Okay, this seems to be my weekly advice for authors and independent bookstores. Today’s advice is born from frustration and anger. This is not as much as advice as a rant about Amazon.com, authors and indie bookstores.
Local authors, it seems, sometimes expect things of their local bookstore. They expect us to carry their books, to feature their books on a variety of applicable displays and to host events for them. In turn for this I get to carry their books, often treasures that thrill me to put in the hands of my customers; I get to design displays with their books in the hopes that more people will buy their books, and lastly, I have the pleasure of having a book release party for them or other celebration of their book. When all of this works well, it’s an exchange that everyone understands.
But then I go to the author’s website to fact check something for a press release and I see a "Buy This Book" link and it goes right to Amazon.com and often only Amazon.com. Ouch. Straight to the place that seemingly makes it easier to buy the book. Straight to our biggest, most tenacious competitor that has let people believe that bricks and mortar stores are becoming a thing of the past.
Authors, if your local indie bookstore has a website, link to it. Then your website visitors can click on it and within seconds be able to buy your book, just like they can at Amazon.com. And you’ve supported a store that has supported you. Let’s face it, Amazon may discount, but they’re not going to herald your latest book with a wine and cheese party or a dumpling dinner, or handsell your book to someone looking for book group suggestions. No one is going do more for your book than your local store that has a good relationship with you and your book. So, you need to help us by getting your fans to buy the book either at your local independent or at indiebound.com.
One more thing, last week I posted about what to do when you come to a store. Well, some of you don’t shop at your local indie. I’m not sure what causes this. But once we get over the initial shyness of meeting you, we’ll treat you like every other customer. The difference between authors and customers is they’re not asking me to host book launch parties or mention them in our newsletters, or angrily asking why they’re not listed on our website, etc. As booksellers, we’ve got a lot on our plates.
So, the best author/bookstore relationship is one of mutual respect, with some keen business savvy thrown in. We need you as much as you need us. Promote your books on your website with links to local websites or indiebound.com. Remember, your local store can also sell autographed books on their websites which Amazon cannot. We actually had a deal with a local author who had a link on his website to our email address so people could request personalized books which we would then fulfill by calling him in to sign. Patronize your local bookstore. Let us get to know you. The better we know you the better we are to help sell your books. If one day, you’re in and saying how much you’d like to work with schools or book groups, the next time someone comes in looking for a way to liven up their book group, you’ll pop immediately to mind. It’s these connections that build relationships that are mutually beneficial for all involved.
I’d like to end with applause to the authors I’ve confronted about the Amazon.com issue. Without exception, every author has responded graciously, if somewhat sheepishly, and very speedily added other links in addition to Amazon, or a few really supportive authors have removed Amazon.com altogether. As booksellers we can help the authors by knowing how to get links on websites. As booksellers, we should be on top of who our local authors are, invite them to the store regularly and continue to have an active "local author" section.
The beauty of this is: you get to do what you love: write. And we get to do what we love: sell great books. It’s really a win-win.
This is wonderful idea. I will do it proto!!
Amen to this, Josie – may all authors read, head and respond accordingly!
I meant PRONTO!!
Interesting to see the “email for a personalized signed copy” suggestion. When I worked at an indie bookstore, we had a local author who came in (nearly) every day to get his copy of the New York Times. So, whenever we sold his book in-store, we’d ask if the customer wanted it right then, or if they wanted to leave the book in the store for a day and get it signed. Usually, they’d wait, and happily.
I’m selling my book to select retailers and independent bookstores. I offer a link to their websites on my website. So far, the retailers that I’ve worked with don’t seem to really care whether or not I’m listed on Amazon. They seem more concerned that I don’t have a distributor. I wonder if I’m shooting myself in the foot and should list myself on Amazon?
I do link to indies as well as to any event at which I appear, but I list Amazon as a direct link to my books because I get a percentage of the profit. It may be this that drives authors to link to Amazon rather than the rudeness you imply. I love indies and support them in as many ways as possible, but every tiny bit of income helps a children’s author (unless you are so famous that you can pay all your bills by your royalty alone).
Hi, An Author. The great thing is that you CAN link directly and get that percentage on your book sale through IndieBound.com stores. They have an affiliate program like Amazon’s. More info can be found at: indiebound.org/affiliate I think this information could be easier to find on the IndieBound website, but it is there! Happy selling.
I’m kind of on both sides of this, as the author of more than 30 novels, and one of the owners of Mysterious Galaxy. You’ll never find an Amazon link on my website, but I always link to stores at which I’m signing. Otherwise all my books have indiebound affiliate links, pointing to Mysterious Galaxy, of course, but any user can switch to his or her local indie too. I don’t see the point of an Amazon affiliate link–sure, an author might make a few pennies, but at the cost of losing good will with the people who can display and hand-sell your books (which really, in the long run, will make more money).
