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.