Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On shelf space, book placement, & touching strangers

I have something new to add to my ever-growing list of geeky things authors do.

Yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble. I browsed the new releases and the clearance table, pretending to have a mission beyond what was really drawing me to the other side of the store.

I wanted to see where my books will sit.
I located the spot on the romance aisle where “Tawna Fenske” falls between “Christine Feehan” and “Amy J. Fetzer.” I dusted the shelf and caressed it lovingly, drawing raised eyebrows from two bookstore patrons and a leer from the greasy-haired guy in velour pants.

Then I went exploring.

When my amazing agent first mentioned the possibility Sourcebooks might publish my books, I did a little dance. Then I put my clothes back on and drove to the bookstore where I went searching for Sourcebooks titles.

What excited me that day is the same thing that excited me yesterday, which is this:

Those spiffy little spots on the fancy displays don’t happen by accident. I’ve always known this, but just to confirm, I grabbed a Barnes and Noble employee. He seemed alarmed by both the grabbing and the fact that I was photographing books instead of reading them, but was kind enough to answer my questions.

“How do you decide which books go on these displays instead of just putting them on the regular shelves?” I asked.

Eyeing my hand on his sleeve, he shrugged. “Those decisions are made at the corporate level in New York.”

“It’s not random?”

He laughed. “No.”

“So you’re saying publishers pay you guys to put certain books in the pimp spots?”

“Well, I didn’t actually say pimp, but yeah – pretty much.”

For a debut author like me, it’s exciting to know I’m in the hands of a publisher willing to shell out bucks for primo placement. Sourcebooks publishes only a fraction of the romance titles some of the bigger houses crank out each month, but from what I’ve seen, they pour a lot into promoting the books they do release.

While I’ve been channeling all my personal marketing efforts into blogs and Twitter and Facebook, I know there’s a huge segment of the book buying public I can’t possibly touch this way (though if touching them another way is the key to selling books, I’m game).

A lot of readers – particularly romance readers – make book buying decisions based on what catches their eye as they’re strolling the store. A primo spot on the shelves might just make a difference in whether someone’s willing to take a chance on a new author like me or skip right past me in favor of picking up a new aphrodisiac cookbook.

How does book placement impact your book buying decisions? Are you a bookstore browser who grabs things that catch your eye, or do you stay focused on whatever you set out to find in the first place? Please share, I’m really curious.

I’m also giving serious thought to that whole touching thing. Is groping customers a legitimate way for an author to market her books? If so, I'm willing to give it a shot.


Patty Blount said...

I am drawn to the New Releases table as soon as I enter the store. (My local ind. bookstore has no table, but a shelf.)

The covers attract me first. Marianne Stillings wrote a book called Sighs Matter. That cover stopped me in my tracks causing the guy behind me to crash into me.

Next, I flip over to read the back cover copy. If I'm really intrigued, I'll open the book and read a few pages.

By that time, I mysteriously find myself at the check out line, my wallet lighter.

This is the one reading experience I miss on my Kindle.

Janet said...

Tawna - you give a whole new meaning to the old phone commercials "Reach out and touch someone!" (although those could have been seen only in Canada - not sure). And if an author 'touches' me, I'm probably going to buy her books automatically. Physically touching? Sure, OK, perhaps my only claim to fame ;)

I tend to go to bookstores armed with titles and authors' names. But if a cover catches my eye - stragically placed - I'll buy. I also tend to look at authors sharing shelf space with my favorite authors (I'm all about convenience and efficiency); therefore, you being next to Christine Feehan would be a good thing.

I wonder if you made the Barnes and Noble staff meeting: Item #5 - How to handle groping customers!

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally I can't remember ever buying a book that I just happened to notice on the shelf at the store. Maybe as a gift ... I might be too uptight about this kind of thing to be the one to answer your question.

As to your novel is the cover going to be graced by a rippling man, sans shirt? I imagine that would help, but then again I suppose they all have that, don't they?

Melissa Sarno said...

