Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Post: An Open Letter to Indie Bookstores, by Allan Leverone

An Open Letter to Indie Bookstores

Dear store owner,

I know things are tough right now. Being an Independent Bookseller was never easy, even in the good old days of four or five years ago, when practically everyone purchased their reading material the same way—by getting in their cars and driving to your store or to one of the big chain bookstores. Oh, sure, some people ordered their books online, but they were the strange ones, the shut-ins or those techno-nerds everyone made fun of in high school who are now running the world.

Then came the revolution. Steady yourself, because I’m going to say it out loud and I don’t want to catch you by surprise. Are you ready? Okay, here we go: Ereaders. Are you alright? Because you’re looking a little green around the gills. Let’s try it again. Ereaders. Ereaders, ereaders, ereaders.

Okay, I’ll stop. Sorry about that, I just couldn’t help myself.

Anyway, here came ereaders, and their popularity gave rise to a new form of book-buying practically overnight: Staying home and browsing online, where not only could the reader save time, gas and money, she could begin reading her selection seconds after making it!

What started out as a fad, a niche, a way for those techno-nerds to download their science manuals and their Penthouse magazine subscriptions soon became a full-fledged trend, then almost immediately an accepted practice, meaning now not only do you face competition from the Barnes and Nobles of the world, you face even stiffer competition from the Innerwebs. (Amazon. Amazon, Amazon, Amazon. Dammit, I did it again. Are you sure you’re okay?)

I know, I know, it sucks to be you. And I apologize for bringing up a sore subject.

But that’s the thing about revolutions: They change the status quo forever—hopefully more for the good than the bad—but always forever. If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that the entities who are best able to adapt to changing circumstances are the ones who survive and sometimes even—gasp!—thrive.

And here, at last, is the point of this letter: Instead of whining about the digital publishing revolution and the whole new class of true “Indie” authors epublishing has given rise to, maybe it’s time for you to figure out a way to include some of the best of them in your survival strategy.

It’s interesting that bookstores which are so fiercely protective of their identity as “independent,” seem so dismissive, as a whole, toward independent authors. Case in point: Me. After selling my debut thriller to an “Indie” publisher, Medallion Press, I chose to go a different route—StoneHouse Ink—with my followup thriller, The Lonely Mile.

Stonehouse/StoneGate Ink is one of the new breed of publishers sprouting up all over the place, like mushrooms in the forest after a cleansing rain. They’re less traditional than traditional publishing, but more traditional than self-publishing.

The Lonely Mile was released in July by StoneHouse as an ebook, and sales have been steady ever since. And while I’m not in any danger of knocking Connelly, Cornwell or Grisham off the Bestseller Lists in Mysteries and Thrillers, the folks at StoneHouse saw enough promise in The Lonely Mile to convince them to release a paperback version of the book in October.

Guess what I did when I found out, store owner? I contacted virtually every Indie bookseller within about a one hundred fifty mile radius of my home (Londonderry, New Hampshire), offering a complimentary copy of The Lonely Mile to each store owner or manager, for them to read to see if they might consider it appropriate to carry in their stores.

I contacted exactly four dozen Indie bookstores in the New England area. I wanted to support the Indies while taking advantage of the opportunity to expand my readership at the same time. I viewed it as a wonderful opportunity. Would you care to guess how many bothered to respond?

No? I’m going to tell you anyway: Two. Two!

I realize you’re busy. I realize The Lonely Mile may not be a book you wish to carry. I don’t understand it—it’s a damned good book—but I accept it. I’m a writer, I got used to rejection years ago; it quite literally does not bother me. My career is progressing nicely, anyway.

But what I don’t understand is your utter disinterest in even taking a few minutes to respond to someone inquiring about you and your business! As a portion of your business strategy, you might want to rethink that one. In fact, you might want to rethink your entire strategy, because the revolution is well under way, and things ain’t going back to the way they used to be, regardless of how much you might like them to.

Think about partnering with Indie authors, instead of dismissing them. Sure, there’s some putrid crap being published by Indies, I’m not about to try to convince you otherwise. But there’s some damned good stuff being written too, by some damned talented and dedicated authors. Who knows, maybe there’s a way to engage some of those people in a symbiotic relationship.

Or you could continue the way you’re going, and when you’re out of business six months or a year or two years down the road, your building can get taken over by an auto parts store or a craft shop. I’m sure your town can always use another one of those.

Thanks for reading,
Allan Leverone