Thoughts On Bookstores

Once upon a time I went to bookstores a lot. Like, at least once a week, if not twice a week, and maybe sometimes even three times a week for various reasons. I'd browse the new books and the remainders and the aisles and even the magazines (the little section for the literary journals) and sometimes I'd pick something up, sometimes I wouldn't, but it didn't matter because they were books.

Now I can't remember the last time I went to a bookstore.

Nowadays I do most of my book browsing online. Every day I'll check out Amazon and iTunes for the new releases and what's selling (I check the Kindle Top 100 and the sub genres of mystery & thriller, horror, and action & adventure especially). If a book looks interesting to me, I can view the sample and check out the first chapter or two or three. If I want to buy it, I just press a button and, viola, I own it.

There's something remarkable about that, isn't there?

Often we hear people bemoaning the loss of bookstores. I'm sure the same was said about record stores and video stores. Now we can get our music and movies and TV shows streamed instantly to our devices. We can take them wherever we go. We can choose to purchase a new Blu ray for $20 or rent it on Redbox for $1.50 or stream it online for a couple bucks. The possibilities are endless and, more important, record stores and video stores still exist, to one extent or another.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-bookstore. I love bookstores. I love libraries. I love any place where readers can find books.

From a business standpoint, however, and even from a reader standpoint, I find myself appreciating online retailers more and more.

Recently Sherman Alexie put out a call to arms for writers everywhere:

Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores. I want all of us (you and you and especially you) to spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday (that’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30 this year, so you know it’s a huge weekend for everyone who, you know, wants to make a living). Here’s the plan: We book nerds will become booksellers. We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books. Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).

You can read the rest here.

While it's certainly a great idea, the simple fact is many independent bookstores don't want to deal with writers such as myself. They see writers like me as traitors and don't want anything to do with us.

Think I'm exaggerating?

Back when the Hint Fiction anthology was published, a local bookstore went all out to host a release party. It was great. They were great. They were big supporters of the book, and I made it a point to try to help support them anyway I could. Then, a little while later, I started publishing my own stuff online and in paperback form through CreateSpace. The bookstore learned about it. Suddenly I was persona non grata.

I can't say I blame them, of course. It's their business. They can certainly do whatever they want. But the simple fact is more and more writers are going the independent route. Not all writers, of course. There will always be writers wanting to publish through traditional means, and there's nothing wrong with that. But for those writers doing it on their own and having great success? Even if they wanted to do something with their local independent bookstore, they would probably not be welcome.

That isn't to say every independent bookstore is unwelcoming of independent authors. Not at all. But there's a sizeable chunk that many writers won't even bother trying to connect with them. And that's a shame. If my local bookstore was more open-minded, I would be happy to help promote them anyway I could. Have signed copies of my books there. Have readings there. Anything. I'm sure the same could be said about many, many other independent authors.

But the reality, of course, is that most independent bookstores survive by stocking the major bestsellers. It's the James Pattersons and Stephen Kings and Lee Childs and Nora Roberts that keep them afloat. Not midlist authors, let alone independent authors. So really it should be a non-issue, and yet I see it coming up again and again.

This post isn't meant to piss anybody off, though it probably will. The purpose is simply to discuss my overall thoughts on bookstores and how things have changed -- quite drastically -- over the years. I'm all for supporting bookstores, especially independent ones. But until independent bookstores become more welcoming of authors such as myself, there's not much I can do.