Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Consider books...

Blechta's turn.

At very long last, I've just finished the first draft of my current novel and now would be the time to tell you all about it.

But today is not that day.

Occasionally, we have to stop prattling on about ourselves and our books for a higher cause.

I received an email last week from Sean Chercover, one of our recent guest bloggers. Since he's also a good writer, I might as well let him speak:

"So I've been on tour and seeing a lot of empty bookstores and frightened bookstore owners. This economic downturn thing is hitting them very hard. People are not buying books. I've talked with folks in sales, editorial and publicity at two publishing houses (one huge, one indie), and all say that this is very serious -- layoffs are coming in the new year.

"Doom and gloom, I know. Anyway, I mentioned to one of these publishing people that I was gonna blog about this -- basically encouraging people to buy books this holiday season. Not that it will make any difference. Her response was, "Please! And please ask any other authors who blog to do the same! We're desperate."

So that's it in a nutshell. To all of you out there, writers, readers, anyone buying presents: think books this year. They don't necessarily have to be crime fiction. Go into your local bookstore, whether it be a small independent (who really need your help) or one of the big chain stores. Buy books and make a difference!

They make fantastic gifts, and if you really choose wisely, that gift can be life-altering. At the very least, you'll provide someone with several hours of pleasure -- and memories that may well last longer than that bottle of wine or box of chocolates. Three of my four favorite books, ones I've read over and over, were given to me as presents.

I don't share Sean's feelings that we can't make a difference. The largest floods start with tiny trickles. Get out there, talk to those people you know who love books, tell them what I'm telling you -- and tell them to pass the word on. I am now, and I will continue: to all those people to whom I usually send the latest stupid joke or funny video. But especially tell the book lovers.

This Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa think books!


alvin abram said...

There are several problems that are being addressed and they are being presented from a singular view. What is the value of book stores as the place to obtain books?

I still buy about 12-15 books a year but I purchase them from a book club. The prices are competitive and in some cases exceptional. Time, even at my age has to be prioritized and browsing is not one of my priorities.

I swap books at used book stores. I deplete my collection that way and obtain books that I have not read by removing books that I purchased and either didn't finish (I do that) or don't have any desire to keep.

I swap with friends who have similar reading material. This allows me to obtain books that may be no longer in stores.

So who is going to buy my books?

I've tried book stores. They want everything on consignment. This is not a barter system. I need fixed sales not potential shelf space elsewhere. And usually on consignment, I have had the unpleasant experience of almost always having to pull teeth to get my money or something closely resembling what is owed to me. And after I finally get my books back (and in some cases in deplorable condition), my losses exceed my profit.

I sell by way of book shows and personal meetings. I guest speak and sell my books. On average about $1,000 plus a month. It's a lot of work. It's difficult. It's doesn't always pan out -- but above all it is C.O.D. And it's not in a book store.

I am sorry for the book stores. But not until they buy my books is it my problem. Selling is a business. Too often the author is at the bottom of the consideration heap when he/she should be at the top. Buy books and I'll encourage people to buy. The present system does not encourage me.

I wish them luck or a change in the way they do business.

Vicki Delany said...

Sorry Alvin, but too many of us are just not sales people. I admire your hard work but I suspect you are in a bit of a niche market to get that many speaking and selling oportunities. I've spoken at libraries where no one bought a book - they were library users and if they checked the book out after my book, that was the best I could expect.

And as for used bookstores - no one is making money, not the author, not the cover artist, not the publisher is making a dime off used books. If everyone bought used books - then there would soon be no new books being published. And no business at all for writers. I give books every year, fortunatly my children have alwasy been keen readers, and I'll certainly be doing so again this year. And I buy from an independent whenever possible.

Rick Blechta said...

Alvin, first, thanks for taking the time to comment, but that said, I have to say that I feel your stance is breathtakingly self-serving.

How does exchanging books with friends and swapping at used book stores benefit any of us involved in producing books? I include you in this. If someone picks up a copy of your book in a used book store, do you get anything out of it? No.

Book clubs buy their books at incredibly reduced prices, often they're remaindered books and the authors get reduced royalties on them.

There are a lot of things all of us don't like about the publishing industry. But one thing you have to understand is that ALL books in a bookstore are there on consignment: yours, mine, Dan Brown's. And every publisher: you, the small presses and the big publishing conglomerate have trouble prying their money from booksellers (usually the big chains in this regard).

It's a stupid business model, but it's the only one we've got and it ain't going to change. For the very few like you, book stores aren't needed -- or obviously wanted. For the rest of us, that's not an option.

Being stuck with that model, and the industry being in dire straits, we have to make the best with what we have. Even if I didn't write books, had nothing personally to do with the publishing industry, I would feel this way. Books are important. They have -- and still can -- change the world.

This problem is a lot bigger than your beef with bookstores and publishers, and if you truly believe that it's not your problem "until they buy my books", that speaks volumes about the narrowness and self-centeredness of your vision.

