Independents at what cost?

Who loves Independent bookstores? I’d really like for you to take a moment after you read this note and tell the rest of what the name of your favorite Independent bookstore is and why. I’d also like you to tell us where that store is. They deserve to recognized! But before you do that, I want to share my current thoughts with you. This comes on the heels of a week of phone calls, e-mails, and one snail mail letter regarding Independent bookstores. 

Okay, I’m going to speak freely and hope not to get kicked out of the industry, but I have to ask. 

How are the Independent stores going to survive if many of them have taken on the attitudes of the superchains? We, authors and publishers, are constantly driving ourselves insane with ways to market, many times focusing on marketing to the Independent stores with the sole purpose of supporting them as Independents. 

What the heck for? 

I don’t direct this at all Independent stores, just the ones who feel the need to: 

1. Forgo good customer service.

2. Refuse to do author events.

3. Treat most authors like second hand muck.

4. Refuse to think outside the box when picking books to sell. 

These are just a few of the things my authors and I Have faced over the last two weeks with more than a dozen Independent stores in 4 different states. 

When we call to talk to them, they are rude. We leave messages, they never return calls. We drop by with promo materials they hold them like they are infested with bacteria. (One Independent store actually dropped the materials into trashcan as author was leaving store–gosh how good that author must have felt seeing that.) 

It seems to be becoming common practice to charge authors to do events? They call it co-op, but it is far worse. Two stores this week, claimed they only work with Self-published authors if–I explained we are an Independent publisher, they insist this is pretty much the same as self-publishing-um, side note: why are we consider self-pubbed (and not in a good way) because we are Independent, and yet they are Independent and are convinced they deserve to be worshipped and adored. Back to point: we pay a certain amount to be on the shelf, on consignment, they won’t order through distribution channels, we pay a higher price to be in store and mentioned in newsletter, and another twice as high price for an event. PLUS we have to give them 50% discount. Um, and this wasn’t just one store it was two in as many days. Two different states. 

When did it become okay for Independent stores to look down upon other Independent businesses with total disdain. I had one author go back to a store several times. She asked who the owner was, was given a name and told she wasn’t in. Went back a few days later, asked for owner, was told by “customer service rep” wearing name badge with the same name as the owner that the owner was not in. Okay, it could have been the same name different person, but what are the chances, really? 

Augie Aleksy, World's Greatest Bookseller!

And what happens to Independent stores when they refuse to bring in anything but the bestsellers and everyone already has all the best sellers? The best seller list has been known to keep the same books on it for weeks at a time. 

Doesn’t this cut into potential sales when customers buy them up the first week? What do they buy the second week? 

There are authors out there who are marketing their butts off to readers and doing everything right, but still can’t sell books because they want to support their Independent stores but the Independent stores won’t carry the books the readers want. Those same Independent stores get furious when we Independent pubs and authors promote the likes of Amazon. It is traitorous, they tell us and they aren’t going to support us if we do that. Problem is we do that because they won’t support us. 

I ask again, why is it demanded that we support a business that refuses to support us? 

And the poor readers. I often visit bookstores when I travel. I rarely tell anyone I am a publisher, I am usually visiting to buy books or just enjoy the feel of a cozy bookstore. The last ten Independent bookstores I have been in were dreadful. I was never greeted, not once in any of the ten stores. I asked for help in a couple and while the responses were varied, only ONE bookseller was willing to help me, and that wasn’t until after she finished talking to her daughter about her grandson’s upcoming birthday party—15 minutes. Glutton that I am, stayed just to see how long it would take. 

Several of the stores did not have the books I was looking for and one refused to even try to get it because it was not from a real publisher. Really? 

Once Upon A Crime, Minneapolis, MN

I LOVE Independent bookstores. I used to own one, and I miss it dreadfully. But I can say with pride that even the nastiest most disgusting and rude customers were treated with respect and my staff and I did everything in our power to ensure they were satisfied, we were even nice to the creepy guy who sat in the back corner of the store reading the romance novels and making scary moaning noises. Why? Because he was a customer and after his little sit downs, he always bought books. 

I beg of you Independent booksellers out there, don’t put yourselves up on pedestals and think you are better than everyone else and should be treated special. Give us the good customer service our loyalty and money earns us and let US put you up on the pedestals. If you treat us well, we will adore you. 

Now, because I ask you to do it, I will tell you my favorite Independent bookstores. 

First and foremost is Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, IL. If you’ve never met Augie Aleksy, you should make the trip. He is a delight and he loves his customers. I honestly think he is my favorite bookseller ever. 

