I strolled along the shore of the Michigan peninsula – Mackinaw City, to be exact – waiting to board the boat to Mackinac Island for the first time since I was an infant. I had just bitten into the juiciest burger when my phone buzzed.
It was the manager of Barnes & Noble in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
To say I wasn’t expecting it is an understatement.
I gulped down the mouthful of beef and held my breath as he proceeded to inform me that not only had the store acquired copies of my debut book, but that they were on display at the customer service desk as his recommended reading. On display. He wanted me to come in as soon as possible to autograph them.
“Local author Sarah Natale’s debut novel promises great things to come! Well worth the read!”
-Dave, Barnes & Noble Manager
My jaw dropped.
Forget the world’s best burger. This was huge. Of all the times, too. I hardly took vacations, yet here I was, two states away.
The irony was beautiful.
Step backward six days. I’d stopped in my local Barnes & Noble to place an order for my book. I approached an employee to make my request. I rattled off the title and author like it was no big deal, which was surreal in itself. The Kiss of Death popped right up. That I existed in their database was awe-inducing.
We fell into conversation and the topic surfaced that I was the author. It was casual, just an explanation of why I needed the book. I thought it might end there.
But then he asked me more.
It turned out that he was an aspiring author himself – as yet unpublished – but wished he had stayed with it. Oh, and he was the manager.
His interest was contagious, and once I said that I was a native of the city, only nineteen years old, he explained that the store welcomed author events – especially from a local so young. He promised to check with corporate and contact me if they agreed to order copies of my book. I left him with my author business card. I was under the impression that it would be a long time before I heard a response from him, if he ever called at all.
I was wrong.
He vested in me without knowing hardly anything about me. He trusted that my work was of quality, that I was worthy of his time and energy. At the time, I had no idea what motivated him to do so. Now, I understand that it was me who provided him with all the right tools to make his decision then and there. It’s as simple as three words. Basic addition. Preparedness plus opportunity yields success.
Preparedness + Opportunity = Success
Add to the preparation end of the spectrum traits of motivation and persistence, and you’re halfway there. It’s that certain blend of passion and talent that will make you unstoppable.
Yes, it is a little luck. And timing, to borrow from Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.” I stumbled into the Barnes & Noble manager at random. The time of day and employee’s personal interests all had to align. But the luckiest person in the world wouldn’t get very far if she wasn’t prepared for an opportunity to come her way. It’s better to be prepared and not have an opportunity than to have one and miss out because you weren’t ready.
Here’s how you can benefit from my experience and perhaps get your book into Barnes & Noble, too:
The manager was captivated when I entered the store that day, both through my words and the way I portrayed myself. But it was my passion that influenced him most. I was passionate about my writing, and it shone through. I spoke intelligently, professionally, and meaningfully. He could sense that I was speaking from the heart – that I was genuine.
That I was local played a huge role, but my young age was the icing on the cake. Yes, he was an aspiring author, but somewhere down the road he had become disillusioned. I made becoming a published author attainable in his eyes. I was a resident in his city, not some distant big shot in New York sequestered by publicists. My success showed him that if I could do this, he could do it.
He has since revealed that I inspired him to pick up writing again, and now he tries to write every night. For these reasons, he took a personal interest in my author career. He has worked his best to promote my book ever since. Yet, interested or not, he would not have assisted me had I not followed through on the professionalism I exuded.
Yes, he made my dreams a reality. But first, I needed to possess the ability to make them attainable.
It wasn’t about repeat calls to the store. It was about making a good first impression. The store wasn’t actively seeking someone like me. It was I who approached them once and happened upon a manager who took an immediate interest in me. Regardless of what we are taught in avoiding social judgement, first impressions matter in the professional world, and they are especially important in the publishing industry. That is how you make connections, build contacts, and keep contacts.
When the manager expressed interest in following up, I was ready with my business card in hand. Authors are entrepreneurs. Our business is ourselves. My cards are vibrant and dynamic, both content and aesthetics. In building my author platform my most important objective is name recognition. Second is recognition of my cover art. Readers are investing in me as an author, and then my individual works. Each time I hand out a card, I immediately hit consumers with a lasting image. Then I include links to my social sites and contact information. And I always mention that the book trailer I created is accessible from the home page of my website. View it here.
Having a book trailer is a great publicizing method because it gives readers a simple, visual reason to espouse interest in your book without having to invest much time in research. One to two minutes is efficient – as effortless as viewing a preview in a movie theater. However, I advocate book trailers with caution. They are excellent accompaniments to your portfolio, but only when done well. It is better to have no trailer at all than one that will hinder your online presence. Learn the 12 Simple Steps to Design a Killer Trailer here. If this is not in your skillset or you do not have a trustworthy hire, there are plenty of other ways to build your author platform. These include engaging in social media and blogs (your own or others’) in addition to media relations through press, radio, and interview coverage. For reference of the kinds of avenues authors could pursue, here are some of mine:
My journey in connecting with Barnes & Noble was definitely a process. Our relationship evolved from carrying my book in the store, to a potential book signing open house at the front of the store, to hosting a book signing event complete with a full presentation. What started as a simple walk-in to order a copy of my book quickly developed into a large-scale event sell-out with customer-demanded encore to take place this January 18th at 6 p.m.
Learn more about the turnout of my event here.
Remember, if you have the passion and talent, you can do anything you set your mind to. With motivation and persistence you will be prepared when opportunity hits, and success will be the inevitable result. Then, perhaps you, too can view your book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
Preparedness + Opportunity = Success
Preparation = Motivation + Persistence
Passion + Talent = Unstoppable
This past year has proven to be an extremely enlightening and exciting time that has placed me on the path to establishing myself as a professional author.
I hope that through my experiences, you, too, may do the same.