The friends you keep

Posing with store owner Andy Lacher

Last night, I did a signing at BookStacks, an independent bookshop owned by Andy Lacher in the town of Bucksport, Maine. Enthusiastic readers crowded into the store to hear my remarks, ask questions, and get their books signed. It was a great turnout, especially in a small town like Bucksport, and it had special significance because of how long Andy and I have worked together.

Sixteen years ago, on a cold and rainy night in Bangor, I drove to a store called Booksource to do a reading/signing for HARVEST. It was my first hardcover thriller. Andy was the manager of a successful Maine chain of bookshops who’d enjoyed the galley and took a chance on an unknown author. Did I mention is was a really rainy night? A grand total of two people showed up for my signing … including Andy’s teenage son. Andy was embarrassed and apologetic, but we had a nice visit, I signed stock, and I considered it sadly par for the course of a debut novelist.

As the years passed, bookselling went through a drastic evolution in Maine. Borders moved into Bangor, effectively putting Booksource — and its parent company, Mr. Paperback — out of business. Andy saw that Bangor was an impossible market for a small independent, so he hunted around for another town where he’d be able to make it as a bookseller. In 1997, he opened Bookstacks in Bucksport, a town that’s remote enough to establish its own loyal clientele. Though bookselling’s never an easy business, Bookstacks has hung in there, evolving with the times, and along with books it now sells gifts, cards, toys and coffee.

Ironically, Borders went out of business. And Bookstacks survives.

Just about every year, for the past sixteen years, I’ve driven to Andy’s store to do an event. Since that first miserable night in Bangor, the crowds have grown larger. Part of it, of course, is the fact that my books have simply become more popular. But part of it is that Andy and I have stayed loyal to each other. We understand that there’ll be good turnouts and not-so-good turnouts. The bad turnouts are nobody’s fault; they just happen, and all you can do is shrug and laugh about it. When the turnouts are good, we grin at each other and say, “Remember how bad it was in ’96? Look how far we’ve come!”

It’s sad how many bookshops have gone under since my first book tour. But it’s also heartening to see how many are still with us, including my hometown shop Owl and Turtle, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, and The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. These are the stores I return to again and again, stores who’ve thrived thanks to reader — and author — loyalty.

And… we’re back on Amazon.com!

I’m still not entirely sure how or why it happened, but the problem has been fixed. It’s once again possible to purchase LAST TO DIE in hardcover on Amazon.com.

Whew.

Update: The issue appears to have been a shipping problem, with multiple copies accidentally shipped to a customer. And this took down the “buy” page.

The dangers of relying on a single market

I’ve been watching with interest as so many of my author colleagues migrate toward Amazon self-publishing as the be-all and end-all of success. And I understand why they’re choosing to do so. That heady feeling of control over your product and your destiny. That sense that, yes, the author can determine not just the price of his product but also the cover design and the content. I’ve chosen to stay with traditional publishing because I happen to enjoy working with my editor and my publishing house. I appreciate all they’ve done for me.

And today, I see another reason why my choice has been justified. I checked on Amazon to see how my new book LAST TO DIE is doing, and was startled to come across this announcement on the site:

While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it’s described here. (Thanks for the tip!)

For some unspecified reason, Amazon — the largest online bookseller — has stopped selling the hardcover edition of LAST TO DIE. Without warning, just like that.

Luckily, my book is still for sale by other numerous retailers, from independents to bookstore chains, online and in brick-and-mortar stores. But imagine if the only bookseller carrying your book suddenly, without warning, without reason, chose to halt all your sales. What could you do? How would you ever find your audience? How do you battle against a monopoly?

For this reason alone, I’m happy I’ve gone the traditional publishing route. It’s frightening to rely on the good graces of a single unpredictable bookseller. It’s frightening to know that, with the flick of one electronic switch, your sales could be halted.

Times are changing in the industry, but that old saying still holds true: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.