BReaking BOokstores

September 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Steve in The Writing Life - (0 Comments)

BReaking BOokstores

(The chemistry-symbol thing seems popular these days with some people. BR is bromine, as I recall from my chemistry experience — largely blowing things up in high school; in college they didn’t let me in the lab. BO means nothing. Body Odor, I suppose.)

I made up a list of all book stores in the west-coast Florida area — the stomping grounds of my police chief, Troy Adam, in my first police procedural, Mangrove Bayou. Next I set about calling all of them and pitching myself, the book, and seeing if they could carry it and/or let me do a book signing.

I was (am still) taking a course in book promotion from Patrika Vaughn, at where I know the director and he gives me a discount. Patrika told me to call signings events and I did so. (So, too, I noticed, did the stores themselves.)

I got lucky. First call was to a local Barnes & Noble where my writing club met monthly. The Community Resource Manager there was enthusiastic, friendly, competent, and took me very much under his wing. He signed me up for two events, one by myself and a second he suggested where I’d be part of a larger event with other authors.

“This book store stuff is easy,” I said to myself.haslams

Next ten calls got me:

— Other B&Ns whose community resource managers held book signings, all the authors all at once, one or two times a year. They acted like this was some unpleasant duty they had to reluctantly perform. Authors, who needs those in a book store? Selling our books. Why, if they actually sold any we’d only have to order replacements. What a nuisance. And one thing I noticed with minimal research: The good B&N with the aggressive community resource manager had forty events this month including a lot of authors. The others had about twenty events apiece and those were just regular, repeating things, not author signings.

— At Books-a-Million, the second largest book store chain now, I was told I had to drive to the store, then fill out (with a pen) an “author’s form” that I could then mail to B-a-M headquarters. This, if approved, then permits the local store managers to do events with me. Top-down inflexible management compared to B&Ns giving their community resource managers control of their own stores.

— At Tampa’s Inkwood Books, a local independent book store I had occasionally frequented and which had been recently bought by new management, the new owner treated me like I was something gooey and smelly that was stuck to her shoe. She had a form too, though there didn’t seem to be anything to fill out; she just explained that self-published wannabee writers were too much bother. When I pointed out that my book was published by a real publisher, not by myself, she didn’t care. She explained her system. Follow this carefully, as it will be on the final:

  1. I left one copy of my book with her. She would put it on a shelf.
  2. I could then check back frequently to see if my book had disappeared from the shelf, indicating that it had sold.
  3. I could then bill her for one book and she would pay me and then put up one more book on her shelves.

Not feeling like I needed to be the supply chain at one book-per, I pointed out that she could order one or any number of books from Ingram, the national book distributor. They charge for those but at a discounted price. If the book(s) don’t sell she can return them for credit. I never bill her (the publisher pays me) and she never writes me little checks. I really wanted to support indie book stores, I said.

She told me to keep my books and support her by remaining a loyal customer. Yeah. That’s gonna happen.

“This book stuff is not so easy,” I told myself. But then it got better.

— Another indie book store, and one I was really looking forward to calling, was St. Petersburg’s Haslam’s, once billed as the largest book store in the South (and maybe it still is). I had gone to the owners many years ago for help in writing a history of St. Petersburg and they had offered much good advice. I now called again. That owner was courteous and friendly and I think we can set up something useful. Even though he kept reminding me that Haslam’s, “is a 20th Century book store” he knew the biz and how it worked. Haslam’s has been around for 82 years. If Inkwood Books is still around in 2017 I’d be surprised. Too bad, too.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to Books-a-Million to pick up that form.

UPDATE: My publisher told me not to bother with the Books-a-Million form. Turns out B-a-M already sells my book online, and in-person B-a-M books signings are useless wastes of time.