Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

O bookstores, you disappoint me so



As kind of anticipated, I seem to be up against the proverbial wall when it comes to getting indie bookstores to sell my new indie novel, Town Father. I’ve sent out a bunch of pitches, but not one store has responded. Not even with a polite “No thank you.”

I talked about this a few weeks ago with respect to the bookstore manager who said that CreateSpace books are not welcome in her consignment program. It would appear that she’s not alone and that the response of booksellers at large is to punish the authors of indie books. Maybe this makes sense as a lashing out, since Amazon is way too huge for them to have any effect on with some sort of boycott or sassing campaign. And I know, Amazon has been like Godzilla in the book business, rampaging ashore and trashing the place, pretty much destroying the old model. Now people buy straight from Amazon at a deep discount, and the bookstores are wondering why people won’t pay $29 for the same new hardback they can grab at Amazon for $14.99.

Come and drink some tea in our comfy chairs, they say. Come and pet our store cat and peruse our fine wrapping papers and fanciful snow globes and scented candles that are taking up table space where some indie books could have been displayed. Our self-help section is right over here…

When did bookstores become so effing precious?

The proprietors I’ve reached out to clearly have contempt for the indie author, equating him (i.e., moi) with the consequences of Amazon’s dominance. They won’t even answer my queries, and in that they have become yet another gatekeeper in the infinite gauntlet of gatekeepers between authors and readers. Just think of the message this is sending: If you aren’t published by one of the Big 5, you can’t have access to our customers. If you’re uppity enough to self-publish, especially via Amazon, we can’t even acknowledge your existence, much less your value as a writer. It’s business, kid. If you can’t stand the heat…

Well, all I can say is, if I ever set foot in a bookstore again (right now they’re dead to me, do you hear? — dead to me!), it’ll be because some enlightened manager understands that I’m not harming her business. I’m in the same business, as a matter of fact — bringing good books to eager readers. And I’ll be going in to drop off copies of Town Father and to shake that manager’s hand. I might even buy a book while I’m there.

Get real, indie bookstores. We’re in this together. Support your friendly neighborhood author.

Town Father 3D copy


22 comments on “O bookstores, you disappoint me so

  1. kingmidget
    January 5, 2016

    As I said when you first mentioned this, I really don’t get their approach to this. It’s one thing if you, living in California wanted to try to get Indie bookstores in Oklahoma to stock your book, but dammit, you’re local. The idea that they won’t help you by stocking your book speaks volumes about their alleged purity and goodness. I get their frustration with Amazon, but helping out a few indie authors isn’t going to make a bit of difference in their war against Amazon. It’s shortsighted and stupid.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2016

      You’d think they’d look at the positive side of working with local writers. We can be their biggest cheerleaders and help bring in business.

      This really seems to be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees…

      • kingmidget
        January 5, 2016

        Yep. Particularly galling is that you’re a local writer who has written a good story locally based. It’s the type of thing a local bookstore should be jumping at the chance to promote.

  2. Jon Stephens
    January 5, 2016

    Hey – Just stumbled onto this blog today, so I’m not sure if you’ve covered your approach at all.

    I’ve heard some success by trying to offer something to the bookstores to make it worth their while: IE: Offer to host a 1-hour session for their customers (free of charge) on how to finish your novel. Or How to build worlds. or how to develop a character. Something you have experience in because you’ve written a book, been through the editing process, etc. Pick a topic you feel really good about.

    Then throw in some book signings after the session. They like it because it brings customers into their shop (which lets them sell). You like it because it’s free marketing.

    For your pitches, are you making them in person, or over email/written letter?

    If you’ve already tried the above, sorry it’s not working! Hope you are able to get at least some love from the bookstores.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2016

      Thanks for stopping by, Jon. I appreciate your remarks.

      I’ve tried both in-person and email pitches, and let me tell you — the in-person variety has been grueling at times. When they find out my book is self-published and via CreateSpace, I generally get the old, “Gosh, we’re sorry. We just can’t stock books published by SATAN! I mean, Amazon…”

      But it isn’t just Amazon. I think at the level of the indie bookstore, there’s still a stigma attached to self-published books. Frankly, I’m picking up on a snobbish attitude that I’d have hoped would have faded a bit by now.

      For email pitches, at least, I’m able to make my strongest case, including review excerpts and links to my social media presence. It’s like a press kit, albeit a press kit from SATAN!

      • Jon Stephens
        January 5, 2016

        Sorry to hear it’s so rough… Bodes Ill for my first push. Thanks for the post with your experiences.

      • Kevin Brennan
        January 5, 2016

        Well, it might be different in different regions. I think Northern California bookstores are particularly snobby for some reason… In any case, good luck with your book!

