Things I Want Authors to Know

Josie Leavitt -- December 15th, 2011

In the past few weeks I’ve had a few uncomfortable moments with authors questioning me about why I either don’t have their books or why their books aren’t more prominently featured. So, I’ve decided to address the inventory issue. Obviously, without authors, I’d have another job, and probably one far less satisfying that working in a bookstore. But there are somethings I wished all authors understood about my end of the business.

First off, I’m thrilled that you have gotten a book published — envious, in fact. But just because you wrote it, doesn’t mean I have to carry it. More than 200,000 books came out in 2009, according to Wikipedia. We cannot carry all of them, or even a large percent of them; actually it’s more like 8-10% of them. In a world where space was not an issue, I’d carry a lot more titles than I do, but I’m limited in what I can actually have on a shelf. I do my best to have my shelves represent what I believe will sell in my community.

We never mean to be hurtful when your book is not stocked. It’s not personal, it’s shelf space and it’s important to put it in perspective. My middle grade section, including Newbery and other award winners (where a lot of middle grade books also live), is exactly 63 linear feet. That’s not really a very large amount of shelf space, or actual shelves for that matter. We constantly juggle many needs to fill these shelves.

Our stock rotates so that we can make room for the season’s newer titles. Essentially, like a library, we periodically cull our stock and make returns. Finances right now, more than space, are driving the number of returns we make. There aren’t many bookstores that can afford to have an unsold book on their shelves for too long. Some stores give six weeks for a new title before they return it. For us, it’s far longer, probably too long, but I do like to give books more than a fair shake.

While I may not have your book on the shelf, it doesn’t mean I won’t carry it. I happily order books for customers every day. And often these are books that are new to me. I order books all the time and with the speed of distributors, and some publishers, I can have books in 24 hours at the earliest, three days at the latest. Being able to order so quickly really lets me carry hundreds of thousands of books. Let’s face it, most people can wait a day to get a book.

So, authors, I love you all, but I just wanted you to know what life looks like on my side of the counter. Have a great holiday and keep writing.

25 thoughts on “Things I Want Authors to Know

  1. Julia

    You’ve just motivated me to search at a local bookstore today. I was on vacation and planned to hit Barnes & Noble to see what they had.

    There used to be two nearby, the Midnight Special, which I just loved, and a used bookstore. Both closed years ago. Now I am off on a safari to check out the indie bookstores, thanks to you.

  2. Lynnette

    Josie, thanks for showing your side of the business! The two authors I work with are totally in agreement with you on the points that you make! They know their work won’t be in every single bookstore due to any number of reasons but they also make sure that people know which stores have their books and that stocks do change! They’ve always been very polite in asking if a store would be willing to carry a book and have been very gracious in thanking those who’ve stocked their work or have not stocked their work. Bookstores can’t sell every author’s book(s) unfortunately and all authors should read your article to find out why! There’s a large number of reasons for this and if an author sees both sides of the issue nine times out of ten it fosters a better author-bookstore relation.

  3. bothsides

    As someone who’s been on both sides of the counter, I think one very important point is overlooked here. Local booksellers, especially indies, also have a responsibility to promote local small-press authors. When I see a self-published piece of crap on the shelves for three, four, five years, yet hear “We just don’t have room for everyone” (meaning if it’s a small press book, then it must not be very good or marketable), that says to me the bookseller knows absolutely zero about writers in their customer base/drivetime area. Being “local” means “nearby,” not “amateurish.” Perhaps not surprisingly, these same booksellers periodically beg locals to save their stores from going under. A successful local bookseller supports the serious local authors (and their small press publishers) who, disproportionately and influentially, support them.

    1. Carol Gordon Ekster

      Thank you, Bothsides, for bringing up that important point. Both my books were published by small presses and it seems my books will only be carried in many stores if I have an event. You made me feel a little less badly about all the funny goingons in the publishing world. And yes, I am grateful to be published at all.

    2. Kitti

      The authors need to make themselves known to those bookstores, and develop a good working relationship. Yes, the booksellers should support them, but it’s most definitely a two way street.

  4. Carol B. Chittenden

    You nailed it again, Josie.

    In amplification:

    Our store is open 363 days a year, and I don’t believe there’s a single one of those when I don’t add new titles, often dozens, sometimes scores. Our store space doesn’t expand from its basic 1200 sq. ft. of selling space though. For reasons of both physics and funds, my rule of thumb has always been that a book has to sell at least 3 copies a year to pay its rent. However, two things are making me rethink that. First, more people seem to be making their book buying decisions outside the store rather than browsing our shelves. Second, there seem to be more and more books that sell 4+ per title. I have to give those precedence — or there won’t be any bookstore for displaying anything at all.

  5. Nancy Coffelt

    Though I’m disappointed when I don’t see some of my titles in a bookstore, I do understand. There’s only so much shelf space. And this is just one more reason to support your local indie bookstore.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      One thing to keep in mind, too, is that the bookstore might have just recently sold out of your book and you’ve caught them before a restock. That happens often! We have 35,000 or so titles at the store, and people buy last copies of books every single day. Some of those get restocked via distributors; others through the publishers. Books that sell through quickly get restocked faster than books that tend to sit for a while before selling; we’re more likely to wait for publisher backlist specials (an extra discount or billing delay) before placing re-orders for the latter.

  6. Doret

    I went to my local indie last week looking for a new release that I wanted. They didn’t have it in stock so I just ordered it and I’ve already picked it up. Authors should consider encouraging their friends and family to buy their book from the same local indie store. If a book keeps being ordered than store will listen to the demand stock a few. But the books must be purchased, just ordering a book with no intention of buying it is cheesy, wrong and a waste of everyone’s time.

    Authors should also avoid any confrontational conversations with store owners about why your book isn’t stocked. Be nice because bees aren’t the only ones who like honey.

