Recently I sent out an email to everyone on my list announcing the ebook release of my second Street Stories Suspense novel, Bend Me, Shape Me. Even though this new book is not yet available in print, on this list are a few independent bookstores who have been welcoming enough to host me at book signings for the first novel, Painted Black.
One of these retailers emailed back in a very offended tone that basically said, Shame on You! for sending an email like this out to booksellers. The person compared the experience to receiving “a sword to the heart” and told me I forgot to include Walmart in my sellout.
I feel terrible for making anyone feel like that. I sent back my apologies with assurances that when the book was finally available in print, I would encourage my readers to buy it from their local bookstore. I also, of course, removed their email address from my list I use to send out promotional notices.
After further reflection, though, I feel more frustrated than chastened by this response. I can relate to the plight of booksellers trying to shout against the wind of big-time moguls, especially in this era of the e-book boom. They are just trying to make a living. But authors are also trying to subsist against corporate giants deaf to their words.
For years I tried to break into the Big 6 publishing world with no success. Other books were being published and sold in bookstores across the world that were as good as mine. In fact, books more poorly written than mine taunted me from the shelves of my local small town bookshop. Why had these received notice when mine received mostly form rejections slips?
The options for authors has broadened thanks to two trends: online shopping and ebook publishing. My voice can now be heard a bit louder than ever before.I feel sad for what this means to the fate of the small bookstores, but does that mean that I should not allow my book to be released as an ebook? Do I refuse to let my publisher set up availability for online purchases? Do I refrain from letting people know they can buy my book online if they want to?
I would have no publisher if I had that attitude and if I did find someone willing to only put my books up for sale in brick and mortar stores, I would have few sales. In fact, I would not be helping small bookstores at all, I don’t think. I would just be keeping them company on the sinking ship.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I did decide to sacrifice my income and popularity in support of independent bookstores. I probably won’t find a publisher this way, but there are plenty of self publishing options out there. I’ll self publish my book and declare to the world that if they want one, they will have to go to their local bookseller.
What’s that? You can’t find it at your local store? Oh, that’s right, it’s because small bookshops don’t have much room on their shelves for mid-list or self-published books. The space where my book should be is being used to house the best sellers put out by the Big 6. So how is my refusal to bow down to the Amazon Mammoth helping that store stay in business?
Some bookstores seem to understand this and now offer the option to buy ebooks through them. I know one store I did a signing at, Uppercase Bookshop, offers ebooks through Kobo. They, at least, can profit from a new ebook available for sale. This, to me, seems like a better idea. If more of them would do this, I would be able to send out emails saying: “Visit your local bookstore to download the book today!”
Until that happens, it seems to me that my promoting the release of ebooks on Amazon and B&N could possibly work to a bookstore’s advantage. If I make a name for myself there or have a high sales ranking, wouldn’t bookstore patrons be more likely to walk into their local shop and say, “Hey, I just heard about a new book that is going gangbusters at Amazon. Do you have it on your shelves here somewhere?”
Maybe I’m being unrealistic about that happening. If a book is popular online, that doesn’t necessarily mean increased attendance at an author signing at a bookstore. However, I can’t see a huge response to an event by an author they’ve never heard of, either. I do foresee no response at all to an event by an author whose manuscript is still sitting in a drawer because she refuses to allow her books to be sold by corporate chain stores.
I don’t know how to prevent the demise or impoverishment of local bookstores. I only believe that saving them shouldn’t be at the expense of slitting authors’ throats, too. Until a solution is found, don’t blame me for being happy about my good fortune just because yours isn’t looking so hot right now.
What do you think the answer is?