As Book Doctors we always say that independent bookstores are vital to any unpublished author. Right now, as Amazon is standing over the major publishing house, Hachette, threatening to crush them like a fruit fly, independent booksellers couldn't be more important. Let us explain why.
A few years back, we met a lovely, talented woman at a Pitchapalooza, an event we created that's like American Idol for books. She didn't win, but we could see that she had the goods. She contacted us after the event because she wasn't having any luck finding an agent. We worked with her to get her manuscript and pitch in shape. This wasn't hard. She was an exquisite writer with a great story. What was hard was our number one recommendation to her: Go work at an independent bookstore. She didn't have a lot of time to do this. She had three kids and another part-time job. But she wanted to get her book published, so she took our advice. The bookstore hired this lovely, talented writer because she was a customer, a great reader, she knew about what was on the shelf and how to hand-sell a book. She ended up working with the events person, introducing authors who came to do readings at this store. Through this work, she met the agent of one of these authors. An agent who just happened to be perfect for her book. They chatted and in the conversation, our client was able to pitch her book (a pitch she had been working on for almost a year). The agent asked her to send it. The agent took the book on. And last week the agent sold the book to a top-notch publisher.
No matter how many books you order through Amazon, you're not going to get an agent and then a book deal by clicking "buy." As Robert Gray, retired bookseller, once told us, independent booksellers are the last three feet of the publishing business. That means you can go talk to someone in the book industry, without a connection and without paying them, by simply walking into an independent bookstore. The problem is, if you buy your books on Amazon, soon there won't be any independent bookstores. For those of you who don't follow the publishing news, Amazon won a major suit against several of the biggest publishers for "price fixing" (though there is much debate about whether this was so), allowing Amazon to take control of the e-book marketplace in what is now damn close to a monopoly (or rather a monopsony, as a recent New York Times editorialist pointed out).
As our world turns more digital, the lack of competition for ebooks and Amazon's domination will mean less and less money and opportunities for authors. Right now, authors are already getting the short end of the stick royalty-wise on e-books. This inequity is due to publishers, not due to Amazon, but the more market share Amazon has, the easier it will be for them to determine what they want to keep and what they want to give away. Do you think they'll want to keep more or give away more? Not a hard question to answer.
If you're thinking, I'll just self-publish, then think on this: If you self-publish, Amazon is your number one marketplace for sales. If Amazon controls the percentage of what you receive per sale, and if Amazon is doing what it's doing to Hachette -- which, by the way, is owned by a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation -- do you think they're going to give one hoot about you? No! They're going to take whatever they feel like and you will have no leverage whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And if things continue to go in the direction they're going, you'll have nowhere else to go where large numbers of shoppers are looking for books.
If you think we hate Amazon, you'd be wrong. Amazon is an extraordinarily run, inventive, forward-thinking company that has nearly single-handedly led the way in e-book growth. They've increased the sales possibilities for any author -- for some exponentially. For self-published authors, they've created a marketplace that for the most part didn't even exist. What author wouldn't be excited by -- even grateful to -- such a company? We just don't want Amazon to be the only choice. While Amazon has sold thousands of copies of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, so have independent booksellers. And most of the latter sales have come through booksellers recommending our book to customers who never even heard of it. Who may have not even known they were looking for such a book. We don't want that choice to go away. We want authors to be able to meet their readers face-to-face within the walls of a brick and mortar bookstore, just like we met the lovely and talented writer who now has a book deal. We also don't want there to be an unbridgeable divide between authors and the publishing industry. If there are no independent bookstores, this is precisely what will happen. There will be no free advice from industry professionals. Just that interminable moat between writers and agents, writers and publishers that has kept so many from getting published.
The result will be books that aren't as good, writers that are less informed, readers who have to depend on algorithms to know what to read next. So if you'd like to keep your indie in business, think about your purchasing power. That's the one power you have as a writer. Use it well.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It... Successfully (Workman, 2010).
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