What You Always Wanted To Ask A Bookseller, But Were Afraid To Ask / Donna VanBraswell


It was the second day of April in Savannah, Georgia. I wanted to check off an activity on my bucket list: Interview a Bookseller. Spying The Book Lady Bookstore, I jaywalked across the busy street of East Liberty and walked the few steps down into #6. It was small, with low, dark-wooded beamed ceilings. The main room was crowded with new and used books. I milled around the shelves and crept into nooks wondering what treasure I might find.

The treasure turned out to be just a few feet from the entrance. His name was Chris Blaker. He was a youngish, handsome-ish, and cautious manager of the store. After a rather inept attempt of explaining that I wanted to pick his brain and a request for honest answers, we commenced.

The questions began in earnest, but they were from Chris. Who are you? Why did you stop here? What are you going to do with the information? Who will read your blog? Are you a published author?

I felt he was trying to subtly determine if I had a book to sell, that day.

I answered the questions as best as I could stutter out. My name is Donna VanBraswell. I stopped at this store because I’d sent an email requesting an interview with the manager of E Shaver Bookseller and hadn’t heard back, thus this cold call. My plan, I explained, was twofold, to write a blog for Killer Nashville and to present the information verbally at my writers meetings.

The atmosphere became more charged. He asked, “Are you published?” This is where things are tricky in the bookseller’s world. I was glad (for once) that I could honestly say that my novel wasn’t at that point, yet. He didn’t have to worry that his time would be wasted on someone trying to cozy up to him. PHEW! He wouldn’t have to say, ‘Unless you have a traditional publisher, I’m not talking to you.’ or, ‘If you are self-published, don’t let the door to hit you in the buttocks as you make your way back to Amazon.’

Guards were dropped and information began to flow. The more questions that were asked, the more Chris warmed up to explaining the ins-and-outs of his shop.

Here is a brief summary of my questions and his answers:

  • A traditionally published crime novelist, I’ll call her Jane, was sent to a book signing in Las Vegas. Only five people came. Jane’s “top-five” publisher explained that they sent her there to meet with the store manager and the workers. They need to have a familiarity with her because they would talk about her book and hopefully make a sale. From another source, a different publisher indicated that these low-turnout events are sometimes the price you pay for being an author. What is your take on this?
    • Chris agreed that the authors need to interface with bookstore people. The author doesn’t want to “kiss their rears, so-to-speak” but it’s good to express interest in their store as opposed to sending out a postcard announcing the new book. Also, “from an author’s point of view, it’s a lot harder to say no to a person face-to-face. So, you may get your book in a store, just because it’s hard to say no to a person face-to-face with you, and the book is on the margins.” He said one shouldn’t be disappointed with a bad turnout. Two possibilities for this came to his mind, bad weather and/or everyone was at a Van Halen concert.
    • — So, I really liked Chris at this point. —
    • Chris went on to say that a part-time resident of Savannah, George Green, has 3 books and 2 movies under his belt. He drove from New York City to the Barnes and Nobles in Connecticut in a snowstorm and one person showed up. She had come to the bookstore because her heat was out. He read the whole book for her. At the end of the event, she said that that was very nice and she might get it when it comes out in paperback.
  • The Book Lady Bookstore is small, maybe a couple thousand books, how do you choose the number of each new title? One or two at a time? Or do you keep extras in a storage room?
    • If it has good reviews, they know the author, or they are interested in the subject, they will typically try two. If one sells, then they would order another. Based on quick sales, they may increase the order number to five or more, to stay in stock.
  • How often are you approached by the big five to get books into your store?
    • Not that often. They may send advance reader copies once a month, but The Book Lady Bookstore is off the beaten path and Savannah is a smaller city. They don’t have a lot of contact with the big five publishers.
  • How often are you approached by the indie publishers? Not their authors, but the actual publishing company
    • Not that often. They are much easier to get in touch with than a large corporate network. They don’t come into the store very often because they are very busy. Just as he (Chris) doesn’t go to their offices because of his work schedule.
  • What can you tell us? Do you have hints to getting traditional and non-traditional published books into an independent bookstore? (This is where Chris got very real.)
    • Go to the store and see what they are about. See what kind of books they carry. Determine if your book is a good fit for their store. Buy a book. Don’t just show up without an appointment. (Ooops! Tried that. Didn’t work.) It assumes our time isn’t valuable. If it’s your first and only time in the store… (he paused to choose his wording carefully) …it’s like calling your parents only to ask for money. The author is hitting someone up for a favor without establishing a relationship. (WOW!)
    • The promotion of the book is also partly the author’s job. Some self-published authors have a field-of-dreams mindset – If I Write It, They Will Come. He counters, if you write a book and place it on the shelf without promotion, it will go nowhere. You have to be on social media. Tell your friends. Tell strangers about your book. You have to perpetually promote it.
  • My final question: When the Book Lady Bookstore has a signing, how much publicity will you provide?
    • They are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, Chris believes that Facebook is the only one that counts. They will promote the signing two weeks out, one week out and then the day of the signing. They use the email service, Constant Contact, for a widespread email notice two weeks prior, then a few days before the event as a reminder. Occasionally, they will make fliers or posters. It is incumbent on the authors to do as much publicity as they can.

I came away feeling that at least this bookseller is comfortable with non-Big Five and self-published book providers. I had to leave immediately, but came back the next day with another thank you, and, purchased a book.

Donna’s Bucket List

Go to Europe

Interview a bookseller

Be blessed with a grandchild

Finish first novel, Daughter of the Ancients

Get published


Many thanks to Chris Blaker and everyone at The Book Lady Bookstore, 6 East Liberty St., Savannah, GA 912-233-3628. http://www.thebookladybookstore.com/

Donna VanBraswell is an army brat. She’s lived from Alaska to Turkey and many places in between. This nomadic life provided a wide variety of influences, both with people and environments. Upon retiring as a senior software engineer, she started writing in earnest almost two years ago, after her husband, Jim, was transferred to Colorado. She joined a critique/writers group in Colorado Springs, CSWriters. The long days and evenings were filled with the writing of her first novel, The Daughter Of The Ancients.

This wonderful group helped her to learn the ins-and-outs of starting a novel, providing valued lessons that she still applies. Upon returning to Alabama, she joined two more critique groups and one national group, Sisters In Crime (SinC). Donna attended her first conference, Killer Nashville, in 2016.

In addition to writing, she enjoys hiking and volunteering at a Veteran’s Retirement home and her church. Donna will be attending the next Killer Nashville conference anxious to meet many more people that enjoy writing as much as she does.

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Thanks to Tom Wood, Arthur Jackson, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog.

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