a thousand bucks, then one of the big international publihing houses must be way beyond his means…

    what can you do?

  10. Justine on #

    Oh, Ron, that’s awful! Doesn’t your heart just break for them? Okay, maybe not when they’re harrassing you like that, but still . . .

    If only we could hand out little cards that say “Money flows towards the author” that is the most important thing you need to know about the publishing industry. Anything else is vanity pressland and shonky agentsville. If you have to pay people it’s not legit!

  11. Little Willow on #

    There are plenty of things that can be added. Plenty. 🙂 They range from humorous anecdotes to outright inane comments to rude assumptions. Part of that is due to the retail environment!

  12. niki on #

    does this include rels aswell…feel a bit dumb offering to sign my sisters and brother in laws books

  13. Justine on #

    You look enough like my author photo to get away with signing my books for me. On ya!

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