If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my many years as a writer, it’s that I don’t always want what I need. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years as a bookstore owner, it’s that I can provide what indie writers need…even if it isn’t what they always want.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores are sometimes a distant dream for writers. We all wish to have our books on the shelves at a bookstore. We’d love to have that happen automatically. Publish a book, get it on the shelf. But except for virtual shelves, this is a sometimes unreachable dream. Even if you happen to have a “local” brick-and-mortar in your community, if you walk in a lot of times you’ll find the same thing you find in large chain bookstores, and, too often now, wildly discounted big box stores.
And these local bookstores often have restrictive guidelines and requirements for carrying local indie authors.
What writers need is a home for their books. A place they can be on the shelf. Surviving as a bookstore in today’s world of fruit and kindling beamed right to your phone can be difficult. Surviving as one voice shouting in a room full of other people can be even harder. Local bookstores and local authors need to work together to accomplish what they both need: more local authors willing to sell their books on consignment instead of expecting local bookstores to order them along with James Patterson’s latest—and more stores willing to give local authors a chance to see their books on the shelf.
I was in one of those “million books” type stores a few weeks ago (don’t judge me!). I took a peek at the Local Interest section. I was shocked to see “local” interests like the Blue Ridge Parkway…in Virginia! But the worst was a book about lobster fishermen in Maine! That’s what passes for local interest when the folks who order your books don’t live locally.
I’ve been in other small, local bookstores as well. They definitely try harder to maintain that local flavor. But once you start ordering new books, it’s an easy slide to devoting more space to Stephen King and Clive Cussler than the local authors who walk in off the street. Bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason. Name recognition. And a poetry book by local poet Michelle Garren Flye isn’t going to hold up very well when it’s sitting next to Amanda Gorman’s latest— Okay, there might be more reason than just name recognition for that…I love her!
But you get my point, right, authors and booksellers? Work together. A very famous “local” author (Nicholas Sparks) once told me “the cream rises to the top.” I think he meant that as encouragement. I’m taking it as heartfelt advice. My store is the churn. Readers do the churning. The local authors who end up on my “Bestselling Local Author” table are the cream.
We need more churns and authors willing to sell their ingredients for a percentage of the take.