I try. Honestly, I try to support local bookstores when I travel and especially where I now live. But it ain’t easy sometimes because I have local bookstore tales to tell from the perspective of an author. Some are just absurd and have tainted my experience and thus I find myself rushing into the Barnes & Noble stores with fervor for that homecoming kind of feeling. Over the last ten years as a published author (independent presses), I’ve sought out local bookstores to do book events. There were two who were gracious and although I brought music, a reading, and even food to share, there was little done to publicize the events. And then there was the bookstore that took my books on commission. They sold all fifteen books, but have never given me my percentage of the sales although I called them and wrote to them numerous times. There are also the local bookstores who tell me that it wouldn’t be worth the effort and cost of having me come to their stores because even the celebrity authors don’t draw a crowd. I understand these are businesses trying to stay afloat and even alive in the Amazon big business world. Of course, there are the local bookstores who invite repeatedly the same coddled, local authors. These are the locally acclaimed and notable authors who should be honored and be asked to speak at the local bookstores, but again and again with no room for any others?
On the contrary, Barnes & Noble stores across the region I live in have repeatedly asked me to participate in book events. I’ve probably participated in over twenty book events over the years. I’ve worked closely with the community relations managers to create talks with music, dance, and art. I’ve been on panel discussions, participated in local author events, and one community relations manager is a friend I now socialize with. How wonderful! While the local bookstores were nay saying and pushing me away, Barnes & Noble stores were welcoming me with open arms. At some events, I would have just two people show up and at other events, there would be fifteen. It varied, but they’ve always supported me although my books weren’t the big sellers sitting on the front tables that are paid for by the big publishers.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been traveling, selling at conferences, and festivals and haven’t been seeking out bookstores for book events, not even my favorite Barnes & Noble stores. A week ago, I was in a local bookstore and bought a few books, it being the second visit in a month and it occurred to me to ask if I could do an event. Alas, I queried late at night and to my chagrin did a copy and paste for publicity I had used for a blog tour I had been on. Oh dear, it included my Amazon page with all the reviews. Here is the response I received back:
Thank you for your email. Our events calendar is at capacity now through May (we book several months ahead of time and require 6+ weeks to effectively publicize an event).
Before we consider an event for a bookstore we like to know a few things:
As an editorial note, may I advise that you not suggest an independent bookstore order stock from their largest and most aggressive industry competitor (Amazon.com).
I wrote back apologizing profusely for my politically incorrect Amazon copy and paste and asked why they hadn’t finished telling me what they wanted to know to consider whether I was book event material for their store. Here is what the events coordinator said:
Before we consider an event for a bookstore we like to know a few things:
Does your publisher offer co-op or marketing support? Do you have a publicist?
For local authors, we find that author participation in the publicity process is key to getting a large crowd for an event. Are you willing to become an active partner in publicizing and marketing the event?
We often like to see if a book has a natural audience in our store before we contemplate an event. Do you have friends and family in the area that you might be able to steer here to buy the book? If so, would they come to an event?
What audience do you imagine for your event and books? What groups or organizations do you think should be reached out to for publicity?
By this time, I was missing my Barnes & Noble community relations’ managers and thinking that although I don’t get a stipend to speak at their stores, they oftentimes make me feel like a celebrity (free coffee, publicity, and so forth). I thought about the above events coordinator and with all the experiences I’ve had over the years with local bookstores and decided that it was akin to a dysfunctional relationship. You know – you give, ask, care, want friendship, but it isn’t reciprocal and the love is spurned. No more! I respect myself now as an author enough not to beg and display fawning behavior just to be selling me books in a local bookstore. But I just had to write the response to this events coordinator the way I’d like to have written it, and perhaps to all the local bookstores who have treated me like shite.
Dear Ms. Events Coordinator:
My God, how difficult you are making it for a local author to come to your grand store in Podunk_________! You’re not McNally Jackson or the Strand in Manhattan. You’re not the Coop or the Harvard Bookstore in Boston. I might expect this snobbish attitude with them, but oh no, you’re little with a new add on. So you think you can be persnickety just because you serve espresso. In response to your questions: No, I do not have friends and family in ________ (thank the Lord God Almighty!) but I have shopped at the high end boutique___________ for many years and could invite the earth-smelling, eat-local, yoga pampered employee ladies I’ve gotten to know over the years. Also, I’m really good at going out on the street corners and urging customers into stores and there are so many men who might find me utterly fascinating because of my red hair, although it’s fading. These are all those long gray beards I see in __________ wearing L.L. Bean clothes, a bit disheveled, as are their beards, but I know they probably do a lot of reading, especially on how to survive winters in a yurt in the White Mountains. And then, of course, I’m a pro at convincing the homeless derelicts sitting on the street corner across from the gleaming globe of the state house flashing the dream of gold into their eyes to come into a bookstore to hear me speak about how over a million people died while food was shipped out before their starving eyes. I really think they’d relate to my book talk about the Famine. There would be something for everyone, i.e. the boutique shop ladies would feel empathy and buy books because I donate to hunger organizations and the gray beards would buy books because they’d get it that I am smart and know about this period in Irish history, and then, of course, we’d all feel good abut the poor coming in off the streets to partake of my delicious Norah’s Dream Scones.
Wow, it felt good to write this and even better that now I publish it on my blog. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ll never stop visiting the local bookstores and probably this one again, but Barnes & Noble is looking pretty good right about now and I’ll support them, as well.
It does feel good to tell it like it is. Arrogance seems to abound wherever we look these days. I really can’t see how independent bookstores can afford to reject authors for events when it would seem to me that they should be welcoming writers with open arms.