"I know there’s a huge segment of the book buying public I can’t possibly touch this way (though if touching them another way is the key to selling books, I’m game)."

Oh my goodness that made me laugh out loud!

Book placement is a huge influence when I'm purchasing books, especially if I'm just browsing. Lately with all the writing and book blogs I read, I have a clear goal when I walk into a bookstore (my list is ridiculous, no human can read these amount of books in a lifetime) so I usually go directly to what I'm looking for. BUT, that doesn't mean I don't get distracted by sparkly things on the way.

Julie Weathers said...

I go into a store with a book in mind. While I'm there, I browse through interesting titles from authors I might not know. Covers catch my eye enough to pick up a book sometimes.

Then I read the back blurb. I open it and read the first few pages. Then I flip to a few places in the middle to see if the writing holds up.

Placement, title, back copy are all selling points, but if the writing doesn't hold my attention, I'm not buying. Even when I'm buying clearance books, the writing has to hold up.

That being said, I almost always walk out with several books instead of one. Most of my additional books are usually non-fiction, though, unless I get on a real reading kick.

Veronica said...

I definitelt check the new releases first, simply due to their placement in the store. Then I browse each of my favored sections, mostly searching for new items by authors I follow but looking for a new title that I may like. Music blasting in my headphones and books surrounging me. It rarely takes me less than a half hour and I love every minute of it. :)

Also, groping is highly under-rated.

Bonnie R. Paulson said...

Careful who you grope. It's not as safe as it once was. Remember the kissing booths? What if they had those today? Yuck!

I like to take my time and caress the books. I keep hoping the one will grab me but I spend money regardless.

good luck!

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I usually know what I'm looking for before I get there, but once I find it...or not, then I browse. Anywhere that a book has the front showing, rather than the spine, gets me first. Then I have to look at the cover and look around to see if anyone from my church is going to see me with Abs Man in Plaid on my way out of the store...

I was at our BN last night and there was an older lady holding another woman hostage while she lectured her on the best romance authors. I was a little afraid to get sucked in, so I didn't hear what she was recommending or dissing, but she was waving and pointing, and, yes...touching. Maybe touching is okay if there is minimal waving and pointing.

Joyce Tremel said...

I do the same as others mentioned--a cover will catch my eye, I read the back, then a page or two.

When I browse in a bookstore, I look for books by friends and/or authors I've met online. I do a little shelf rearranging and turn their books face out. Bookstore employees probably hate me.

LR said...

Oh my. I think I have to go purchase Honky Tonk Christmas. That cover is too awesome.

I tend to be drawn to books presented on tables in stores. I ignore blurbs on the back or wherever. I open to somewhere in the middle and see if it grabs me and if I like the writing.

Have a Honky Tonk Xmas, Tawna. :)

Candyland said...

Wow I did this the other day. I'd be right next to Neil Gaiman. Not too shabby.

Laura Maylene said...

Yes, I do definitely browse and pick up things that catch my eye, and the tables/end cap selection can make a huge difference. I always feel kind of guilty when I do this because I KNOW those coveted spots are hard to get and there are probably even more gems hidden in the stacks. Plus, I imagine if I ever get a novel out, it will end up in the stacks and not on the fancy front table. But still, I can't help getting sucked in by some of those displays.

demery said...

How exciting, Tawna!! To be looking at a shelf where you know your book will soon be sitting :) Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I hope your publisher is going to spend lots of money and have your book well and truly pimped in prize position. It certainly deserves to be.

CJ xx

Sarah W said...

I never thought of going to a bookstore to see where my books will (God willing) someday be . . .

I stay focused in bookstores until I find what I came in for (or am cruelly denied), and then I browse like the book junkie I am.

I would use the groping thing judiciously. I think targeted groping is your best bet, since random groping might reduce its effectiveness once word gets round. Just sayin'.

Penelope said...

I generally start with a specific book in mind, and then let myself browse. I'm drawn to good titles, and I always check out the new releases.

I think groping is a legitimate way for you to market books!