    1. Maria

      And if mine weren’t so stuck up about carrying romance, I might do that. But, it treats romance like the red-headed step child and I am sick of that attitude. “We’re a literary book store” except for the mystery, sci-fi, and horror.

  7. Mary Quattlebaum

    Another thing that authors might do to show support of (and to thank) a local bookstore or one at which they have been invited to present is to … buy from that bookstore. It’s a way of giving back to booksellers, who foster not just specific authors but the whole climate/culture of children’s literature.

    1. Kevin Roberts

      Thank you for this comment. You would be surprised (or maybe not) how many authors approach me about stocking their book when they have never purchased a book from my store, or, as in many cases, visited the store to see what makes us unique.

    2. Elizabeth Bluemle

      It is always surprising when local authors wanting us to promote their books don’t shop at the store. We do notice, and we do care. Authors who come in and do at least some of their business with us earn a very special place in our hearts, and we do go out of our way to support them and their books. It’s a nice symbiosis; we need each other.

  8. Katharine Weber

    Speaking as someone with a backlist of five titles in print from Picador or Broadway, three in new paperback editions, and the newest (July) hardcover title from a Random imprint, I know very well that most people shopping in your store aren’t going to buy books they don’t SEE. Yes, of course you can order anything people request. but if ordering requested books was an equally effective way to do business, then why would you bother to place books in the window, books on the front tables, books on end cap displays? When my books aren’t stocked, you’re not selling my books in your store.

    1. Peter Glassman

      I’m curious — when a bookseller does agree to carry your books, what do you do to promote that fact and send people to that bookseller?

      We actively work with literally hundreds of authors who actively promote our store and website to promote the sale of their books. This is a true partnership for which I am very grateful and appreciative. In some cases, we only make a few sales as a result, in others in can literally be in the hundreds! But either way, I feel it’s worth the effort on both our parts.

      However, when an author asks me to stock their books and tells me about the other bookstores that sell their books, but I see that on their website they’ve linked their books to Amazon, I don’t really feel like this author is supporting my store.

      1. diane fanning

        I wish Indiebound would make it possible to order on line from the independent book stores. I can put up Amazon and Barnes and Noble links for each book on my website but I cannot do that for the independents unless I did it individually which becomes cumbersome, although I am willing to do some of that.
        Murder by the Book has just redone their website to allow on-line ordering so I am working on revamping my purchase options to include direct links to their site for my titles. I am doing the same for Powell’s. I have problems with local independents whom I’ve asked for information about what they are putting on the shelf but not been able to get that information. I could not even get an answer to a question about customer ordering. That makes it difficult to promote those stores. I usually learn they have stocked a book when, long after the purchase, a reader tells me that’s where they found it.
        Authors need help from Indies in order that we can promote them.

        1. Kevin Roberts

          Indiebound does offer online ordering for independent bookstores which are members of ABA (http://www.indiebound.org/affiliate), with the ability of using links from author websites. However, it is a service that members have to pay for and some may choose not to. Creating, maintaining and servicing an ecommerce operation can be daunting, so may not be equipped to do so. Most independent bookstores are struggling in this economy. Choices about stocking are driven by what we know sells first. Then when finances (distributors and publishers are turning screws on us these days, probably because of the A/R vortex resulting from Borders’ demise) and time permits (when would I be able to review or read the books presented to us) we try to make those choices in ways that benefit us. If you promote your book to the extent that customers ask me about it, I will find you. Believe that.

    2. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Katharine, booksellers place stock in the store based on a number of considerations. Demand is #1 and is based on customer requests, bestseller lists, what’s in the media, store events, local author titles, perennially popular school titles, book group picks, etc. Our personal favorites = #2. Some stores place books based on publisher promotions (i.e., publishers giving bookstores financial consideration for face-out displays; we don’t do this, but all of the chain stores and several indies do). Seasonal promotions also contribute to determining what’s in stock in the store, and when. And so on.

      If an author’s books are on our shelves and they sell steadily, those books are restocked steadily. If they don’t sell very well, and they don’t fit any of the above categories, they are less likely to be restocked without request or demand.

      1. Katharine Weber

        I very much appreciate the further explications. But the reality is that books not stocked are books that won’t be selling in any significant way. Some of this is about how the book has been sold by the reps, which is about much effort the imprint is making on behalf of a title or author.

        And I wasn’t talking about my own local indies and face to face situations, but about bookstores across the country in general. This isn’t about personal relationships and selling to friends and neighbors.

        In answer to the question above, I have gone out of my way to do a a great deal for independent booksellers for years, including, most recently, travel on my own nickel to offer a fundraiser event heralding the about-to-open Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia.

        As has been pointed out by another poster, the day I can offer a one or two click Buy Indie button on my website, I will add that for each of my books. There are realities for authors. I was specifically instructed pre-pub that if I didn’t have a bn.com buy button on my site for my books it would hurt the way bn.com positioned my new book.

  9. bookgrrl

    Amen! I really feel bad for the authors that stop into the store and want me to order a dozen copies of their sure-to-be-bestselling POD book immediately. While I’m more inclined to get a copy or two in of someone who lives locally, we see writers from around the country that want us to carry their work. It just isn’t feasible!

    Not to mention that we curate the stock in our bookstores — we actually think that the books we feature says something about us as booksellers. We don’t want to discredit ourselves as discerning readers/buyers.

    Sorry, FL author of the ‘real Jaws’ book!

  10. Mike Hawthorne

    Nicely said. Authors should definitely know your side of the story.

    I’m a comic book artist/cartoonist & when a discussion with a bookseller comes up I tend to think of it in terms of “WOULD you consider carrying my book?” and not “WHY aren’t you carrying my book?”.

    Best,
    Mike

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