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The ABC's of Courting Indie Bookstores

05 February 2013 | Jacksonville, FL
Melanie Neale
Indie presses, indie bookstores, and new would think that these three things would go together like, well, Honey Boo Boo, s’ketti, and Glitzy the Pig (yeah, I know my Honey Boo Boo). All of us are struggling against “the man,” trying to pursue our art and our capitalistic endeavors with integrity. The indie press wants to publish the unknown author and give her a chance. The indie bookstore wants to sell the books that the bookseller chooses and not those mandated by corporate. The unknown author wants an outlet for her art and wants to become known. What a perfect world it would be if we all worked together, right?

Except that, in addition to all of those altruistic ideals that define us, we all need or want to make a little money too. This is where the problem comes in. Here’s a conversation I had today with a hard-headed indie bookstore owner that I’ve been courting ever since the release of Boat Girl. I convinced her, in November, to keep some books on consignment in her store, and my goal today was to set up a date for a reading.

Owner: “Who is your publisher?”

Me: “Beating Windward Press. It’s a small independent press out of Orlando. They publish a variety of books, and are preparing to release their 6th. I’m not self-published”

Owner: “How come I haven’t heard of them?”

Me: “Well, they’re small and new. But they have great distribution through Ingram and everywhere else, and they use Lightning Source for printing to there’s no overhead for them.”

Owner: “No publisher uses Lightning Source. And I don’t want to order through Ingram unless I know the book is going to sell.”

Me: “Don’t worry—I can buy books wholesale and I can bring some for you to sell on consignment. And some of the new, small presses are using print-on-demand technology like Lightning Source.”

Owner: “Tell me about this publisher—do they have an editor?”

Me: “Oh yes, of course. Don’t worry--I’m not self-published.”

Owner: “Do you pay them or do they pay you?”

Me: “They pay me royalties, just as any publisher would. It is actually a very traditional publishing contract.”

…And so it went. There was more to the conversation, but it ended with a firm reading date and time at the store and me feeling a little bruised from defending both my literary credibility and my publisher’s. But I think that this bookstore owner and I are going to get along fine. As a matter of fact, I’m excited about the reading and I really like her tell-it-like-it-is attitude. I think, once we get to know each other, we'll get along great.

But the other side of it is that I get it. I know where she is coming from. I worked, for two years, as a buyer/event planner/marketing person for an indie bookstore. Nothing would drive my friend who worked there and me crazier than the persistent self-published people. Of course, if they had a product that people would be likely to buy and if they were willing to offer good discounts to retailers or sell on consignment, then we were more likely to take them seriously. This experience has informed my approach when it comes to reaching out to bookstores. I know Ingram has a less-than-desirable return policy. I know that nobody wants to keep inventory that isn’t selling on the shelf. I know that, no matter how good a book is, it’s not going anywhere unless it gets some press and publicity. I know retail, as a matter of fact, pretty well. I know about profit margins and merchandising and all of that. I’ve used this knowledge to create a very simple consignment contract that I offer when approaching indie bookstore, and I work hard to see the side of the bookseller.

I guess what it comes down to is this. ABC. Instead of Always Be Closing, how about Always Be Considerate? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and remember that the small people really can help each other out. Publishing is changing, and the big houses have cut their advertising budgets tremendously. Everyone knows this. So in a way, this really evens the playing field for the small guys. We can help each other. Very much.

Vessel Name: Annabel Lee
Vessel Make/Model: To Be Determined...
Hailing Port: Saint Augustine
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Port: Saint Augustine