Thanks for the info. 🙂
My editor suggested an Amazon link when I created my website. Maybe publishers and editors could also be aware of telling their authors about IndieBound.
Josie, that sounds like a great idea. It makes complete sense for authors and independent bookstores to work together. I mean, why not foster a relationship that can bring gains for all involved for years to come.
An author called just this afternoon and asked to do a signing in July. She assured me warmly that we could buy her book at amazon.com. Further comment is superfluous–and probably rude.
Josie, Although I admit to buying from the Big Boys, I DO try to support my local indie stores. As a firm believer in buying local and supporting my community businesses, I try to purchase a book nearly every month from the local bookseller who graciously allows our writers group to meet after hours in her shop. I am pleased to find out about Indiebound.com, and will spread the word, and walk the talk. Thanks for the deserved rant–we needed it! Take care-dk
Peggy, as unbelievably annoying as that is, I suspect she’s a new author who has no idea how book distribution works, and no one has told her what’s what. She probably thinks Amazon supplies the world with books. Customers are often surprised when I tell them we order from all the same sources Amazon uses. I think they think A’s warehouses have sprung fully loaded from Zeus’s forehead. I always try to do a little author education when those calls or emails come up
(continued) … when those calls or emails come up; invariably the person has no idea why they don’t do themselves any favors mentioning Amazon at an indie bookstore. And Deb K, I love that you support your local store. We need shoppers’ bread-and-butter purchases, not just desserts, to make it in this (or any) economy!
I’m convinced. A day after reaching a long-considered decision to link from my site to IndieBound first, followed by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, I’ve removed the links to those latter three and gone with only the one link to “your favorite local, independent bookstore.” It’s a matter of sales lost (minimal if any, I’m betting) vs. goodwill gained (how’m I doing so far?).
Yes, Josie, yes, YES!
Thank you. I just published my first book and was about to approach my local bookstores. I’ll take this to heart.
And now, for an opposing viewpoint/rant… (First, just to let you know, I do link to Indiebound; drive 30 miles out of my way to buy several books a month from the “local” indie; bring treats and write thank-you notes when I do an event.) So, I’m thinking I’m not evil…. But, when, when, when will the Indie stores wake up and realize that the landscape has changed and all the griping in the world won’t change that? When will they stop blaming others for their woes (authors who don’t link them; the chains; Amazon) and shake up their business model? Why isn’t it yet clear that if they don’t change, they will fail? itunes completely changed the music industry (to the detriment of record labels who didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t change) and Amazon is doing the same to books. Amazon is giving the people what they want. What are the Indies doing? Amazon is quick, easy, less expensive, usually available, gives tons of great recommendations. What are the Indies offering their customers? Hand-selling doesn’t cut it anymore when I can get more recommendations online and don’t have to drive out of my way to get them. Author events are nice, but really, truthfully, only for big name authors. Why won’t the Indies try to compete head-on with Amazon? (Like Hulu did with YouTube) As a book lover, I am disheartened that no one seems willing or able to try. Think outside the proverbial box; be innovative; steal ideas from Amazon — whatever it takes. But do something! I’m on your side.
As a newly published author, I want nothing more than to develop good working relationships with every indie that is even remotely close. Keep in mind that my publisher was Booksurge – a division of Amazon. But in spite of that, I truly believe that it will take the trusted atmosphere of the independent bookstore to alert the public to the important timely message that Blue Vendetta offers regarding the state of the health insurance industry today. Any suggestions on the best way to find and reach out to indies would be very much appreciated. email@example.com
To Mid-list author: Your argument in your rant is flawed. Amazon and Itunes are solely Internet based. Indies are not. Short of abandoning the bricks and mortar store, which it seems like you could happily do without, we cannot compete head to head with them. We’re different animals. Yes, you can read reviews about books, and some might actually be written by people who aren’t related to the author, on Amazon, and follow endless “if you liked… ” links. But no one at Amazon is actually going to put your book, your mid-list book that’s probably not ranked in the top 100 at Amazon, the land in which most consumers dwell, in someone’s hands and say, “You have to read this. He’s a new author and this book is amazing.” Do not underestimate the power of this face to face exchange. As for author events, I must disagree with you, again. Every author, big name or total unknown, gets a huge pop from events, with signed books selling months after the initial event. So, while you’re ordering your books online, remember that when your next book comes out, no one at Amazon is going to care, but the folks thirty miles away from you will.
Bravo, Josie. Well said. The power of the personal handsell cannot be overestimated. Unless, of course, we all live within the Matrix where personal, human interaction is discounted and even discouraged.