  3. islandeditions
    January 5, 2016

    Maybe we need to set up a not-so-much-of-a-whisper campaign … Readers and fans could be sent out specifically to these stores to ask for copies of our self-published books, saying they’d much rather support an indie bookstore than buy from Amazon or Createspace. Perhaps, if enough readers with cash in hand actually show those indie bookstores there’s a demand for our books then the stores will begin to change their tune. Maybe, just maybe.

    When I was a sales rep, I was selling for publishers who often published brand new authors. One author, who lived in a small city in Saskatchewan where everyone in the business knew each other, had written the first in what was to eventually become a series of mysteries set in that city. (Unheard of before for novels to be set in the province, by the way.) There were only 3 indie bookstores in the city at that time and one, the largest, refused to stock this novel, because it was a first time mystery being published in hardcover and, as they told me, they just never were able to sell hardcover mysteries. “But the author just lives down the street,” I said. They refused to place an initial order for any more than 2 copies. So I told the author of my problem and she sent her husband in to ask them if they had the book in stock, then all of her friends did the same. When the publication of her book was announced in her church (also just down the street from the bookstore) the next Sunday, the parishioners were directed to purchase copies from this particular bookstore. So imagine my surprise when the next sales season I went into that store to sell them my list and they patted themselves on the back and claimed, “We sold hundreds of copies of that author’s books, you know!! When will she be publishing the next in the series?” They didn’t thank me for having been right about the book, nor did they apologize for having been wrong. The author and her husband and I all laughed over a lovely lunch after that. We still laugh at the bookstore’s initial folly in totally dismissing what we all knew would be a big bestseller. (And, by the way, that bookstore eventually imploded and closed. They didn’t know how to compete with the big box stores.)

    Indie Authors … Indie Bookstores. They just don’t get the correlation and that we should all be working together, not all at odds.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2016

      That’s actually a terrific idea, Susan! I like, I like! Recruiting enough people to make an impression might be a little tough, but I can certainly get my wife to make the rounds…

      It’s always been hard for unknown authors, though. I remember when Parts Unknown came out, and I went into the local Barnes & Noble to see it displayed in person, I was appalled that they weren’t stocking it at all! I talked to the manager and said I’m a local writer, and the SF Chronicle’s doing a great review of it tomorrow. All they said was, “We can order you a copy if you like…”


      • islandeditions
        January 5, 2016

        Yeah, never quite clear on the concept, those booksellers …

  4. Phillip McCollum
    January 5, 2016

    Oi vey, the irony of indie bookstores shunning indie authors. They’re certainly not doing themselves any favors here. Because another proprietor has given indie authors the opportunity to reach an audience, the book stores decide to shun them?? They should be going in the opposite direction, methinks…thinking about what they can do to GET your business.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 5, 2016

      Yeah, it seems a little self-destructive to me, now that I’ll never set foot in a bookstore again! I can be as petty as them, if I try real hard… 😜

      Happy New Year to you n’ yours, Phillip!

  5. John W. Howell
    January 5, 2016

    Independents and chain book stores will shun an indie author but still stock best sellers that are available on Amazon. Seems their principals stop at the cash register.

  6. Adrienne Morris
    January 6, 2016

    F-ing precious indeed! Maybe indie authors need to create the new independent bookstores. If I ever open one it will have a petting zoo out back and charming birds in cages by the register–top that you cat-loving snobby booksellers!

  7. pinklightsabre
    January 8, 2016

    Yeah, the cat they offer for petting doesn’t cut it for me, unless I can take my cat in and leave it there. Sorry to hear this Kevin, but happy and hopeful for you despite these challenges for the work you’ve done and will continue to do, irregardless. Sorry, I just had to say that for a laugh. The irregardless part. Best to you and yours, – Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 10, 2016

      Heh heh. A word in your ear, regardless…

      As to selling books, there must be more than one way to skin a bookstore cat!

  8. christineplouvier
    January 18, 2016

    I’ll bet those bookstores don’t know that many of the non-Indie published books they’re selling were printed in Amazon facilities: either at CreateSpace (in SC or CA) or at Amazon’s press (in KY). These books’ covers sport the names and logos of “small press” publishers in the US or Canada, and even that of the prestigious Cambridge University Press, but turning to the back page reveals that Amazon did the printing. (Some of the books I own bear the mark of the beast.) The War of the Stores waged against Zon the Invincible (with both sides holding Indie authors as human shields) was lost long ago.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 18, 2016

      Hey, that’s fascinating! I didn’t know. And that’s the ironic thing about the whole kerfuffle — they’re punishing the indie author because they can’t land a punch on Amazon!

      In any event, they’re dead to me now — dead, do you hear!?

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