Oh, I’m going to get in trouble for this . . .
For years, I’ve promoted independent bookstores far more than their shiny, muscle-bound counterparts. When I used to write a literary column for the Albuquerque Tribune, I extolled the virtues of these small businesses; they were the fortresses of free thought, the defenders of the little guy, the natural habitat for a flourishing small press.
Shopping at mom & pop stores was simply — and always — the right thing to do. I was a card-carrying member of the Small-Is-Beautiful philosophy.
That card remains in my wallet.
I believe that independent mystery bookstores (and other genre-specific stores) fulfill the mission described above. The Mystery Bookstore in L.A., Murder by the Book in Houston, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, The Mystery Company in Carmel, IN — along with other members of the IMBA — are a big reason I’ve been able to build my career.
But . . .
I’ve been rethinking my knee-jerk defense of general indies and my haughty attitude toward the chain stores.
You see, I’m in business. Few businesses survive on mere ideology; they need results.
I’ve been working at this job a long time (far more than the mere three years since publication) and am finally cresting a new wave. From this vantage point, I’ve got to say it seems to me that many indies can’t be bothered with the little gal anymore — especially if she writes genre or commercial fiction.
However, authors from small presses — even ones with sterling reputations and good sales — have told me they now feel like supplicants who must bear gifts in order to gain attention from general indies. Coop money, extensive mailing lists, free copies — all of these are becoming de rigeur.
Indeed, the booking coordinator at the University of New Mexico Press told me about an indy in Boulder that asked her to ask an author directly for $200 to fund a book signing.
What the hell?
(Don’t get me started on how much these signings really cost. I know from my years of work in PR that most general indies spend little, if any, money at all on them.)
I wouldn’t have thought much about any of this except that recently I’ve had stellar experiences in chain stores. Managers and employees uniformly have been thrilled to meet me. They’ve ordered a large amount of stock, asked me to sign my books AND slapped stickers on the covers with the assurance of people who are going to sell the heck out of them.
So, why continue to sing the praises of general indies when they often treat me — us — as peons?
I believe commercial fiction from small presses increasingly is losing its natural home in these boutique stores. Once known for staff retention, customer loyalty (because of staff retention), hand-selling and unique inventory, indies are beginning to look much more like their big-guy competition.
And, guess what? I’ve witnessed the same kind of old-school hand-selling at the chain stores that many authors (and customers) so snottily slam.
The reality of this shift is affecting my own tactics and marketing strategies. Still, I can’t help myself. I seek out and am delighted when I encounter an enthusiastic general independent bookstore.
They’re out there.
They’re the ones that understand that genre fiction is commercial. Commercial fiction is just that — commercial.
And, after years of singing the same song, I’m beginning to belt out a new tune.
During the next month or so, you’ll notice changes here at Murderati. Jeff bid us goodbye yesterday. Deni will do so tomorrow. Naomi plans to guest blog but will not be a regular after this Wednesday.
Watch us beginning December 3 for the new writers who’ll grace our group. I’ll announce the full schedule on Dec. 4.
For now, please join us in wishing Jeff, Deni and Naomi tremendous success in all of their endeavors.