Gearing up for the release of his latest graphic novel for kids, Sidekicks (released July 1 from Scholastic), California-based author-illustrator Dan Santat (Chicken Dance, Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) developed a scheme to support his local independent bookstore through pre-order sales: buy a copy of Sidekicks through Santat’s own Web site (www.dantat.com) for $25—a penny more than the cover price—and Santat will buy your copy from LaVerne, Calif. bookstore Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop, which pockets the profits.
The pre-order “experiment,” as Santat refers to it, began in February with a blog post on his site. Despite very little publicity—Santat was simply too busy to promote the idea beyond a few online bulletins—the arrangement has pulled in 85 orders and counting, more than eight times the number of copies Mrs. Nelson’s would otherwise have stocked, according to general manager Andrea Vuleta. Santat reports that 65% of the preorders come from fans and 35% from those who happened upon the offer and like the idea.
To sweeten the deal, Santat signs each hardcover copy, bundles it with a “limited edition mystery unpublished art print,” and gives each customer access to a downloadable behind-the-scenes PDF book. “I had so much extra content,” Santat says, “I thought it’d be kind of cool to have a ‘DVD extras’ kind of thing.” The PDF, titled The Domesticated Four, features more than 60 pages of deleted scenes, concept art, and details on Santat’s process, demonstrating the book’s evolution from written manuscript to storyboard to full-color art.
Santat admits that it might be easier for a graphic novelist to put together this kind of package, but he hopes that his effort will inspire authors to find direct ways to support their local independent bookstore. “The frustrating part,” he said, “was independent bookstores finding out about it and writing to me asking how to get some of those pre-orders.” Santat wrestled with the choice of which store to support: he shops more often at nearby Vroman’s in Pasadena, but Mrs. Nelson’s is a children’s bookstore and a fan of Santat, having blogged about Sidekicks early on: “I felt like they made the initial good faith gesture.” Santat reasons that if more (and more well-known) authors each picked a single bookstore, the impact could be quite significant: “Imagine if someone like Neil Gaiman did it!”
Vuleta agrees, saying, “I don’t know how many authors know that [partnering with their local bookstore] can be quite successful for them in a promotion sense or on a long-term basis. Lots of stores have their local hot author. Even if they pop in only once every couple of months, it does drive business to that store and drives stores to support that author. I know I’d be happy with any of my local authors coming in and keeping my books signed.”
There was one glitch in Santat’s program: the shipment to Mrs. Nelson’s contained the wrong book, delaying pre-orders by one to two weeks. Though the posted comments about this on his Web site are entirely forgiving, Santat is bundling extra Sidekicks t-shirt iron-ons with the delayed copies.
Despite the early hiccup, the experiment has been so successful that Santat plans to keep the offer going indefinitely, and to use a similar scheme for future books like Tom’s Twist, due from Knopf in November.
Sidekicks by Dan Santat. Scholastic/Levine, $24.99 July ISBN 978-0-439-29811-7