Looking over his end-of-year numbers, Ben Rybeck, manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston saw something unusual. The bookstore’s bestselling fiction title of 2018 won’t actually be published until later this year, 2019. Thanks to pre-orders, the designation goes to Mike Freedman’s King of the Mississippi (Hogarth), which the bookstore has sold more than 300 copies of, and isn’t due to hit shelves until July.
The bookstore knew the book had a strong chance to be a hit with locals, as the author, who is from Houston, set the novel in the city’s corporate culture. (It’s about a duel between a pair of warring would-be business titans.) Heeding the call from the American Booksellers Association to pursue more pre-orders, Brazos sought to capture as many early sales as possible.
Despite its obvious appeal to Houstonians, the book posed challenges, including the fact that the author was now living in the Washington D.C. area and held a job that required he stay off social media.
“The question was how to promote a Houston book without the usual tools we use to promote a local title,” Rybeck said.
The store came up with the idea to throw a “pre-order party” for the author in early December. Freedman flew in for the event, which was hosted by Michael Skelly, a co-owner of Brazos Bookstore, and his partner Anne Whitlock, at their home, a renovated firehouse. Brazos Bookstore pre-sold more than 150 copies at the party. More pre-sales resulted from promotions by the store and the author; both urged friends, family and fans to pre-order through the store.
Rybeck, who resigned from Brazos on January 1 to move to Brooklyn, said that the store has run other pre-order campaigns for local authors with forthcoming books, including Chris Cander’s The Weight of a Piano (Knopf, January) and Bryan Washington’s Lot (Riverhead, March). He explained, though, that no campaign has been as successful as the one for Freedman.
For Rybeck, this kind of thing should, ideally, be the norm, as he would like to see authors regularly promote pre-sales of their titles through their local bookstore as soon as their book is announced. The challenge in those cases is to make it convenient for customers to purchase the book. “There may be no ISBN or metadata available to post the book online, so in that case we create our own in-store code and landing page on our website for sales,” he said.
“As indie booksellers we are so busy keeping up with new releases that we don’t often think of pre-orders,” Rybeck noted. “But in the case of local writers, where we know we are going to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, markets for the book, why not start that early and have us get that money?”