Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Authors Events and Independent Bookselling

Dear readers,

Please be forewarned that this post may come to you more in the form of a rant rather than a well thought-out blog post, but let's see how it progresses.

Over the course of the past few weeks, the bookstore for which I work has received more than it's usual number of author appearance requests, some from local authors, some from small presses, and of course, some from the "big ones." The fact that so many people want to read at the store is wonderful and we wish we could accommodate everyone. Alas, with the economy as it is and our advertising budget being what it is, we can't book everyone. For that, we apologize.

However, there was one request that came in today that made me audibly sigh.

An author calls to talk about the possibility of setting up a reading at our store. I asked to her to e-mail us some information on the book and let her know that once I'd discussed this with our store's co-owner, we'd let her know if we'd like to set something up. A few hours later, I get an e-mail with a link to her website.

Upon clicking on the link, I see in big, bold, bright letters "Inexpensive copies are available at both Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com."

Oh boy.

Ok, I know that an author's first priority is to get her book noticed and to sell copies. I get that, I do. But, when approaching an independent bookstore fighting tooth-and-nail just to stay open in this economy, I wish writers would take extra care in how they pitch an event to us.

One fellow bookseller today told me that she heard of an author who read at an Indie bookstore and asked the audience to purchase their copies on Amazon to boost his "rank." Um, pardon?

Do all authors know that they can link to IndieBound.org as another online venue to sell books? No, probably not, and I'm sure rude authors like the gentleman above are few and far between, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for us. The question is, how do we educate these authors? Is it the publisher's responsibility to tell authors to give all booksellers equal opportunity? Would that mean Wal-Mart may want a link someday? There's a thought to make all booksellers shudder.

I don't know the answers to all of these questions, nor can I think of all the questions to ask, but if there are any authors reading this now or in the future, please remember us indies. We're the ones who schedule the majority of author appearances, we're the ones handselling your books, and we're the ones donating back to your communities. We've earned and deserve an equal shot.

Moving right along to another aspect of author events...

I can't tell you how many times we host a reading and a quarter or more of our audience has bought the book elsewhere.

Why does it matter where the book is bought as long as it's bought?

I'll tell you exactly why, but first, let me ask you a couple of questions.

1) Are you happy that this person is doing a reading in your area?
2) Would you like to see this person come back and give another reading for a future book?

If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, you need to buy the book at the store hosting the reading -- and here's why.

Believe it or not, publishers (gasp!) look at our book sales after an event is over. If 100 people attended, but only 10 people bought the book at our store, the publisher won't send that author back. Period. They don't check the Barnes and Nobles in the surrounding towns to see if sales spiked there, nor Amazon.

I understand that there are inevitable snaffus: a customer may have bought a copy of an author's latest book at one store only to discover that a week from now, that person is reading at another. That happens. Of course it does.

So, how do you correct this? In these tough economic times, it's a horrible question to answer on behalf of the customer.

As a business, we would like to ask that if you want to bring a book from home to get signed, you should buy a backlist paperback title by the same author and get both signed, or buy a second copy and give one to a friend. If you already have everything that person has written, buy something in the store of relatively equal value -- perhaps another book you've been meaning to pick up.

At a recent event this February, a gentleman and his wife drove in from Boston to attend a reading of ours and brought every single copy of that author's work with them, roughly 12 books -- including the newest title. BUT, he was smart enough and kind enough to buy a second copy from us and bought an additional, non-related title. Since he brought so many books into the store, do we wish he bought more? Absolutely! Do I think we could have asked him to purchase more to get all those books signed? Personally, no, I don't think we should have. Not too many customers would have done what he did and I don't want to push it --- not in this economy. Other booksellers, including some I work with, may beg to differ, but I do agree that some sort of policy needs to be in place.

So what do we do? Do we require that all books wanting to be signed be bought at our store? Perhaps, and I think in most cases, that's fair. Do we have a two-for-one rule? Maybe.

But how do we separate those who simply wanted to save a few bucks by shopping online from those who maybe didn't know about an event until too late and bought their book at another independent store?

To those buying their books online, consider us NOT letting your book get signed the extra cost of purchasing your books elsewhere. WE brought the authors to the store, WE paid for all the advertising, and WE'RE giving you the entertainment and cultural experience of meeting these terrific writers. It's our time, love and sweat, and we deserve to see the benefits -- and it's a requirement that we DO see these benefits or we won't get that author back again. In fact, if our sales from author events are consistently low with a particular publisher, they may not send us anyone ever again.

To those somewhat frequent and random snaffus, it's a really tough question to answer.

We're not trying to be rude or put-off potential customers, we just want them to understand the cost of their actions. What may be seen as simple, in fact, isn't.

1 comment:

  1. I could have sworn I posted a comment to this already, but looks like it didn't post.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! You have an amazing ability to get to the heart of the matter, yet to put things in such a well-articulated way that they don't come off as grossly offensive (I think). Compared to my own rants, which probably would have involved some choice swearing and an incomprehensible sentence or two, your delivery was appropriate, well-worded, and well thought out. It also speaks to what I agree with as either a growing, or just more noticeable to us in recent months, trend. People need to understand that supporting your local independent bookstore means more than just walking through the doors. We can't, and won't stay in business off head count alone.

    Thank you for explaining things so adroitly.