Great, great post! One of the biggest sadnesses of living where I live is that we don’t have an Indie within a 40 minute drive. I was so happy to see Indiebound’s store locator, though. By linking to them in addition to Amazon, I hope that more people will at least *try* to find a local store when buying my book. I love the personal attention and eclectic selection that Indies offer!
I can totally understand the indie bookstores lament…However as an author (an my husband an illustrator) we will go out of our way when signing at a store. We are kind, polite, give away bookmarks, free drawing lessons the works. When we leave, everything is great…only to return to these smaller stores a month or so later to check in, and find out that they only have one or two of our books, and not even the entire series on the shelf. With gracious giving authors and illustrators, this works both ways. Amazon keeps our books in stock year round…So, open communication between local authors and small local stores is a good start! Thanks for your side of the dilemma.
Karen, I agree that not all bookstores manage to restock titles in full all the time. We have 35-40,000 titles on hand at the store at any given time, and restocking is a balancing act between new books and backlist. But, just like Amazon, we have every book “in stock” — that is, order-able and shippable from our warehouses via online sales. Comparing apples to apples — that is, in-stock supplies online — you’ll find that indies who offer ordering online are the same as Amazon. 🙂
I tried to set up a book event with an independent bookstore in a neighboring town (we don’t have one in my town), and was told that they had recently had an author from the area for an event but the turnout was very low and they were “stuck” with copies of the book, and not inclined to do an event with me. I know for a fact that the book they were “stuck with” was, in fact, returnable to the publisher! With that kind of response, is it any wonder I did my launch event with a chain store?
I’ve always had an indie link first and foremost on my website. I’m an indiebound affiliate, and a paying member of SIBA. I always call or e-mail first before trying to come in to sign stock. I have never sneak-attacked a bookseller. I shop indies almost exclusively. And yet, I find my book- two months old, well-reviewed, and coming out of Random House- is rarely in stock. When booksellers find out I’m an author on the phone, they get cagey. If I leave a message, they don’t return it. I send e-mail, and get no response. Indies may bemoan Amazon and the chain stores- but Amazon and the chain stores at least have my book in stock. And they don’t pretend that they are my sweet old friend that I should take care of out of love of books and solidarity for the community. They sell my book- and as an author, that’s what I need.
I work in an independent bookstore and 100% support this article. Amazon is great for buying cheap products and for finding out information about books. But what of the integrity of the book itself? Amazon and other sites will re-sell and re-sell the same book over and over again. Go to an actual bookstore and the book is brand new. And when you shop at an independent bookstore, the staff is so knowledgeable and well-versed in all of the author’s work. They can provide shining recommendations for other books by the same or similar artist. One day I went to Barnes & Noble and had a list of books I was looking for. Not one person on staff had heard of any of them. In the independent book store where I work, everyone on staff not only knew all of the books I mentioned, but they could describe, in detail, the plots, the twists and turns, and who would enjoy reading each book. Amazon is great if you want to save a buck, but if you want to have an enriching experience, shop at your local indie book store. Because, if for no other reason, your soul will thank you.
A local Western writer and I had a conversation about a year ago about how the local big indie was completely uninterested in carrying our books. (I’m not using my name here because I don’t want to badmouth them — they’re an excellent store for the audience they serve.) We’re both really small time, tiny print-run authors. He had more luck with the Big Box stores (we have some Borders and B and Ns in our area) bringing him in as a local author, but was basically told by our local indie that his stuff wasn’t wanted. The local indie doesn’t really sell the kind of books I write (they keep their SFF section intentionally small), so it was no surprise to me they were uninterested in my work. Disheartening, but unsurprising. So in that regard, we writers can only work with stores who actually want to work with us.
To A Bookstore Employee: That may be true of your local big box, but of the four Barnes and Noble locations I worked at when I was with the company, all had a knowledgeable staff who were more than happy to chat up the types of books they read. Sure, not everyone could talk about graphic novels or lit or mysteries equally (we didn’t all read the same books!), but someone in the store would know pretty much any book you were asking about. It really depends on the location — I’ve been in awful big box stores like the ones you described, but I’ve been at indies where I was made to feel like the type of book I read was not worthy of being carried by the store, and I should take my business elsewhere. So I did. I’ve also been in really brilliant indies where I would have been a regular shopper had I lived nearby. It all depends on the particular store — and in any case, I doubt your soul is ever on the line. 🙂
Kay, just to clarify one thing: Amazon doesn’t have actual copies on hand in a store somewhere. Amazon ‘has’ your book in the same way that an indie bookstore ‘has’ your book; that is, orderable from our warehouses. They get an order for your book, then ship it out from a warehouse, possibly a vendor’s warehouse, like Ingram or Baker & Taylor. That’s exactly what we do when online orders come in, and it’s just as fast. I absolutely agree that local bookstores should do their very best to support local authors, especially the ones who support them back by shopping there.
