About once a week (sometimes more), we hear complaints from authors about misinformation and downright lies they’ve been told by bookstore clerks and managers. Just today, I received this one from a Print on Demand (POD) author:
I was speaking with my local bookstore and they said they can’t order my books because they are listed as “textbooks”. My books are fantasy fiction, not textbooks. The bookstore rep said it is something that the publisher communicates to them in New York on how to list books or something and it would need to be corrected on my publisher’s end.
When POD became a popular method for printing and distribution of books, Ingram (the world’s largest book distributor and owner of the largest POD printing service) started providing bookstore systems with an automated feed for POD books they distribute. With the click of a button, the distributor could send updates for all POD books to the bookstore systems. Of course, each store processes that feed in their own way but most of them implement the changes quite quickly.
Unfortunately, some stores don’t utilize the feed correctly and that’s where errors can occur. What’s more unfortunate, however, is that it seems most bookstore clerks and even some managers don’t understand how the feed works (or don’t even know it exists), causing them to give out misinformation. Others know how it works but tell lies to authors because they don’t want to be inconvenienced when a problem needs to be fixed. Let’s face it – many bookstore clerks are earning low wages and working in an industry that they can clearly see is dying, ever-so-slowly, every single day. What incentive do they have to jump through hoops for a pesky local author? (Yes, that’s how most bookstore employees come across when dealing with authors!) Oh, sure, there are some really nice bookstore clerks that really care about books and readers, and that go above and beyond to help, but it seems there are just as many bookstore clerks who are jerks to authors and even to readers!
Case in point – a few weeks ago, we visited our local bookstore. Now, I am a Mom and I typically dress like one when I run errands. I also usually have two young boys with me. I approached the desk and asked for a copy of the newest book in the Game of Thrones series. I planned to give it to Zach for his birthday. The clerk didn’t smile and, in fact, made me feel like I was wasting her time. She led me to a shelf that was lined with paperbacks from the series, and walked away. The book wasn’t there. I called Zach to make sure I had the title correct. He said, “Yes, that’s it and every bookstore has it right now.”
I went back to the help desk and the clerk looked up and sighed, pursing her lips. I said, “The book isn’t there.” I gave her the title and asked, “Could it be on display elsewhere?”
She looked down her nose at me, and slowly but sternly said, “It’s a HARDCOVER!” I’ve heard that tone before. It’s the tone you get from someone when they don’t think you can afford something. With two young children in tow, we’ve received that treatment on numerous occasions over the years – from store clerks to fine dining restaurant hostesses and more. They assume if you have young children that you can’t afford their products.
I’d have left the store right then but Zach’s birthday was the next day and that bookstore is the ONLY one in town. So, I said, “I don’t care. That’s the book I came for. WHERE IS IT?” She got the message loud and clear. Incidentally, I’ve been to bookstore many times and that’s the first time any of their clerks has been rude to me. Perhaps she was just having a bad day. I can’t imagine how she might have treated an author being in that mood!
Anyway, so the bookstore rep who was dealing with the author above didn’t appear to understand what was going on…but did she really?
If the clerk had bothered to really investigate the situation, she’d have seen that it was a POD book and that the information for that book came automatically from Ingram. She’d also have seen that the book was indeed categorized correctly (Fiction: Fantasy) on the bookstore’s website. But, she didn’t bother to check. She appeared to give the same stock answer to the author that many bookstore clerks give to authors in an attempt to get them out of the store. They likely hope that pesky author will give up and not return.
It’s unfortunate that Borders went out of business because they seemed to the most accommodating for local authors. If an author walked into a Borders and introduced themselves, they were often treated like a neighbor and friend and Borders was usually happy to put a couple or a few books on their shelves for that author. Based on reports we’ve received from authors over the years, it is quite difficult to get a book into your local Barnes and Noble. Most authors do indeed get so frustrated they walk away.
Indie bookstores are a whole other story. They are often very happy to host events for local authors but their budgets are tight and they can probably only offer you a consignment deal.
Over the years, we have heard horror stories about rude bookstore clerks treating authors like the lowest form of vermin. While BookLocker.com is one of the few POD publishers that actually does screen manuscripts, the fact is most POD publishers publish anything and everything because they’re more interested in seeing how much money they can get out of each author. This lack of quality control by POD publishers hasn’t helped hopeful authors get into bookstores. Quite the opposite is true. Any author who asks to speak to a bookstore manager is now automatically assumed to be the self-published author of a crappy book with tons of typos.
So, what’s a lowly, unappreciated author to do? You can either put on the charm and try to woo your way into a bookstore manager’s heart (I mean onto their shelves) or you can do what I do – avoid physical bookstore sales altogether. Yes, that’s right. It’s just not worth the time, money and effort. See: Marketing to Bookstores – Still a Waste of Time?.
If a bookstore clerk is a jerk to you, remember that they’re probably earning minimum wage and they know their job is likely in jeopardy, along with the entire brick and mortar bookstore industry. It’s a much better idea to take your business to an indie bookstore and to local retailers who sell products targeting your book’s audience. See: How to Sell to Books on Consignment to Bookstores and Other Retailers.
Better yet, stick to online book sales. That is much easier and far more lucrative than having one or two books sitting on a local shelf gathering dust. See: 90 DAYS OF PROMOTING YOUR BOOK ONLINE: Your Book’s Daily Marketing Plan: Day-to-day book promotion from Day 1 through Day 90…and beyond!.
Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker.com. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”
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