Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Notes from the Underground

Note One:

The book business is a strange one.

Recent correspondence with an author is a case-in-point: According to the author, two stores in his/her region charge all authors to sign books in their store. I have never heard of a bookstore charging an author for signing books in a store. When he/she mentioned that his/her book had been published by a Print on Demand publisher (in earlier days known as a vanity press), I explained that it was probably due to the fact that the stores had been burnt by vanity ...er, PODs at some time: Discounts are usually lower than with traditional presses, shipping and handling higher and, sometimes, returns are not accepted. He/she assured me that ALL authors were made to pay to appear in the stores.

I checked out the list of upcoming authors at these particular stores; they included Lee Child, David Sedaris and Jeffrey Deaver. If publishers are paying to have these authors in a store, then the publishers are dumb as mud. Especially when the town has a Barnes and Nobles and a Borders within blocks of the author-charging independents.

Hosting a book signing by a self-published author is not a money-making proposition. Most authors don't know what it costs a store to set up a signing. Most signings bring in few customers, some of whom buy books to be signed while others bring books in to be signed that they've bought at other bookstores. Stores pay for shipping, for the cost of books, flyers, advertising and newsletters to entice customers to meet a new author. Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver will draw in droves; a new author is a difficult draw.

A recent author at our store drew no one, nobody, nada...even though we did press releases, flyers, an e-mail newsletter and radio advertising. But those costs are part of being in the book business. We do it because we love books and authors. We'd like to make money too, but sometimes just being able to pay your bills is success enough. Besides, I loved this author's book and have sold several copies since the appearance.

Second note:

An author sent me two books recently with a request to feature them in the store. The books were published by Booksurge (a POD) and arrived in an Amazon.com box.

At first I thought it was a mistake. I would never order from Amazon.com. (Booksurge is owned by Amazon.com.)

Sending the books was a marketing technique by this author, but what makes him/her think that'd I'd order from the very company that wishes to put independent bookstores out of business? Don't independent bookstores have enough problems struggling against chainstores? Why would we order our supplies from the behemoth?

I get requests every week from authors to carry their books. I go to their website and inevitably they prominently display a link to Amazon.com. Authors who want independents to support them should think about adding a link to (in the case of mystery bookstores) the IMBA or for a general bookstore to IndieBound to encourage readers to buy from an independent.

After all, authors are independents too.

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1 comment:

Hut Landon said...

I guarantee you Random House and others are not paying to have Lee Child, David Sedaris, et al appear in a bookstore. Your source may be confused or have talked to a uninformed employee.

As for POD books, ask the author if they'd be willing to supply books to the bookstore for the signing, then have the store pay them for all sold copies. The answer, of course, is no, and that's the store's dilemma as well. What happens when a store orders 50 copies, then sells 5-10 at an event. What to do with the remaining 40? They usually can't be returned. Is the author willing to buy them back? It's not a problem easily solved.