I also give huge kudos to the folks over at Olde Towne Books & Tea in Oswego, IL. These people are just plain cool. 

Another store in Woodstock, IL that earns my praise is Read Between the Lynes, I’ve never been there, but have worked them repeatedly and they are nice as pie. 

Ooh, and the Pat and her gang at Once Upon a Crime in Minnesota. Now, those are some nice folks who really know how to treat their customers. 

Mr. Shaw who owns Books Plus in Amelia Island, FL is a doll and his store caters to their customers. 

There are plenty more, but I would like to know who YOUR favorite stores are and why. Don’t they deserve your praise?


13 responses to “Independents at what cost?

  1. Dragons & Fairy Tales in Eagle Mountain Utah.

    They’re new, family owned, and specialize in local SF/F authors, including those like me that are published through small presses or self-published. Considering we have Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Tracy Hickman, Shannon Hale, and a lot more big name SF/F and YA authors that live local, that’s a pretty heavy hitting list. The store is friendly and fun. I was at a multi-author signing there just a week ago. They brought in treats and made us feel welcome and special.

    Plus the owner has a very cute baby that stays at the store with her.

  2. Great article! I’m in the Tampa area of Florida and I’m self-published. Last year, I visited an independent bookstore in Tampa and was treated like I had fungus growing from all my orifices. I asked about leaving copies of my books for the owner to consider carrying in her story. The two clerks sort of shrugged, then had me write my name and number on a sticky note that they stuck on top of the pile. I said I was going to look around and they did another little shrug. I was very disappointed to see that this “independent” bookstore was featuring quite a few mainstream bestsellers. Neither clerk ever approached me again and I never heard from the owner. I sent a follow-up email to the site and received a generic reply that they refuse 99% of requests from authors. If an independent bookstore isn’t supporting independent authors in their own community, what exactly is their purpose?

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  4. Epilog Books in Quincy, CA and in Graeagle, CA. Chris is the best!

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  6. Thaddeus Dombrowski

    Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona is one of my favorites (out of those that still exist). Another, down in Tucson, is Antigone Books.

  7. almost forgot Read it again and again bookstore in south Houston. Both these stores sell limited new books, though. Mostly used book sales. Murder by the Book is very good if you have a mystery. Harder to find SF/SFR stores, even in a city as large as Houston.

  8. Maybe you should try out West. I love Mysterious Galaxy in the Clairemont suburb of San Diego. They offer a delicious selection of mysteries and science fiction. They have author signings and book parties nearly every weekend. They have a personal touch. They also will mail your books to you. You don’t even have to visit, though I’d advise you to do so.

    I have a hard time imagining the treatment you describe. I must know and visit some very good booksellers.

  9. See, Marilyn, that is what I mean. As a former bookseller I know what is involved in doing the author events. It doesn’t have to be costly for the store. More than anything authors simply need a place to set up a stack of books and sell.

    As a publisher, I have been known to supply all the promotional materials for events, bag stuffers to announce the events, bookmarks for the stores to distribute announcing the event. I have even been know to buy a GC from the store for a lucky guest and that money goes back into that store.

    Some of my authors are literally begging to do events in Indy stores because they want to deal with that kind of customer, you know the type: they come in aon a regualr basis, sometimes just to talk books, they are open to new things, especially if the store staff has good things to say.

    I wish I could convince more stores that we know need handholding, we just need a table and an open cash register for the books to be paid for.

    I don’t know what else to offer stores to make it easier.

  10. Willow Bridge Bookstore in Oakhurst CA. We do have to bring our own books in, but sells them with a better discount for the authors than if she’d ordered them. I’ve given numerous talks there to the writers’ group that meets in the store–and just talked about my newest book.

    Books Off Main, Porterville CA is a used book store, but so open to local authors, displays my books on a prominent shelf where all can see at the entrance to the store and I’ve had two book launches there and owner has provided cookies and drinks.

  11. Katy Budget Books, Houston TX. I thanked them one time and they said, “Without authors, we wouldn’t have a job.” 🙂

  12. Isn’t that Tanzy Cutter’s store? Or maybe used to be. I have heard many people say wonderful things about the Tattered Cover. Glad to have them on our list of stores to love!


  13. Jemiah Jefferson

    I will always love my very first independent bookstore, the Tattered Cover in Denver, CO. The stores are immaculate, warm, friendly, staffed with awesome people, and they actually treat visiting authors extremely well as well as having some of the finest customer service I’ve ever gotten in a bookstore. While in Denver, there’s never any point in going to a chain bookstore when the TC is there for you.

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