I'm truly sorry, Alvin, if you find my words insulting, but that said, it is the way I feel.

Charles benoit said...

Folks, we're all in for a surprise. That flawed business model, the one in which bookstores are the primary place to find our books? It's well on its way out, replaced by a bunch of different options, including the option many people are taking of not buying books at all.

We are in that scary gray area between the old way and the new way, with neither way being all that profitable. Plus, with some excellent stuff being published online (available for free, too) paying to read is just one more, increasingly outdated option.

The music biz provides a possible view of our collective future. More and more recording artists just give the music away, charging a bundle for concert tickets, promo crap, pay per song vs. pay per album, and the like. If it has value to the public (please note, I did not say 'if it is good') it will make money. If not, it won't.

One possible future? You give your writing away and charge for the other stuff - the writing classes, the book talks, exclusive 'pay-to-read' short stories, online extras...Obviously this can't be done with paper and ink books as it's way too expensive, but those are disappearing fast anyway.

I think it sucks that bookstores are not selling more books - including yours, Alvin. But that should tell us all something - like maybe that thing we do with words does not have the commercial appeal we all wish it had.

In the 19th century, you could make a profitable career as a poet. Today? The same may becoming true for novelists. We have to get used to the concept that no matter how good our books are - and frankly, mine are a damn sight better than many 'best-sellers' I have read in the past year - we will not make money in this field.

Sure, I feel sorry for the booksellers. And I feel sorry for the independent music stores, the custom hat shop and Kodak (the once-mighty film giant). For me, reading online will never take the place of a book, a CD will never be as enjoyable as a vinyl album, a baseball cap will never look as stylish as a fedora and digital print won't have the magic I feel when I see a film-based photograph (even if my eye can't tell the difference). But while these things won't do for me, they seem to do quite well for the rest of humanity.

Will I keep writing? Absolutely! I can't imagine NOT writing. And I bet that Rick and Vicki and Alvin and every other writer will keep on writing. But what we should stop doing is planning on making a real living from our writing. If it happens, great, if not, fine. If I want to make money with my spare time I can get a job at Wal-Mart - god knows that if I worked minimum wage and put in the hours I put in on the books I have already published, I would have made 10X+ more money.

So we'll keep writing. The question may soon be 'will anybody read it'?

Rick Blechta said...

Good points, Charles, but you don't take into account download through a service like iTunes. These services are doing quite well.

I've said here before that our industry is in the midst of changing and I think you are providing an accurate glimpse into one possible future.

There are still enough people out there who want to buy and enjoy real, hold-em-in-your-hand books to make it a viable industry, at least in the short term, and I want to do my bit to try to help them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,
When I was in Calgary a few weeks ago I went to my favorite indie and it was closed... empty windows , restaurant gone etc... I think it was called McNally Robinson or something like that.I will always continue to purchase books and puruse the book stores until I die. Will music disappear next? Lord knows the government is trying to get rid of it.....

Anonymous said...

Sadly the wonderful McNally Robinson in Calgary does indeed seem to have been closed down (along with the restaurant) - and will not be replaced. See http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/03/13/mcnally-closes.html?ref=rss

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Great post, Rick, but let me share my experience. I did a Meet N Greet at my local Chapters in Aug. It went well and I was invited back to do another one closer to Christmas. I booked a date with the contact person who then cancelled it because a celebrity apparently wanted that same date. So I rebooked for Sun., December 7. She said "great". A week later she apologized for cancelling that event too. Her reason is that the store's decided to cancel all December events because it can't handle "the challenge" of hosting events during their busiest time of the year. I've offered to do signings, talks, meet 'n greets at another smaller chain, but so far haven't been approached, although this chain purchased my book. Honestly, wouldn't it help us all if these particular stores stepped up to the plate rather than turned down opportunities because it might be too much work? Good grief.


Caro Soles said...

Hi Rick et al:

Great post, Rick and some interesting points from others.

Yes, we're in changing times. I just bought the new Sony ebook reader and even though I don't have it yet have already downloaded about ten books, most of them free. But, I also buy at least three books a month on-line. I'm doing my bit! I rarely buy in stores because I am not near any place but Chapters, the Gift (and some books) Store.

I thrust that books will be around for long time, but I'm glad I don]t have to depend to writing to feed and clothe me these days!

And yes, I'm giving books as presents, as always!


Caro Soles said...

Hi Rick et al:

Great post, Rick and some interesting points from others.

Yes, we're in changing times. I just bought the new Sony ebook reader and even though I don't have it yet have already downloaded about ten books, most of them free. But, I also buy at least three books a month on-line. I'm doing my bit! I rarely buy in stores because I am not near any place but Chapters, the Gift (and some books) Store.

I thrust that books will be around for long time, but I'm glad I don]t have to depend to writing to feed and clothe me these days!

And yes, I'm giving books as presents, as always!