Posted On July 20, 2009 by Print This Post

A View From The Other Side

Today we welcome Heather Riley, a bookseller for Borders bookstores, to RU. 

Writers spend countless hours whacking away at the keyboard.  Those of us still hoping to make our publishing dreams come true don’t necessarily know what happens when a book actually hits the bookstore shelf.   Heather is here to help us understand the author-bookseller relationship.

Take it away, Heather!

Adrienne:  Your title is Borders Romance Expert.  What does a Romance Expert do?

headshotHeather: As the Romance Expert for the store I receive Advance Reader’s Copies of upcoming Romance novels, and promotional materials (bookmarks, postcards, etc) to help promote those books. I read the books and post reviews to as well as hand sell them to my customers. Anytime a customer requests a Romance recommendation my co-workers hunt me down for assistance. I love every minute of it. 🙂

I also have a little project I started where I put promo packs together to hand out to my romance customers. I don’t just wait for authors to send me promotional material. I actually created a Yahoo Newsletter list with close to 100 authors on it, and when I’m running low on bookmarks and whatnot I send out the call and receive all the promo material I need. If you’re an author and would like to join my group you can check it out here:

I very recently started a Romance Book club at the store as well. It’s fun, but so far off to a slow start. LOL.  People are voting for the monthly reads and buying the books, but few of them are actually coming to the discussions.  But I’m working on it.

Adrienne: How does a bookstore decide whether to carry a book or not?

Heather: I work for a chain store which means those kinds of decisions are made way above the store level. Typically the factors that will be looked into are sales of previous books, publicity, and sometimes it’s just a case of the buyers really getting behind a particular title.

Adrienne: How can new authors get shelf space/bookseller interest in such a tough market?

Heather: I really like social networking sites for getting bookseller’s interest. I have found so many authors that I wouldn’t have heard of before on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads. Once I have “friended” an author I’m far more likely to not only buy their books myself, but make sure we have copies in stock at work. Now of course, simply being online friends with a bookseller isn’t going to guarantee that they stock or hand sell your book, but it’s a start.

Use it as a way to open the lines of communication. If you have an ARC (even if it’s a computer printout) available you could offer to send that out. However, knowing how precious ARC’s are, I’m aware that that’s not always a possibility. In that event you could send bookmarks, postcards, excerpts (I know those have drawn me into books in the past), anything you’ve got to draw attention to your book.

Adrienne: How do you suggest authors “get to know” their neighborhood bookstores?

Heather: Stop by and say hi. Introduce yourself. Become a regular or semi-regular customer. Find out if any of the employees are fans of the genre you write. If you’re in a Borders, many stores have a designated Romance Expert (though not all) so, if this is your genre, that would be a good employee to find.

I had a great experience recently meeting a local author; I hadn’t realized how local she was until she introduced herself. I was ringing a customer up at the registers and she asked me, “Who’s in charge of your Romance department?” I responded, “That would be me.” She said, “Well then I have to thank you because you have my book on display.” “Oh, who are you?” lol I felt like a dork for that last part, but unfortunately I don’t know a lot of authors on sight. But I was absolutely thrilled that she’d introduced herself to me and it made me feel really good that she’d noticed my efforts to display her book.

Adrienne: What are some things you like (and don’t like) authors to do at signings or even when they just drop by the store?

Heather: It tends to depend on the situation. Authors just stopping by are usually there to sign stock and then they’re on their way. I haven’t really run into any issues yet with authors who do this. Generally they come in, pull the books from the shelf themselves, let us know who they are and why they’re there, they stand at the desk and sign everything and sticker the books as being autographed, then they reshelve the books and leave. Sometimes they stay to shop which is cool. And sometimes, like with a recent visit to my store from a romance author, they unwittingly find themselves with a vibrating bookseller stalker (me).

For book signings, it’s a good idea to do a lot of publicity beforehand. Obviously the store should do their part too, but when the author gets the word out and does it well, it shows. At the signing itself, depending on the crowd, it may be a good idea to do more than just sit or stand at the table. We have one author who has signed at our store twice now and rather than stay up front, she wanders out through the store and finds customers herself. And she’s able to do it in a way that’s engaging without appearing to harass the customers. She doesn’t wander too far so that she can quickly return to the table should someone show up for her, however.

As far as don’t like, well I really haven’t had any major problems yet. Really every author I’ve met has been super nice and hasn’t made any mistakes worth noting. Then again, I haven’t been in-store for every signing we’ve had either.

Adrienne: What do you love most about your job?

Heather: The books, plain and simple. I’ve loved books since I was a child, and I love being surrounded by them. I love being able to talk about the books I love with people who will actually listen. I love connecting people with the book they’re looking for whether it was one I recommended or not. I love finding new authors and introducing my customers to them. I really love when I’m able to successfully hand sell a debut book and get my co-workers on board with me. Seeing the number sold climb higher makes me so happy.

Thanks for being here, Heather.  Okay everyone, here’s your chance to ask Heather any burning bookseller questions you might have. 

