Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shelf Space For Joe Blow

Zestful Blog Post #104

When I started working at the second store Tom and Louis Borders opened, in suburban Detroit, we had a lot of autonomy. One of the side things we did was ‘consignments’. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible. Therefore, anybody who believed in their book enough to go the trouble and expense of having it produced—after, in most cases, having tried and failed to find a publisher—could get their book on our shelves. The process was labor intensive: each copy of each book had to be specially marked so it could be rung up properly (in the unlikely event that somebody bought it), then shelved, then kept track of. Each author had to be paid by check, and each author was entitled to call up and ask at any time how things were going. We could only carry two or three copies at a time.

This amounted to an unprofitable situation for the store, but we kept it up essentially as a public service. Naturally, when the company got big and everybody had to do what headquarters said, consignments went away.

Customers rarely bought consignment titles, in no small part because production values were dismal. Joe Blow, who had written a 327-page manifesto on why the Upper Peninsula should be granted sovereign nation status, had to balance the cost of hardcover vs. paper cover; spiral binding vs. stapled vs. perfect vs. sewn; glossy cover stock vs. matte; a professional designer vs. his admittedly talented eleven-year-old niece; a print run of 200 at a cost of $15 per copy at a total cost of $3,000 payable now, vs. a run of 1,000 at $8 per copy for a total of $8,000. No wonder most self-pubbed titles looked pathetic, whether they contained precious gems of knowledge or drivel.

Fast-forward to today. For zero cash upfront, or for very little, Joe Blow’s descendants can insta-pub their books with production values that would make Grandpa’s head explode. And they can, of course, sell their books—physical and digital—on line. Still, authors crave the experience of seeing their books on a store’s shelves.

The other day my friend and blog follower Cordia sent me a link to an article by Judith Rosen in Booklife about a new kind of bookstore.

The place is essentially all-consignment, where authors pay for shelf placement, and are responsible for their own marketing and restocking. It’s a truly new business model for bookstores, and I’ll be interested to see if it catches on. I think it will. Be on the lookout for many more titles by the Blow publishing dynasty.

My own most recent title, Left Field, was just reviewed by the talented and perceptive team of Cheri Fuller and Nikki Little in Curve magazine online. Excerpt: “The mystery is well done and complex but not overly so, and the author did an admirable job making us second-guess our assumptions throughout the book. This one is filled with deception, shady dealings, conspiracies, and questionable characters. What more could a reader ask for?” I'll tell you that an author couldn't ask for a nicer review.

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