Samantha Rill said...

I can't wait to see your book on display!
When I enter a B&N, I usually just stroll through without a mission. I love seeing all the new books on the shelves, reading what the book is about, and enjoying the cover. If I do have a book in mind, I'll get it and make an extra one or two books that intrigue me :]

Danica Avet said...

I ALWAYS check out the new releases. Always, always. Then, when I notice I've read everything on the shelves, I start meandering down the aisle for something I might have missed. I do a top to bottom sweep. Covers are eye-catching, but if there's an author I've been following, I look for them first, then go by covers and catchy titles. It's a system I've used for years and it hasn't led me astray yet.

You should ask everyone to take pictures of your books on the bookshelves at their local book stores when it comes out. That could be fun!

Regina said...

That is so awesome. I think that rocks that you went on a stake out to find your books potential placement location. Fun.

Jewels said...

I normally only read book I've done 'research" on beforehand. Some days I'll spend HOURS on Amazon reading all the product descriptions. Most of the books I click on Amazon are based on the cover, the number of stars, or he number of reviews. It also helps if I've seen another fellow blogger talk about it.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

The only thing about touching customers is that they might try to touch you; that might not be too pleasant. :) I often stop by the tables where the books are on sale, like at Borders where they have the buy 2, get the 3rd one free deals. But sometimes I'll just go through the shelves and look through the books at random. What catches my eye more than anything are the titles, especially the unique ones.

lora96 said...

Honest answer?

I generally go with the covers or color combos that catch my eye and also titles I like. Then I read the first few pages. I'm mostly a shelf scanner---I don't hang out around the display tables or the new releases. Those get plenty of attention. Call it rooting for the underdog.

LS Murphy said...

I'm a browser. I usually only glance at the new releases before I move to the section I'm most interested in. Then I tend to glance at a cover, read the back, and if I'm still uncertain, I read the first page.
Sometimes I go in with a certain book in mind, but I usually don't.

Anonymous said...

I generally enter, stop in the entrance, stand perfectly still, close my eyes, breathe in the smell of the books, then grope an assoicate, not necessarily in that order. LOL!

I'm a sucker for presentation so yeah, the shelf up front always catches my eye. It appears Sourcebooks is already aware of this and you are going to do great!

One of these fine days, that attendant's going to be tweeting "I was groped by Tawna Fenske :)"

Caro said...

There's a B&N next to where I each lunch most work days, and I often detour to walk through it and back out into the mall rather than straight out the back of the restaurant's mall entrance. Check the magazine rack to see if the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine has arrived from the UK (cheaper to buy on the stand than a foreign subscription) and then hit all the new book displays.

Impulse buying is how I find a number of books; if I know what I want, I'll check the store's website to see if it's in stock or order through Amazon. Visiting the books store is for browsing, so those endcap displays are important for me.

Linda G. said...

I'm too superstitious to even contemplate where I might one day be shelved -- don't want to jinx it!

I'm looking forward to fondling you once you're on the self at my local bookstore, though. :)


Thanks for all the lovely comments, guys! I'm so fascinated to hear how many of you gravitate toward those new release sections. In my mind, I've been envisioning blog readers as very different book buying creatures from the bookstore browsers who will have never heard of me when August 2 rolls around. Now I see there's quite a bit of overlap. Food for thought!

Thanks so much for reading!

Hannah Hounshell said...

For me it depends on several different factors.

Most of the time when I manage to get to a bookstore, I don't have much to spend. This usually means I have a plan. I'll skim the displays on my way to my goal, but I do try to stick to the plan.

But thats just with the big time book stores.

If I'm going to a used book store like Half-price Books, or New and Olde Pages down in Englewood, then I browse and there's no goal at all except to leave with a stack of good books and maybe a little of the money I came with.

Big displays don't hurt though. Neither to eye-catching covers. I'm an artist, so a well done cover will make me stop and pick up the book, if only to get a closer look. Which in turn will have me flipping it over so I can read the back...

Now I want to go book shopping. Darn it.