Sunday, February 5, 2012

Who's to Blame?

So, in my last post I mentioned being frustrated about indie bookstores not carrying books by indie presses. I really meant it as an issue I had with the school that pulled out of letting me speak. It seemed--and I have to guess about this because I never received anymore correspondence from them--that the reason they pulled out was the fact that the local indie bookstore, with which they arrange presales, doesn't carry my book.

After the school situation, I queried the indie bookstore about carrying Finding Angel.

The staff replied to me right away, and they have graciously answered all my questions. It turns out that because I'm with an indie press, part of the issue is the policy that goes along with print-on-demand technology: the books are non-refundable. Also, the distributor gives them no discount, which means they essentially pay retail price. Which then means they'd have to jack the prices up to make money. As they put it, "No one is going to pay $20 for a kids' paperback." Well, duh. I don't blame them!

Really, I mean it. I don't blame them given those facts. But they sent me a form to fill out to submit Finding Angel for possible consignment, which took things to another level. The form explained about what a bookstore goes through when trying to decide which books to carry. And honestly, it's not just about cost and profit--and when it comes to their other points, the place of blame is clear.

Their form says:
"Technology has made publishing easier, often without traditional professional editing, proofreading, and evaluation of marketing and distribution. Consequently, the number of books we are asked to review continues to rise dramatically."
"...many of the books we are asked to try to sell are overpriced compared to similar books, the content is of very limited interest to anyone other than the writer’s friends and family, and/or a lack of editing or even proofreading is obvious. A surprising number of writers acknowledge that they have never paid a similar price for a similar book from an unknown writer and an unknown publisher with no objective reviews, yet expect us to try to sell theirs…"
The bold was not added by me, btw. But I would have added it, had they not done so. I mean, really. We have to admit this is true.

Every small press and self-published author out there thinks their book is worthy of that shelf space. But let's face it--most of them are not. This bookstore is dead-freakin'-right. With the ease of access to publishing these days, any yahoo can publish a book. And far too many do. Far, far too many who don't write well, don't get proper editing, don't invest in decent cover art, and publish through routes that inflate the cost of the books. I've seen this first-hand. First-time authors who chose dubious publishing routes (high-priced vanity presses and such) and whose less than 200-page paperbacks (with generic looking covers) end up on Amazon for $26. Hello, I'm not paying $26 for a hardback version of a favorite author, much less some skinny paperback by someone I've never heard of. And neither would you--don't deny it!

So how do we blame the bookstores? When they have a sea of garbage to wade through when determining what books go on their shelves? Is it really their fault? Or do we look at the authors who insist on pumping out overpriced rubbish?

Don't get me wrong--I think it's awesome we have publishing choices. Those choices are what allowed Splashdown Books to get its start, which is why I'm a published author today. But with those choices come the responsibility to work hard and put out your very best.

I'm not just representative of myself as an author, I'm representative of the small press community. Each and every one of us is--and that, unfortunately, is why so many bookstores turn us away en masse. Not because they are heartless, but because too many of us have made them scared to open their hearts to us.


Kessie said...

Oh, wow, that's interesting. At least they'll consider your book, right? Am I reading that right about the consignment form?

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yes, they'll consider it, Kessie. But they also say they take books on consignment "very, very rarely." So, I'm not getting my hopes way up.

Caprice Hokstad said...

The only reason I would care about bookstore consignment would be to enable a signing event (as in, a very limited time, no shelf space required). While no, I would NOT pay an inflated price for an unknown author's book if I just saw it on a shelf with other big-names, the whole dynamic changes if that "unknown" author is sitting there IN the store. If brick-and-mortar stores want to stay open, they SHOULD be thinking about what they can offer that's DIFFERENT and BETTER than online shopping in your pj's with free home delivery. Hello? Why are Blockbusters dropping like flies?

If the author is standing there, in the flesh, wearing an eloborate costume she made herself, displaying a large painting of an exotic world that isn't Earth, and signing books, I just might be curious. I might want to ask a question about the costume, but I'd be too shy to do it if I didn't buy a book. She's there to sign books. Buying a book and asking for the autograph is the a "ticket" to give me the right to approach this person. Before I became an author, I actually thought bookstores PAID authors to do signings. Aren't they an "attraction"? Why advertise and promote a signing if they don't expect it will bring people in the door?

I wrote the book and got it published. I commissioned the artist to paint the cover picture and paid her quite well for the right to use it in all my promotions. I have a 16 x 20 framed copy and a desktop easel to display it. I also spent a HUGE chunk of change on materials and I DESIGNED and MADE a character costume. I brought pictures with me to the bookstores to show them that I would indeed stand out in their store. I offered to bring the books in myself and remove any that did not sell so they wouldn't even have to give me shelf space. But NONE of this is good enough for them because my name is Caprice Hokstad and not J.K. Rowling or Donita K. Paul or something else they recognize.

I guess it's just as well. Booksignings don't really help much, from what I hear. Just don't ask me to care very much when physical bookstores go out of business. If it's just about book prices, let's all just shop online and forget about the stores.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I think there WAS a time when indie bookstores COULD offer "different" much more often. Because there were very few to choose from. I think these days, they are flooded, and have been sort of backed into a corner: either drown in an attempt to sort through and ocean of sludge, or go with things that are sure-sells, which means more mainstream stuff.

Yes, I think that's a sucky situation. All I'm saying is I don't think the ball got rolling because indie stores all sold out or something. I think the initial blame goes to the raging masses of crappy authors out there.

As for signings...I've noticed a trend away from them. I've looked up the events calendars for the local B&N's around me--there are about four within driving distance--and NONE of them have had signings in ages nor have any scheduled that I can see. I also just attended an author signing at the indie bookstore I wrote about here The author was a NYT bestseller, yet there was all of about 20 people who came to the event--but they were "sets" of parents with kids, so she maybe sold 20 books or so? That makes it seem to me that they're not even worth it for me. But I would like to get my books on the shelves.

Caprice Hokstad said...

Well, since you're finding consignment to be a requirement to VOLUNTEER in the school literacy program, I don't blame you. Me, I pretty much have given up on stores. They don't want to help me even if helping me would help themselves at absolutely ZERO risk. Fine. I understand they have problems. Best of luck, but I you won't see me crying when they go under.

I'm perfectly happy to buy books on Amazon. I like pj's, no crowds, and home delivery, or even better, instant downloads to my Kindle.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I'm hoping the one school-bookstore thing is an isolated incident. I've not heard of that before, or since.

And I do agree about online book buying. I shop Amazon ALL the time. I actually recently blogged about a shopping day I spent at B&N and Books-a-Million, that ended with me going home ticked off because I couldn't find the books I wanted, but could have had my choice of like 27 different jigsaw puzzles and any array of toys, games, or desk accessories.

There is definitely some blame to place on bookstores--especially those bigger stores like B&N. Do NOT tell me you don't have room on your shelves for books when fully HALF the store is taken up by non-book "stuff". But I have to give SOME blame, at least with indie stores, to the authors who have forced their hand and turned them against the rest of us.