Friday, May 20, 2011

Indie Bookstores Boycott Konrath?

It's come to my attention that on a Yahoo group for booksellers there has been a call to boycott Amazon's new Thomas & Mercer imprint. I signed with Thomas & Mercer for STIRRED, the eighth Jack Daniels novel, co-written with Blake Crouch (who will chime in on this topic after me).

I've also heard that certain booksellers want to return any books of mine they have in stock as a punitive measure.

So signing a deal with Amazon makes me the enemy of bookstores?

Me, who has signed at over 1200 bookstores? Who has thanked over 1500 booksellers by name in the acknowledgements of my novels? Who has named five major characters in my series after booksellers?

Now I'm the bad guy, for wanting to continue my series and make a living?

You may know that my publisher, Hyperion, dropped my Jack Daniels series after six books, even though they continue to sell well as backlist titles. The only way I could get print books in the series into the hands of fans was to sign with another publisher.

Thomas & Mercer stepped up to the plate to give my fans what they want: more Jack Daniels books.

Amazon allowed me to get into bookstores--something self-pubbing couldn't do for me without a lot of extra work on my part. They offered me a terrific deal, and have done more marketing and promotion than any of the publishers I've previously worked with.

They've treated me with nothing but respect, listened to and implemented many of my ideas, and have been an absolute joy to work with.

They're the new publisher on the block. But they're already doing it better than anyone else.

This trend won't end with me. Amazon will continue to publish more and more authors, because the major publishers are making a lot of major mistakes and a lot of writers are getting hurt by the Big 6.

So my question to indie bookstores is: When other authors sign with Amazon, and they will, are you going to boycott them as well? What happens when it is a major, bestselling author? Is this how you service your customers, by limiting the amount of choice they have?

I'll be honest. I'd love it if my books went out of print, so I could have the rights back. I'm getting financially reamed by my publishers, just like every other author is. Sending my books back isn't hurting me in the least.

But it saddens me that any bookseller would take such a limited view of my intent.

My goal remains what it has always been: to write books for fans and make a decent living.

I get a lot of hits on this blog. I could mention the name of the bookseller that thought up this boycott, and ask my readers to boycott them right back. I bet I could even get a picket line going to protest.

Of course, I would never do anything like that. I love bookstores. I want them to succeed. I haven't done many signings lately, but I'll be at the Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago on Saturday June 4th at 11:30 am, signing at Big Sleep Books, one of my favorite indies.

I'm not the enemy. Neither is Amazon.

The threat to bookstores is a technology that is rapidly being embraced by readers.

I didn't invent ebooks. But for the first time in my writing career, I'm making a comfortable living because of them. So are many other authors.

This doesn't make us bad. It doesn't make us anti-bookstore.

It just makes us human.

The times are changing. In a few years, there may not be anymore chain bookstores.

The indies have a chance to survive, and even thrive. But only if they embrace change.

Being afraid of change has never lead to success.

So what can indies do?

Read on. Blake and I have a few ideas...


BLAKE SEZ:

I’ve published four novels with the legacy publisher St. Martin’s Press. For my first two, I toured extensively, on my own dime, across the country, almost solely visiting indie bookstores. I did this because I love indie bookstores, the booksellers, the owners... you can feel the love of books when you walk into one, which is often absent in the chains.

My decision to release RUN on my own has been extensively chronicled on this blog. It had nothing to do with turning my back on Indie bookstores. It had everything to do with seeing the change happening in the market, and wanting to make a living for my family.

My agent tried valiantly to sell RUN to Big 6 publishers, for many months. There were no takers. And yet, I've managed to sell 20,000 copies on my own in just a few months, and I'm currently in talks with a well-known independent bookstore to release a limited edition hardcover version of RUN.

So to have indie bookstores now calling for the boycott of my work is baffling, but I understand this is a scary time for bookstores. When panic sets in, this leads to knee-jerk reactions.

I recently met with the book-buyer at my local indie store to discuss this very thing... what do indies do when they’re losing writers to ebooks.

First of all, I think indies need to understand that the vast majority of the writers whose work they try to sell are getting reamed financially by their publishers. They’re probably not making a living on the books they write. The vast majority of writers get dropped by their publisher. And those who don’t are fighting a battle to survive that is largely out of their control. For every Patterson or Grisham you have, there are hundreds, if not thousands of books that fail. I understand you need those heavy-hitters to keep your lights on. But I need ebooks to keep mine on. This would seem to set our interests against each other, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.

