Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bookstores in the Digital Age

Most writers I know, myself included, have that dream of walking into a Barnes & Noble and seeing their latest masterpiece on display out front.  We want to see people stop and browse, as well as possibly mutter some comment about how they've been waiting for this to be published.  Sure, we enjoy writing, but seeing others look for our work like that gives us the feeling of validation so many of us search for.

However the demise of the large bookstore, begun by Borders' bankruptcy, has made that dream ever more difficult.  There simply aren't as many of those stores anymore.  Then there's the reality of the indie movement.  Those of us who are doing what we can without the constraints of traditional publishing still have dreams of being prominently displayed, but we have to reconcile this with reality.  We wanted independence, so we have to accept all that goes with it, and the sad reality is that most large stores, or even most small stores, want established authors on their shelves.  To too many, that still means traditionally published.  I'm sorry, I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.  Trying to find a good indie published books at a brick and mortar bookstore is like trying to find your soul mate - it happens, but it's rare when it does.

So does that mean we're relegated to POD at Amazon, as well as the novels we store away in our garage so that we can sell them at a whim to friends and family?  Not necessarily.  What it means is that we have to work that much harder to establish a relationship with the bookstores we target, all while understanding it's with the more independent bookstores that we're most likely to find success.

First of all, as indicated above, forget about Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, or airport bookstores.  That may be something to shoot for down the line, after you've had great success, but you can't start at the most visible.  Find a local bookstore near you and get to know the owner.  Most are small affairs run by book lovers, so get to know them on a personal level.

Second, be prepared to accept total loss if you want to make a deal.  We make so much money by giving our work away for free at the beginning, and this has to translate to brick and mortar bookstores.  Offer the store you like 15 free copies.  Don't ask for any share of what the owner sells - just give them to the person and say they belong to him or her to sell or not as they desire.  Even then, you have to be ready for rejection if they don't want your stuff cluttering up shelves.  Don't take it personal(yes, I know how hard that is) since it usually boils down to physical space.  Try someone else, again with the free offer.

Third, exploit any personal connections you have.  Try the bookstore of the college you went to.  Most schools love to feature work from folks who went there.  Target local libraries and high schools to see if maybe they want to take a monetarily risk-free chance on you(the chance really only involves their space).  If you grew up with someone who now works at a local bookshop, ask them how amenable the owner would be to taking you on at no financial risk to themselves.

After you establish yourself as someone people look for, then you can work out a new arrangement for either more copies or your next work, all while continuing to give that bookstore a better deal than they can get with a traditionally published book.  Remember, it's about exposure early, so you have to be willing to not see real sales in exchange for word of mouth that will eventually lead to more people coming to your work.  Yes, some of this sounds crass, but that's business at times.  You can sit around your house and hope someone will discover your greatness, but mostly you'll just whine about how unfair the literary world is.  Book selling has changed, and we have to be willing to change along with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment