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Independent Bookstore Owner Tells Self-Published Authors How to Get Their Books on His Shelves

william gibson 1According to Doug Robinson, owner of Atlanta’s Eagle Eye Book Shop, you CAN judge a book by its cover. “So much self-published stuff is just mediocre,” says Doug, a 30-year veteran of the book business. “A (traditional) publisher weeds out the books he thinks won’t make it. But in a retail environment, you’ve got to have something eye-catching that makes people say, ‘Let’s go over there and pick up that book.’”

Doug’s first step when examining a book is to look at the cover. “You learn to judge how well a book’s going to sell just by looking at its cover. It’s got to be original and visually pop. I look for eye-catching, but I also think about things like potential copyright infringement.”

Next Doug looks at the editing, “We look at the front and back covers for misspellings and grammatical mistakes, and you have to read a few chapters to see whether it’s been well edited. Self-published authors should spend the money on editing,” advises Doug. Former Editor-In-Chief of William Morrow (a Harper Collins imprint), Betty Kelly Sargent, agrees. In a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, Sargent says, “In my 30 years as an editor in the traditional book publishing world, I’ve seen skilled editors transform hundreds of manuscripts from ordinary to extraordinary. Maybe it is a question of reorganization, or maybe the bad guy just isn’t convincing enough, or maybe the title is way off the mark.” And as a reader who gets terribly distracted by typos and grammar errors, I agree with them both.

Finally, before Doug will take a chance on a self-published writer, he looks at the marketing effort the writer brings to the table. “I want to know about their social media presence, and whether they have any demonstrated sales,” he says. “I also want to know how they will help market the book and if they can help fill a room for a book signing. You should have a fairly extensive network.”

A writer who understands the business of selling books – and who is willing and able to take up some of the slack a publisher would otherwise provide (especially in marketing and promotion) – is much better situated to persuade an indie bookseller to take a chance. A few other tips from Doug Robinson:

–          Consider writing groups, to benefit from the networking, but also for the improvement of the book

–          Avoid over-marketing, like sending excessive Tweets and emails, or other information again and again

–          Typesetting – it needs to look like it was laid out well, and not just printed from a word processor

Keep up with events at Eagle Eye Book Shop, which occasionally includes self-published writers, and follow Doug’s shop on Facebook.