Ebooks are here. They’re now the preferred way to read, and lashing out against writers embracing this to make a living isn’t going to change anything.

My choice to sign with Amazon was twofold: (a) it allows me to reach more readers and fans than I ever could on my own; (b) Amazon is also releasing a trade paperback of Stirred, and will have the full distribution power of any major New York publisher. Even on the books I release myself, I make everything available in print, and these are easily ordered from the major distributors.

The bigger question, the one I discussed with the folks from my local bookstore, is what happens next for Indies?

Here are some ideas Joe and I had:

1. Sell used books. There are billions of books in print, and they aren't going away anytime soon. Joe's publisher charges $7.59 for an ebook of Fuzzy Navel. You could sell the used paperback for $1.99.

2. Remember why people shop indie. My local store has the best, most knowledgeable, well-read staff around. They can turn you on to a book you’ll love based upon a short discussion. They read constantly. There is still something about a live, in-person recommendation that beats reading Amazon and B&N reviews any day. I have no doubt that Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado will survive as long as there are publishers, because the experience they give the customer walking in the door is unmatched, and you simply cannot get it on the Internet.

3. Author events. But you need to give people a reason to attend other than just a signature. Perhaps an exclusive short story from that author, free to everyone who buys a book. Perhaps a $30 admission includes a book, a coffee, a copy of the talk on DVD, and a signed t-shirt. Give your customers something they can't get elsewhere.

4. Start publishing. If you're an indie store beloved by authors, ask those authors for a story to put into an anthology, which you can then publish in print or as an ebook. Or ask favorite authors with out-of-print backlists if they'd like to partner with you to re-release those books. If Amazon is becoming a publisher, why can't you?

Between Joe and I, we have over twenty book-length works available. If you'd like to publish any of them and sell them out of your store, contact us. We'll give you an 85% royalty, send you our already formatted interiors and covers, and you can print and sell as many as you'd like. Or we can do the printing, and ship them to you signed, and give you the same 40% discount the major NY Publishers give you per book.

These are trade paperbacks, 9"x6", priced at $13.95.

Our titles include:
65 Proof (Collected Stories)
Shot of Tequila
Disturb
Trapped
Endurance
Origin
The List
Suckers
Jack Daniels Stories (Collected Stories)
Horror Stories (Collected Stories)
Flee
Draculas
Banana Hammock
Run
Desert Places
Locked Doors
Serial Uncut
Killers Uncut
Famous
Serial Killers Uncut
Fully Loaded (Collected Stories)
Thicker Than Blood

You might think, "That's a nice gesture, but how will it help me compete?"

Between Joe and I, we've sold over 400,000 self-published ebooks. I'm betting some of your customers would want the print versions of these.

And we're just two authors. Imagine doing this with a hundred authors. Your own imprint, selling books the chains don't sell, signed copies that Amazon doesn't sell, for a higher profit margin than you get anywhere else.

5. Ebooks. Google Books has been underwhelming so far. But the ABA is a powerful group, and certainly this coalition can get a system in place to get the works of writers to their fans. Indies selling Indies. With the current retailers pretty much letting anyone publish anything, there is a window here for the ABA to hone the overwhelming sea of crap currently offered by other ebook retailers and to present a better Indie bookstore.

Imagine the Indiebound Indie-bestseller list. Indie recommendations. Indie book groups. Then you’ll be able to have virtual events. Internet booksignings using Autography to sign ebooks and Skype for the author talk. We've already partnered with OverDrive to get our books into libraries, and we're on every major (and minor) ebook platform.

Indie bookstores should have a platform. You're a smart, tough, dedicated group who loves to read. You don't need to wait for others to bring you into the fold. You can create your own ebook network.

When this happens, Joe and I will be the first in line to give you our work to sell.

Nobody wants to see the Indies disappear. There is a tremendous opportunity here, but it starts with taking the emotion out of how you view ebooks and looking at it with an eye to what customers want.

What they want hasn't changed. They want your advice about what books to read.

You just need to figure out how you can best serve them in this brave, new world.