The Disheartening Demise of the last two bookstores in Springfield, Ohio

I believe it was on Black Friday, though it could have been on Turkey Day or Decorating Saturday, I'm not sure at this second and it doesn't matter. There was an article in the SPringield News Sun, our recently neutered newspaper about the encroaching death of both B. Dalton and Walden Books in the Upper Valley Mall in 2010. The article went on about the great tragedy of losing both booksellers and leaving our county with the options of buying our books either online, or from a big box retailer with limited selection, or of course traveling 25 miles to the closest B&N.
This is bitter sweet news, something I predicted years ago, but sad just to same to see that I am right again- there is a lack of people who can and do read in the city of Springfield.
Several years ago, I approached both bookstores about doing book signings. Walden's, whose manager I've known for years reported that-
"We only do signings with bestselling authors."
Now at that time I knew better, but of course there's no point in arguing with the obtuse, especially when none of the big names have ever come to that bookstore and the few signed copies of anything on their shelves rode in on the back of a truck with the rest of the stuff.
So off I trekked to the other end of the Mall, to Dalton's, where I also knew the manager. I made a similar suggestion, and it was agreed that my co-author and I would come and sign copies of The Coming of T’Loal, our crookedly cobbled contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos.
From time to time my evil side begs that I ask the Walden manager when the next bestselling author is coming to town, but I just don’t have the strength.
A year after our signing for T’Loal I went back to Dalton’s to see about setting up a book signing for my novel Frank Testimony, the new manager told me that their policy had changed and they were no longer allowed to set up signings, I needed to contact their corporate offices.
In the past four years I’ve counted less than five signings happening at either store, and very few in the main concourse of the mall at all… If the bookstores are shunning new authors, where will the next bestselling authors come from? If they won’t carry our books, or in some cases even order them, (I swear an author friend told me that this same Walden Books would not order a copy of her book for a friend of hers who tried to get one) How long did they expect to stay in business if they didn’t want to service readers or writers? I guess there’s always the latte’ business…

Just growling, sorry for those I’ve offended.

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I doubt you've offended anyone here. I had a similar experience trying to get our local Borders to stock my first novel--after it had been reviewed in the NYTBR and the WaPo's Bookworld. Borders makes almost all of its buying decisions at the national level, and they basically told me I was out of luck--even though they'd had at least twenty requests for the book that I knew of. They finally stuck a few copies in the local authors section after I'd made a complete pain in the ass of myself. They did a better job with the second one--it got a nice little faceout in the mystery section. That particular Borders has been looking kind of sparse and impoverished for some time, and I don't hold out much hope that they'll make it through the current recession. Not because they wouldn't stock my book, although they did lose twenty-or-so sales to Amazon.
I hear you, and I had much the same experience. Eventually Penguin got me a few signings, but the stores did nothing to advertise and bring in buyers. Worse, these same bookstores do not keep the books stocked. That's why I've gone to Amazon for my book purchases. Bookstores that support only bestselling authors are cutting their own throats.
If I'm a bookstore, I want to have authors come sign who will attract customers to my store, not unknown or midlist authors who expect me to provide customers for them. I'm trying to stay alive, not promote the publishing industry or undiscovered authors.
Great point.
Actually, not such a great point. We should all work together, not against each other. If it's clear that stores are only interested in big name authors, then we midlist or new authors don't need to spend our money and time begging for signings. And when we become big name authors, why should we accommodate the merchants then? At that point, they may need us, but we don't need them.
In any case, I am guessing that any author appearance is going to make customers think that the store is really interested in providing them with information and entertainment. I used to speak for nearly two hours about a culture few people had even heard of. For free!
And I provided free gourmet candy.
When was the last time you went to a bookstore to see an unknown author?
People come to bookstores to shop and discover the authors. For that matter, if the store advertises (as one independent store did and B&N did not) people do come specifically to hear an author. The problem is that the numbers are too small.
As for me, I don't go to those affairs unless it's a friend, and I no longer shop in stores.
Marketing and promotion is all about the other person. In a capitalistic society, there's no such thing as entitlement. No one owes anybody anything. Just because I put out a product, whether it's hand-made jewelry or a book or dish soap, doesn't obligate any store to carry it, nor does it obligate anyone to purchase it.

We're actually not all in this together. Yes, we're dependent on each other, but each part of the capitalistic system has to get something out of the deal, or the whole arrangement breaks down.

I think Jack makes a great point. An unknown or a midlist author who wants to do a signing at a bookstore should be thinking in terms of what the store is going to get in return. I think if they do that, they'll be much more likely to have a successful signing. Authors are often told that it's as important to make friends with bookstore owners as it is to sell books, and adding our marketing efforts to promote the event in order to draw in more customers for the store to me, just makes sense.
Sorry, I don't buy that. The numbers are just too small ever to pay off for the author. There are advantages for the store and for the publisher, but not for the author.
I suspect we're not as far apart in our thinking as my previous post implies. I was speaking of a midlist author who WANTS to do a bookstore signing. I was simply saying that I think they'll get more mileage out of the experience if they schmooze the store owner, and put themselves in the owner's shoes and try to give them what they need and want.

However, I agree that for most authors, bookstore signings are a waste of time.

I did a handful of signings in bookstores when my novel released, and they were pretty grim, with a ridiculously low return on investment. Even drop-in signings were a waste of time. Sure, in a couple of days, I drove all over Detroit's northern suburbs and signed maybe 150 - 200 books, but the cost of gas and lost wages certainly didn't equal my 8% royalty on my $7.99 mass market paperback, even IF all of the books I signed sold, which I know they did not. And in most cases, I never met the store manager, and the CSR who helped me sticker the books were almost universally disinterested, so I seriously doubt there was any appreciable amount of hand-selling going on after I left.

I also quickly realized that I could do drop-in signings every day for a month and still not make a significant dent against the total number of books I had to sell in order for my mmp to be considered by my publisher as a success.

I'm all for an author getting involved with promotion, but we need to be smart about where we put our time and dollars - after all, we have a limited amount of both! :)
For me, meeting and knowing half a dozen independent mystery bookstore owners was one of the few victories in my one-man marketing campaign.

To me, it's simple math. A fan likes your book, she tells her friends. A bookseller likes your book, he/she tells hundreds of potential fans. Super-readers, I call them.

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