RNA Conference 2008: The Business 2. Mark Thornton.

Second Part of my Notes from the Conference in Chichester last weekend covering the Business and Publicity Aspects of the Romance Writer’s World.

Mark Thornton: “Shelf Secrets” – Want to get your book stocked? Think like a Bookseller.


Speaker: Mark Thornton, set up the Abingdon Bookshop ‘Mostly Books’ which has recently won a Nibbie for the best New Bookshop of the Year.

His talk focused on the work of Independent Booksellers such as himself, but it can be applied to chain and high street stores.


This is one of the pics from Mark’s Blog showing him hard at work at the Conference.



1. So, Think like a Bookseller – What does that actually mean?

Imagine that you are going into a bookshop to sell YOUR book, or ask for a promotion etc.

What you must recognise is that Independent Booksellers are bombarded with info on new books every month, from;

  1. Wholesalers such as Gardners and Betrams who have their own catalogues and buyers guides.
  2. Specialist wholesalers
  3. Reps from publishers
  4. Faxes, e-mails, marketing and promotional materials
  5. Recommendations from customers.

The result is that each month there may be some 1500 to 2000 new titles to select from.

In a fixed space bookstore, Mark has to select which 60 or so titles to take OFF the shelves and what will replace them.

High Street Bookshops may have even less flexibility.


How does he decide which books to order? BOOKS THAT WILL SELL!

So – How can the author help the Bookseller to sell books? Help HIS business – increase your sales. Win/Win.

Answer? By understanding the trade. 


2. What Books sell?

Booksellers are able to print out the sales figures, and it is easy to classify the 3 Types of Book.

a.      Blockbusters – the big commercial fiction books – James Patterson etc – and the celebrity biographies. Publishers will allocate huge promotional budgets to these books, with the hope of high sales and a good return – risky and hard to get right.

These are the FRONT LIST books, because they are at the front of the wholesaler catalogues. These blockbusters are actually risky for independent booksellers, because they are going to be stocked at a much lower price by the big chains – discounts the independent booksellers will not be able to match. They also tend to have a short sales life on the shelf after the initial rush.


b.      Books from smaller publishers, or books with a smaller promotional budget at launch.  These may well become the MID LIST books for some authors and sales will drop away steadily from the launch date.

c.       Books which sell week in, week out. eg. Peter Rabbit, I capture the castle. These are the LONG TAIL books, which keep on making sales long after their launch.

THESE ARE GOLD DUST to booksellers –they are rarely discounted, so independent booksellers can benefit, and yet they are published in large enough numbers to be viable volume. They are the bread and butter of the trade.

If you can convince a Bookseller that YOUR book has the potential to sell like a Long Tail book, that would be fantastic. So. Think of the Long Tail profile for your work.


Book Groups and Reading Groups – are often discounted by bookseller and become bestsellers month after month.


How to approach a Bookseller?


Doing your homework.

*Identify a bookshop  – then pay them a visit to see if this is the appropriate outlet for your book. Mark’s shop has a large family and children’s section, but does not stock erotica for example.


Develop your Strategy.

*Go in and Buy a book. Talk about books.

*Show respect for the bookseller and understanding.

*Develop a professional relationship with the bookseller.  What do they want? Need? What does he NOT want?

*You are asking the bookseller to spend his time thinking about how to sell YOUR book.

* You have to think of yourself as Entrepreneurial – come up with Innovative ideas. ‘ Have you ever thought of having a dedicated Mills and Boon section? Local History?’ It can take months of work between the author and the bookseller, but it can work brilliantly.

*If you have a Testimonial, this can help open doors. Eg. A quote from another bookseller saying that the books sold like hot cakes, could not keep up. Of course another bookseller will be interested.

*Take responsibility for your promotions. The info from your publisher can be at the end of a very long chain. By working with a bookseller, you are not working in the dark anymore.


Mark recommended an excellent short book called ‘The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  One of the ideas from this book is that – What works in the Short Term does not always work in the Long Term.

*Short Term? It is easy to alienate a bookseller

*Taking the longer term can create an amazing synergy with another professional in the book world.

You want this professional to WANT to sell your books – to recommend your books from the 1000s of   other titles.



Promotional Material.

Remember that booksellers are inundated with reading material and e-mails. Keep it short.


One example – A colourful Postcard with A subject and Keywords which will appeal to that bookseller.

Keywords? Are everywhere. Retailing is based on key words. It helps human beings filter the barrage of information we have to deal with every day. You should collect a portfolio of KeyWords and Marketing Info – the best and most effective from your genre – focus on the Winners!

Can you use the same techniques to create material to promote your work?


Examples: Your town/ area,  a topic you are interested in- children, the environment, a personal interest of the bookseller.


If these keywords are on the front of a postcard, the bookseller will turn over, read a Testimonial if you have one, or quotation, look at the e-mail and web site address where they are offering a free sample and where the stock can be obtained from. Job done.


Book covers

Everything is judged by its cover, irrespective of the quality of the writing and wonderful story and reviews.

From the bookseller’s viewpoint? You need colour – and you need quotes, front and back.

Plain, drab colours, do not sell.

The bookseller can give a free copy of your book to a reviewer – one of their customers or a Blogger – and you can then use the review comments on your cover.


Manage to measure

You NEED the feedback from how the books are selling.


Mark runs the ‘Shelf Secrets’ Training Course from the Mostly Books bookshop in Abingdon. For more information go to the company website:  http://www.mostly-books.co.uk/ and Mark’s Blog where he mentions the RNA Conference. http://mostly-books.blogspot.com/




And tomorrow we have Kate Walker. 🙂