Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dear Author

I'm a remainder guy. Why would I be writing a post directed to authors in my bookseller oriented, remainder focused blog? Stranger still: Why are so many of the folks who read my blog, between publication dates, authors? I get a whole bunch of readers when I first publish a new post, and on that first day it's mostly booksellers, and it seems most of them are reading that new post and then going back to the business of selling books and paying their local taxes. Between post dates, however, which is usually 10 days to two weeks, my readership becomes more authors and fewer booksellers, and more of them read a lot more of the blog than the new post. All of which is to say, I know you're there! Don't get all "who me" now.

Very recently, the day before I wrote this post, I had the pleasure of working with a couple of booksellers in Book Country's massive warehouse. They spent about 7 hours there and managed to scratch a small portion of a small part of the surface and ended up with about 3000 very carefully chosen (and lovingly sold) books. One of them, toward the end of a long day of mostly standing and working hard, including the part where she continued to stand and work while she ate lunch, indicated a book she had just picked. She told me about how she had first read the book as a galley she got from another used bookstore, around the time it was published. It turned out to be excellent and she recommended it to several of her frontlist friends, booksellers who sell new books. Many of them ordered the title for their holiday season and it sold very well, going on to eventually become a best seller. There were lots of print runs and reorders and happy customers and royalties for the author. 

Word of mouth recommendations are possibly the most important sales motivator for books and their authors' future works. Word of mouth among booksellers can sink or launch a new work, a new author, a new publishing venture. Booksellers are your most important friends. This is a dynamic which may have shifted recently due to e-books and other goblins, but it has shifted less than you might think and recently maybe even toward the opposite pole. 

Real books are making a comeback. Even if they were not, even if "only" 50% of all book sales were real books, the marketing potential of having your physical book in the hands and on the shelves of real booksellers, not some virtual soap selling behemoth that has almost never made a profit, whose founders and employees couldn't care less about you, and whose guiding principals seem to revolve around the destruction of bookselling and any local businesses, it would still be extremely important what those real booksellers think of your work and how they feel about you. This can't be overstated. 

I know that many great writers are now being published exclusively in that e-world, and have never known what it's like to have their physical books in actual bookstores or on their readers' shelves. The path of least resistance now for an up and coming author is to go first into electronic self-publishing and market from there, both to readers and to publishers. Editors, who once worked with an author's manuscript, increasingly seem to get their material from that universe, letting the works vet themselves in e-land before being given a chance in print. Lots of wonderful works are being discovered this way, though one then wonders what the editors are doing in the equation. 

In my previous posts I talk a little about how, if real book sales flattened out or declined slightly in the worst of the onslaught, and e-books are selling at such huge numbers, if you do the math it means that real book sales are incredibly resilient and that a very large portion of those e-book sales are to new readers, people who were not already reading, let alone buying, real books. This has to mean that lots of those customers will start buying real books when they discover them, and this seems to be starting to happen. I think the same curve might apply to authors who only publish in an e-format. There are a lot of them, thousands and thousands, and a lot of them are very good. I know booksellers who snort at this kind of talk, but it is clearly true. Many have large followings and broad readerships. If the publishers are letting the market find authors this way, it could be one of the best up-sides of the whole industry. New readers are becoming new book buyers and new e-authors are becoming the next generation to fill bookstores and libraries with great literature.

My mother was a published author. My son has written a few novels and is trying to get them published. I tried, with absolutely no hint of success, to write a novel. I know how hard this is. I've been present, both as a child and a parent, when rejection slips or emails arrive (hence my dim view of the material residing between editors' ears). I also know how great a role booksellers play in the first steps of a book's life.

So, to the big name author who might stumble upon this blog: Booksellers have supported you for so many generations. They worked very hard to get you recognized, to bring your work to new readers, to place your books in the hands of people who will bring you more readers. This is something that cannot be communicated other than by authors and booksellers who know what I'm talking about. This goes beyond handselling or smart use of co-op advertising. These are the people who can create success for authors, and they can do it in their sleep. So, if you are standing in a beautiful bookstore, where you've been courted and wined and dined and now you are about to do your talk and sign, try to keep in mind that booksellers are pretty good at the whole social media thing, they see what you post right when you post it. Yes, I mean the bookseller standing right there... no, there, 10 feet away. The one that paid your limo fare from the airport out of his own pocket because the publisher would not pick it up. See how he is looking at his smart phone? Please wait at least until you get back to your hotel room before tweeting "or buy the e-book for $0.99 at bigncreepy.com tonight!" Just a thought. 

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