I was talking to a friend about Indie Bookstores and realized I have complicated feelings about them.
On the one hand
I fully support fighting Amazon at every possible turn. They’re bad for everyone, especially book stores. Please, if you haven’t read ‘How To Resist Amazon and Why,’ it’s worth your time. It’ll help you understand just how bad Amazon is.
We get books for my niece and nephew from our local bookstore all the time. We can walk to it, the owner is awesome and supports the community in myriad ways.
Indie bookstores are awesome. Ours is also a bar, and I’ve written parts of many of my books at the bar, sipping BookBar Red. But I don’t buy books there, because I read ebooks, which is a weird issue.
Indie bookstores inform the literary conversation, and no two are the same.
On the other hand…
Indie bookstores are really not that big a friend to indie authors. This is, of course, a generalization. Some are exceedingly supportive of indie authors, and many fall somewhere between awesome and horrible.
Sure they can order your book from Ingram Spark if a customer asks, most will, but some won’t even do that. Many, including mine, don’t offer it by default. I was standing at the info desk, picking up a pre-order we placed for Nicole. A kid came up and asked for something. “Nope, we don’t have that in stock.” Zero effort to offer to order it. From their website, you absolutely can place and order and they’ll do it, but in-person, nope.
Consignment isn’t support.
The store near me, and most, I’m guessing, offer consignment. You bring in the copies, and they’ll carry them for X months, take a cut of what they sell, give you back what they don’t, plus a check.
That certainly doesn’t suck (the getting a check part). Your book is shelved like any other book. Which is, you know, ok, but why not have an indie author shelf? Or a table with rotating indies? Or a local authors section that is always stocked? Why not give these indie authored books on consignment a little nudge? The store still gets money afterall.
It’s cool to be in a store, but I want to send people to find my work on display, not sticking spine out like the hundreds of other books that sit on the shelves until they’re sent back.
Traditional Publishing Trappings.
Indie bookstores are still glued to the traditional publishing world. My local one makes a big deal every Tuesday about what’s been released by the big publishing houses. Social media posts full of the week’s releases. Every. Single. Week. Most of those books won’t sell much, will eventually get sent back. Not once I have I seen them hype an indie author’s work.
They make a big deal about whatever every other bookseller is making a big deal about. If Oprah is talking about it, or a President is mad about it, they’ll have dedicated tables and shelves for it. I’ve yet to see them tout an indie author release. Sometimes they’ll mention (after the fact) an author holding an event for their book.
Communication and Reach.
Indie bookstores, get emails and details from publishers, probably all the time. They get press stuff, author tours, etc., from in-house promoters and promoters that work for agents, etc. All of which are the trappings of traditional publishing.
None of which most indie authors participate in or have access to. I mean, I’ve released 15 books and only once had them on the shelves at BookBar and never at Tattered Cover. I also don’t have a publicist, and while it was likely visible to both stores via Ingram Spark (not sure if they update or anything. They sell ads in a magazine which, just light the money on fire).
I’d bet that any given week, the books that were in their new release insta post two or three months ago, are being boxed to return. Those books all get space with little to no effort from the author. They all got some love online from the bookstore.
I’m not saying they need to track down indie authors, not at all. I mean, shit, there are thousands of us. I’m sure there are a hundred in my part of town.
I do think they need to be WAY more welcoming and make it clear that they want to support indies. My local one has a single “Print this consignment form” link. There’s a wall of “Indie authors,” but no idea how that’s curated.
I get the struggle. Shelf space is limited, do you give it to an indie? Or to someone rep’ed by the big 4 publishers? Except that so many books from the big 4 are debut authors with no more, or often less, pull than your average indie that hustles their ass off.
Sure, a lot of customers come in looking for the latest John Grisham, Oprah bookclub book, etc. But just as many would likely browse a shelf of local or indie authors to see what’s out there that they can only discover at this store.
It really is, and I get that. Do I spend time and energy that could be writing, chasing down book stores? They’re busy, but so am I. Should they be figuring out where indie authors are and reaching out? That’d be awesome but isn’t realistic. As I said, they’re busy. I don’t know the solution, but know that right now, there’s not much incentive to support an indie bookstore, as an indie author.
Last weekend was my first and last Starfest Denver. It was my first because I didn’t learn about it until 2019, but I missed the window to sign up and signed up for 2020 (sad trombone). It was my last because after 45 years, the family that runs it is retiring from cons.
It ran from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening.
I went in with a few goals.
Primarily I wanted to practice my hand-selling. That went well, I handed people books when they stopped by. I still need to dial in my pitch but got better at it. My friend Todd a few booths away has his sales approach down pat, it was impressive to watch. I learned though, that his approach isn’t mine. He was able to hold people at his booth for upwards of 10 minutes, excitedly explaining his series, the characters, etc.