Be sure to check in on Wednesday when Wayne Levine will be here talking about why men need N.U.T.s.  You won’t want to miss this one!  We will be raffling off a copy of Wayne’s book  Hold Onto Your N.U.T.s, The Relationship Manual for Men.  We will also be giving away one of our Romance University pocket notepads, so be sure to leave a comment and join in on the fun.

Heather’s Bio:  Heather has been reading since she was little. In 2002 she started working in the book department of Media Play and her mission in life became obvious. Heather was meant to sell books. Now working for Borders as a bookseller and Romance Expert, she’s reading more than ever. And if working with books wasn’t enough, on her own time she runs a Young Adult blog called Want My YA where she discusses her favorite YA titles. You can check that out at

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11 Responses to “A View From The Other Side”

  1. Hi Heather! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us at RU.

    For aspiring authors, how do you suggest they get to know their local romance expert? I’ve been in and out of Borders stores thousands of times (umm, that’s no exaggeration) and have often wondered if it’s too early to form a relationship.

    From a Romance University standpoint, would it be weird for us to handout bookmarks to our local bookstores?

    Thanks bunches! Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | July 20, 2009, 8:50 am
    • Hi Tracey!

      I guess that would depend on how long it is until your book releases. We had one author come to our store, maybe a month or so before her debut book came out. She was dropping off a packet of info for one of my managers, and actually left the packet with me to give him. I had no idea she was a Romance author, she had no idea I was a Romance Expert. Had she introduced herself to me, we would have been better prepared to handle the sales of her book (could hardly keep it on the shelf), and I would have fought harder on her behalf to host an event with her in the store.

      As it was I had no idea who she was until after customers started coming in for her book and told us about her. And it wasn’t until a year later that I found out she’d tried to have a booksigning with us and my manager hadn’t gone for it.

      Thankfully we have since made contact and had a fairly successful signing at our store with her.

      So the short answer in that long rambling response is that unless you have several months before your book releases, it’s not too soon to introduce yourself. And no I don’t think it’s too weird to handout bookmarks, but maybe find out ahead of time how they’ll be distributed so that you know they’ll be put to the best use.

      As far as how to go about it, I say just ask. 🙂 Find out if your nearby Borders has a Romance Expert, or someone who simply prefers Romance even if they haven’t signed up for the program.

      Posted by Heather M. Riley | July 20, 2009, 4:16 pm
  2. Hi Heather. Thanks for being with us today! Would you please tell everyone about your online book club?


    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 20, 2009, 9:12 am
    • Thanks for having me Adrienne! 🙂 And thanks for asking about the online group.

      Here’s the web address to sign up for the online discussion group:

      It’s intended to be the online companion to the book club that I run in-store, but I will welcome anyone who wants to talk about Romance novels. The book for July is People of the Bear by local author Lori Johnson and the in-store discussion will be held this Wednesday night but if you can’t make it to Rockford, feel free to chat with us online. 🙂

      The book for August will be A Duke to Die For by Amelia Grey.

      Posted by Heather M. Riley | July 20, 2009, 4:24 pm
  3. It’s wonderful to see someone, other than a writer, so excited about books!!!

    Posted by Tess | July 20, 2009, 9:20 am
  4. Hi Heather…

    Sounds like you have almost the most perfect job in the world….what fun it must be! Unfortunately I live almost 2.5 hours from the nearest Borders. Yikes. But great advice, and when I’m published =) I’ll keep it in mind!



    Posted by carrie | July 20, 2009, 10:09 am
  5. Hi Heather,
    I agree with Carrie…what a great job! I’m a librarian, so I’m surrounded by books all day long, but they’re for kids from 4 – 11…obviouslly, no romance there. What I wouldn’t do to have time to read the newest romances on the job.
    Thanks for sharing the inside scoop from the seller’s perspective.

    Posted by Victoria Gray | July 20, 2009, 10:44 am
  6. Hello Heather!

    Thanks for joining us today. I agree with Carrie about your having the perfect job (outside of being a writer, that is). How would you say the romance genre is regarded by your co-workers and other people you come into contact with in the course of your daily work?

    Thanks again!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | July 20, 2009, 10:59 am
    • Thanks Kelsey!

      Well, none of my other co-workers read Romance, but they all know better than to say anything bad about it around me. lol Plus they are all very understanding (thanks to moi) of how popular Romance is, and most importantly, how well it sells.

      As far as customers go, well, I get all kinds. I have regulars that I could chat with about Romances all day, and I’ve had customers who’ve told me (prior to realizing just what my title in the store is) that we should get rid of the Romance department. I was sure to share with that guy what my opinion of his suggestion was.

      Posted by Heather M. Riley | July 20, 2009, 4:38 pm
  7. I also just wanted to say Thanks! to Tess, Carrie, and Victoria. I don’t want you thinking I’m ignoring you just because you didn’t ask any questions outright. I’m glad you stopped by today and enjoyed my interview.

    I want to give another thanks to Adrienne and everyone at Romance University for having me here. It’s been great fun. Sorry I didn’t get here til now to respond to all the wonderful comments too. Didn’t get out of work til 3. 🙂

    Keep the comments coming!

    Posted by Heather M. Riley | July 20, 2009, 4:40 pm

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