I’m having a hard time as an author made to feel guilty (by the Indies) if I shop at, or mention, or god-forbid link-to a Big Box or Amazon. Frankly, I’m annoyed. I personally shop at the Indie whenever I can. But I also shop Amazon and B&N with perfectly agreeable results. Some of the posts here confirm my fear: that the Indies don’t know/understand their biggest competitors, and lacking that, they simply won’t be able to compete and survive. Yes, online store vs. bricks&mortar are two different beasts. But it’s the same business, so you have to find a successful way to compete directly with them. And I’m sorry but it is completely disingenuous to say hand-selling sells more books in the long run. With 30-40,000 books in the store, and hundreds of new titles every season, it is mathematically impossible for you to hand-sell all those books. When I went into the Indie to buy Mo’s latest pigeon book, the staff found the book, didn’t offer me any of Mo’s other titles and never once made a suggestion on a lesser known author that might be good for the age I was buying for. I believe hand-selling happens; it just doesn’t move as many books as claimed. And Amazon doesn’t re-sell the same book over and over again unless it’s a USED book, clearly marked as such. And I’ve found the employees at the Big Box just as informed about books as the Indies. And, really, if the only compelling reason an Indie can give for shopping there is so “your soul will thank you” then Trouble has hit with a capital T.
To mid-list author, and others on here: Sadly, like the song says, you won’t know what you’ve lost until it is gone. If Independent booksellers die off, you will see a rapidly changed book world, where mid-list authors (and lower) will not even be published, because the chains will be able to dictate exactly what is published. And that, my friends, is not paranoia, but the sad truth. Indies do more for mid-list authors than chain stores could ever think about doing, because, at the end of the day, for the chain, it is all about the dollar and for the Indie barely able to pay their bills, it’s all about the book.
Mid-list author, I don’t think anyone wants you to feel guilty, just aware. Indie booksellers are saying, please consider adding a link to IndieBound (or a favorite indie store) so that website visitors have a choice. We’re also realistic; even if we can get customers to shift only 10-20% of their buying habits, that makes a huge difference to a smaller store. I think we understand our competitors, but economies of scale are economies of scale. If I get 40-44% off ten copies of a book, and a chain gets 65% or more by ordering thousands, I can’t compete with their discounts. And even though selling hundreds or thousands of your book to a giant company sounds terrific, the problem is, many of those thousands of copies get returned penalty-free to the publishers, who are then stuck with unexpected overstock they must either pay to warehouse or remainder. It all boils down to a person’s values and priorities. My customers love that we know them and their children, and can recommend books they know they’ll love. They appreciate that we’ve given more than $50,000 in gift cards, donations, and books to community causes over the past twelve years — something Amazon sure hasn’t done. And they know that our taxes go back to support our own towns. Some people will always want or need 24-hour convenience and the lowest possible price, which is fine. But some people, given a little more information about the issues, might rethink some of their spending habits.
As someone who works at the big box chain in Canada I have to say I am a bit offended by this post. I work fulltime in the kids section but I love paranormal and romance books and am considered to be somewhat an expert in all three fields at our store. Not only will I recommend local authors but I handsell frequently. In fact I have had a hand in handselling almost 200 copies of an authors book and holding a book club for her second recently released title. Not only that but because we are a BIG store I have no control over the ordering an OFTEN send customers to our two local indepedent childrens stores or another french one. Maybe I should stop supporting them if I am going to be constantly bashed. Can’t we all just get along?
Hi, Tee Lee. This post wasn’t about bricks-and-mortar stores (i.e., the big box chains), but about the online-only store, Amazon.com. Bookstores of all kinds draw book lovers, and I’m sure there are loads of passionate booksellers like you to be found in the chain stores, especially when those are the only available bookstores in which to work. We indie booksellers often do seem prickly about the chain stores; it’s hard to avoid as we see our marvelous, unique fellow stores collapse all around us. Every single sale matters in a small store, and indie booksellers live with that pressure all the time, so we get a little protective of ‘our kind.’ I’m sure that’s frustrating to chain-bookstore employees who love and care deeply about books. Getting along is tricky sometimes; just last week, someone called (from the local chain store, whose name showed up on caller ID) who said she had a $50,000 grant to spend, asking us for discount information and saying she’d be ‘right down.’ Needless to say, this ‘customer’ never showed up. It’s rotten, but I guess unavoidable, in a competitive climate where the margins are so small. P.S. I met one of the CEOs of your Canadian chain store at a panel discussion recently, and he was terrific.