My secondary goal was to eliminate stock. Between Stocking up for events that didn’t happen or I had to miss, my shelf of books in the garage was overflowing. I wanted to clear those shelves of old covers, old back matter, etc.
To accomplish that, I set some really aggressive discounts. If people bought 10+ books, they got them for $5 ea. which was in a few cases at a loss for me, and in most cases a tiny profit. Very much a loss leader approach.
It worked. I moved 6 or so 10+ orders. Folks literally just said, “I’ll take one of everything.” I came home with very few copies of anything and completely sold out of Space Rogues 1.
I was really impressed by the Starfest crowd. Despite my pricing experiment, I outsold every in-person event I’ve been to previously, by orders of magnitude. Even if they didn’t buy a paperback, they took cards and bookmarks to get ebooks.
It’s truly bittersweet how much I enjoyed Starfest since this was it. There were/are rumors the organizers might sell, but who knows if that’ll happen or if it’ll still be the same event.
I’m really glad I went, and wish the organizers, fans, and creators all the best in the future. I’m sure many of us will cross paths elsewhere.
This post was started in 2018 and has been brewing ever since.
I saw this in a Facebook group I’m a part of. It’s a group of “Power Users”. I see posts like this in this group, and just about every writers/readers group daily if not more frequently.
I highly doubt the person who posted this would be happy to be paid for their labor every 6 years. I know I wouldn’t.
According to the post, this person is willing to pay one whole measly dollar a month. So $12 for software. This post is about 1Password, which I love and happily pay for and encourage everyone to use and pay for. So $12 for software that keeps your passwords, credit card numbers, and anything else you put into it, safe. Safe and synced across your laptop, iPad, and iPhone. Safe in an encrypted volume, the company takes seriously and makes clear they have no access to. Twelve bucks?
Let’s say Mr. One dollar a month grudgingly pays and uses 1Password for ten more years. Does he think $120 is enough? Could he live on what he makes in a month for ten years? I couldn’t.
Consumers are so disconnected from what they consume now. We happily, joyfully pay for a new iPhone every year, but an app better be free or maybe $1, total, lest we complain. Much of this is laid at the feet of Apple, Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc. Companies with platforms, that push the creators to the bottom to grow their platforms. They’ve trained consumers to not think twice about a new Mac, or latest Pixel phone, or a $400 kindle. But do nothing to educate consumers that the app they love was made by someone that plans to pay their mortgage, and it is worth more than a dollar. Or when a book that takes months to write, hundreds if not a thousand dollars to produce, is more than $2. “I won’t pay more than $2 to read a book on my two hundred dollar Kindle.”
And it’s everywhere. People bitch at me that a conference that’s 2 days, 2 tracks, with international speakers, lunch included, is $399. “That’s like twice what I’m willing to pay.” Yet these people make software and expect a high hourly rate or high annual salary.
The other day there was a post on the Denver Post’s Facebook page. One person commented that they’d apparently used up their free viewings online, so couldn’t read the article. Most of the comments were either “Here’s how I don’t pay the post for their work” or defending the idea of not paying by pointing out how ‘easy’ it is to not pay them. It was disheartening. These folks want the news, but not to support those that create it.
The common comparison is a cup of coffee, which is fine, it’s a legitimate comparison. For me though, it’s “How do you expect your fellow human to survive? Would you rather have nothing than pay for things? Would you prefer something free where you’re the customer and your data is in the hands of a Venture Capitalist?”
We want an amazing and bug-free app, a great well-edited book with a professional cover, a game that’s on par with the AAA studios, but you don’t want to spend more than one or two bucks for it? As someone who created things; conferences, and now books, it’s frustrating. I sympathize with my friends who make apps and games, or write or make clothes, or anything.
If this still isn’t resonating with you, look at it this way,
You go to work every day but surely would stop if your boss said, “We’ll pay you this week, but you’ll be expected to work the next six for free. Maybe on the seventh week, we’ll pay you again, but only if you show that you’ve spent that time doing twice your normal work.”
This is basically what we’re telling every single person who’s trying to make a living making things. We value their efforts so little we don’t want to pay for them, and if we do, we want to then own their creative efforts indefinitely. But hey it’s new iPhone time, gotta stay up late to place my order…
I’d love to see us move to a place where we’re happy to buy something knowing that we’re helping someone make a living. If you can’t afford it, that’s fine, save up, or don’t get it, etc. But don’t tell someone their creative efforts aren’t worth anything.
