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Keeping Your Books on the Bookstore Shelves
by Tzvia (Happy) Ehrlich-Klein (Soferet Issue 12)

Once we've written a book and found a publisher who wants to publish it, one would assume that that's the end of the story. But not so, it appears. I guess HaShem wants to ensure that we keep davening every step of the way.

After hearing a few people say that they couldn't "find" two of the books I've written -- by two different publishers -- in the bookstores, I spoke to several bookstore owners to find out what gets, and keeps, a book on the shelves.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that publishing a good book isn't enough. Customers also have to specifically ask for it. Only in that way does there seem to be a fair chance that the bookstore owners will reorder more, if and when their copies of the book run out. This is because the bookstore owners are busy selling the books they have in stock, keeping their customers happy with personal one-on-one interaction, and trying to juggle the over 30 new titles that can be coming in each month from various publishers. Concurrently, the storeowners have only so much room to display and store their books, and so they certainly do not want to tie up their money in books that aren't selling. Therefore, with the pressures that they are under, remembering to see which books are running low or should be in stock, does not seem to be so easy for them, and thus not high on their list of priorities.

Concurrently, the publishers are constantly adding new books to their 'stable' of published books, and, therefore, the publishers don't seem to always have our priorities regarding reprinting books that have already sold out, probably figuring that people tend to like to buy "new titles" rather than old ones that they can [pardon the expression] borrow rather than buy. Thus, I have been told by a publisher that if the bookstores request a particular 'old' book often enough, they will reprint it, though, of course, they too are always busy running their businesses and looking for new titles, and so the request might get 'bumped' to the bottom of their "things-to-do" list.

It thus seems that there really isn't anyone in charge of making sure that the books we've written stay available on the booksellers' shelves so that, when a potential buyer stops in to browse, s/he will see and thus be able to perhaps buy it. I don't understand this, as it is infinitely cheaper to reprint a book than to publish a new one, but that's the story -- 20% -30% of books that are out of print are listed in some book catalogues -- and once they are out of the catalogues, NO customer will think of asking for it! I was told by one bookseller that 95% of the bookstores do not order books -- they are just too busy: they simply put out on their shelves whatever books the publishers send them.

Though three of the stores with which I spoke are basically English bookstores, one is a Hebrew bookstore with an English section. Publishers give him books, and, if a particular title is not sold within two months, he returns it to the publisher. Since that owner does not read English, he has a worker who periodically checks which English-language books are missing, and then orders them from the publisher. (How thoroughly the worker checks, I don't know.)

In Jerusalem, I spoke with Asher Lichtenstein at Lichtenstein's [36 Strous St.], Manny Samuels at OrHaTzafon/Mannys [17 Meah Shaarim St.], Chaim at Moriah Bookstore [Misgav Ledach St. 40, Old City], and Michael Pomerantz at Pomerantz Bookstore [Shmuel HaNagid 4]. They were all quite kind, and did offer some interesting advice:

An author can periodically send an email to bookstore owners asking them to please keep their book in stock if they think that the book will sell. This should be a written, not an oral, request, no pressure should be applied, and it should be specified that no response to the email is necessary.

If an author speaks to a group, s/he should mention a particular bookstore where the audience can buy the book, and then tell the bookstore owner that you pushed his store.

Authors should go to their publisher and offer to share in the advertising costs in order to publicize their book (note: just what we need -- spend time and effort writing a book and finding a publisher, get minimal payment for it, and then spend money on advertising it!).

In conclusion: I was told that even a great book will be taken off the shelf and returned to the publisher if no one asks to buy it. Yet beware: I was also told by one bookstore owner that nothing makes a bookseller more irritated than when a person comes into the store, asks for a particular book (which often means that the bookseller has to leave another customer in the middle of helping him/her, and then spend time looking for the requested book), and then, when handed the copy, instead of buying it, the person merely says, "I'm glad you have it. I wrote this."

Does anyone have any ideas how to get the publisher to make the book/s available in the stores? It sounds crazy I know, but I have heard about this problem from several writers: their book is published by a recognized publishing house, but after a few months it is not on the book shelves of the stores, although the books ARE in the machsan of the publisher! Any ideas? Tzvia (Happy) Ehrlich-Klein

Happy Klein is the author of ON CAB DRIVERS, SHOPKEEPERS AND STRANGERS (Feldheim), ON BUS DRIVERS, DREIDELS AND ORANGE JUICE (Feldheim), HAPPY HINTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL ALIYAH (Feldheim) and A CHILDRENS' TREASURY OF SEPHARDIC TALES (Artscroll), Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein writes for several publications in Israel. England, and various the U.S.A. and has edited books including SALT, PEPPER AND ETERNITY (Targum) and TO DWELL IN THE PALACE (Feldheim), an anthology on life in Israel. She made Aliyah in 1971, and lives in Jerusalem.

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