Putting Indies First

Skimming through the Twitterverse this afternoon, I found an interesting link via the blog The Passive Voice today and had to comment on it.

Here at http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/09/what-do-authors-owe-to-indie-booksellers/, it seems that independent writer Sherman Alexie, in the spirit of promoting Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30, has called for independent book sellers everywhere to populate their local independent bookstores to sell their books during that most sacred of American Holidays, the shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It’s an idea that Alexie voices in a letter to the American Booksellers, which they published on their web site, http://www.bookweb.org.

Here’s part of the letter:

“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).

“I was a bookseller-for-a-day at Seattle’s Queen Anne Book Company when it reopened this past April. Janis Segress, one of the new co-owners, came up with this brilliant idea. What could be better than spending a day hanging out in your favorite hometown indie, hand- selling books you love to people who will love them too and signing a stack of your own? Why not give it a try? Let’s call it Indies First.

“Grassroots is my favorite kind of movement, and anyway there’s not a lot of work involved in this one. Just pick a bookstore, talk to the owner (or answer the phone when they call you) and reach an agreement about how to spend your time that day. You’d also need to agree to place that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button if you have one. After all, this is Indies First, not Indies Only, and it’s designed to include Indies in our world but not to exclude anyone else.

“This is a great way to fight for independents—one that will actually help them. It’ll help you as well; the Indies I’ve talked to have told me that last year Small Business Saturday was one of their biggest days of the year, in some cases the biggest after the Saturday before Christmas—and that means your books will get a huge boost, wherever you choose to be.

“The most important thing is that we’ll all be helping Independent bookstores, and God knows they’ve helped us over the years. So join the Indie First Movement and help your favorite independent bookstore. Help all indie bookstores. Reach out to them and join the movement. Indies First!”

For me, the idea seems great! Independent bookstores, like anything that’s not backed by a creeping conglomerate of corporate crud, are struggling. It’s difficult for self-published authors to get our books into those chain bookstores. Why not bring the two together? Maybe we could bring a little success to both our camps.

One author’s response, published in Dennis Abram’s columns on Publishing Perspectives was anything but positive.

He writes: “News flash: Most of us actually can’t support ourselves writing full time. I, for example, teach all week and then try, between taking kids to soccer and grocery shopping and trying to keep the house from falling down, to write on the weekends.

“So you’re asking me to give up the only time I get to write in order to work in a bookstore. Well, I guess I’ll consider it. How much does this gig pay?
Because I don’t work for free. Writers shouldn’t work for free and neither should anybody else. It’s disrespectful of your time and expertise to even be asked to work for free. I mean, sure, you can volunteer for a worthy cause, and such organizations are registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Or if you want to do something bookish, go volunteer at your local library, which is actually a public institution operated for the benefit of the community. A local bookstore, on the other hand, is a for-profit enterprise, and unless they are paying me, they’re not getting any of my labor.

” Otherwise, I’m spending my day working to make money for someone else. And that makes me a chump.

“So, no, I’m not skipping a writing day in order to donate my labor to a local business. And neither should anybody else. What a weird, out of touch, implicitly classist, and insulting thing to ask.”

Wow. A little over the top, don’t you think?

Each July, I take part in an event in Shaker Heights, Ohio at Loganberry Books, called Author’s Alley. Harriet Logan, the owner of the store, has a small spot of land next to her business opened up for area self-published authors to set up tables and sell their books. She takes a portion of each sale and provides lunch, popsicles and ice tea for her authors. She does not charge us for the privilege of sitting up against a hot concrete wall for an entire sunny July afternoon during the neighborhood festival that’s going on around us. Before we leave for the day, she asks us for an autographed copy, which she pays for.

Yes, some of the books are unbelievably bad. Others re incredible works of art and cover everything from inspirational stories, general fiction, local history or children’s works. I may not always sell a copy of my book, but I hand out a lot of book marks and make a lot of contacts and sometimes when I get home the next day, there’s an uptick in my e-book sales numbers or an e-mail asking me to come speak at a library or a book club.

This July, I say next to a woman who had collected jokes for twenty years and just listed them one after another. Her books flew off the table.

The point is, it’s an incredibly supportive effort for someone who is in business to make money and doesn’t have to do anything to support independent authors, but chooses to do so. So as an independent author, I believe we should do so as well and support those independent bookstores.

Like many folks, I also work, but as a freelance writer. The amount of my paycheck is reflected in the length of the story and/or the photographs printed. I have other obligations: a llama farm with a barn that needs cleaned twice a day, animals that need fed and cared for, and family obligations too numerous to list here without sounding martyred.

In short, when I’m taking time off to peddle my book, I may not be making money either, and odds are, somebody else is stepping in to feed those llamas—and I’ve got to pay them. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I’m also taking a long view: Every contact I make could result in a sale at some time in the future. Maybe somebody will buy a copy and pass it on to a friend, who will then buy an e-book copy. Who knows?

I just know I’m not high enough on the literary ladder to refuse anyone’s offer to help me move up. I’m going to contact my local bookstore and see if they are willing to put Indie First this holiday shopping season. Maybe we’ll both profit.

Find my latest book, LETHAL LITTLE LIES,, on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

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