Sorry. Want early access, you gotta pony up. Which you should, there’s lots of awesome stuff for patrons over there! :)
Anyway. Ten Motherfucking books.
When I wrote ‘The End’ in November of 2016, winning my first NaNoWriMo, I never woulda guessed I’d be here. With ten books in this series, three in another, and one I just keep neglecting, sorry team Expedition Inc.
I’d toyed with writing for decades, never seriously giving it enough energy for take-off. I played with it after we moved to CO, writing at lunch at Illegal Pete’s on the 16th St. Mall. I’d doodle story ideas in a notebook, rarely getting past that point.
After 2016 I couldn’t ignore it. Not only did I feel proud of what I’d done, but I realized I had the ability to tell a story, and knew there were more inside me.
Space Rogues was released too early. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I put it up having only given it a once over with Grammarly. The cover as you can see was hella homemade.
While I was working on getting a second book written, I was also trying to get book 1 in a more professional shape.
Flash forward 8 years and here we are. Space Rogues 10: Rogue Enterprises wraps up what I guess I consider Phase 1 of the Space Rogues Universe (SRU. LOL!). I’ve written and am about to send Rogue Enterprises Book 1: Long Days, Short Knights, to my editor. The Rogue Enterprises Series is Phase 2 of the SRU.
On top of that, I’ve released 3 books in the Grand Human Empire series, with the 4th the next book in the queue to write.
Expedition Inc. Is being neglected and I feel bad about it. I promise I’ll get the next book out for that one. Probably after GHE4. I’ve actually got some heavy notes on what that book will be.
This journey has been fantastically amazing. I never would have expected that not only could I get a book out, that I could get out almost 15, but that I could make money doing it. Writing, much like conference organizing isn’t high a margin profession (I have a type, I guess), but with writing, things are a bit more in my control.
For those that have followed along on this trip, buying (Hopefully liking) my books, reading this blog, or my newsletters. I can’t thank you enough. Being a creative is hard, our society has a love-hate relationship with creativity. More on that maybe later, who knows.
For this post, I want to end on ‘Thank You’
I’ve waffled a lot on how I want to participate in “Cons” as an author.
As my writing career was taking off, I submitted to a lot of events. I applied for author alley tables, and I put my name in the running for panels. For every event around the Denver metro area, I was putting my name in.
Until this year I’d been trying to do both. Have a sales booth, and be on panels or signings/readings. I came into this just assuming I had to do both. That I needed to be seen in both aspects.
I think I was wrong.
Moving forward I’m leaning towards just having a booth. Here’s why.
So far at least, the cons I’ve participated in, I’ve mostly been put on self-publishing/author business panels (Sadly I had some awesome genre ones at COSine), and while they’ve all been fun, the audience was minuscule. Understandably, as most of these events are fan-oriented. The attendees (mostly) aren’t aspiring self-publishers. I’ve never been in an empty room, but the largest crowd was in the teens. The other panelists have always been awesome, and I’ve become at least online friends with a few people. I wouldn’t trade those experiences but I don’t think they’re actually valuable.
I realized that I don’t think being on author business panels, at fan-oriented events, is actually a huge win for my business.
This is in no way a knock against cons I’ve been to.
I was on a panel at 20books Vegas, which is an industry event, talking about business. I’ll probably do more of that if I can. It was fun to be surrounded by peers, especially those that know more than I.
One of me, two places.
Part of the problem above, is that while I’m in a room with a handful of people who either have an honest interest in the business or just needed a place to sit, I’m not at my booth. Panels and readings are always an hour or so. That’s a good-sized percentage of any given day, especially if you have more than one panel or reading that day.
When my booth is empty, my books aren’t selling.
Was I there to be on panels? or to sell books?
I want to Sell Books.
Selling books (or anything) in person, isn’t easy.
I’ve bought stand-up banners, table runners, bowls for candy (Pro-tip, candy brings ’em in), all with the goal of bringing someone to the booth. Getting them to slow down, just enough that I can say ‘hello’ and try to reel them in.
I’ve been working on improving my hand sales game. It’s tough, it’s exhausting. I’m looking forward to Starfest, so I can put some of my new tricks to use.
I look at cons as a marketing expense. Covering my costs is 100% a goal, but whether I do or not, so long as I moved some copies, which hopefully will move more copies later, it’s a win.
So, now what?
Well, luckily this mini-epiphany comes at a time when I don’t have a ton on my plate. Starfest is this May. I put in for MileHiCon, I’ve done it twice before and enjoyed it. I don’t know if I’ll try for Denver Comic Con or not. I got in, then COVID, then the organizers went belly-up. We’ll see.
Anyway, I don’t currently have any panel/signings/readings on the books, and likely won’t for at least 2022.