My guest this week is Kris Neri, award-winning author, writing instructor, and bookseller. Kris offers advice to authors from her multi-pronged perspective. And I'm proud to say Kris is my local bookseller.
Welcome Kris! What's it really like being both an author and a bookseller? Now, don't be shy.
As Charles Manson once said, "Are people strange, or am I just crazy?" Call me naïve, but as a published author myself, I assumed other authors must interact with booksellers as courteously as I do. I've always believed intelligence and unusual sensitivity to be typical traits among those who write. For the most part I've found that to be true. But I’m also a bookseller now — my husband and I own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona. During my four-year tenure as a bookseller, I've discovered that, for a minority, common sense among authors is not as common as you might think.
So here are a just a few of the no-no’s I've observed that the authors among you, and those who hope to be, might want to avoid:
Don't expect the bookseller to take a sacrifice for you. This advice is directed to the self-published and those published by presses that don't offer traditional terms to the trade. Someone emailed us recently to say she was published by a small press and asked if we could host an appearance for her. I told her to send a copy of the book, and I mentioned if wasn't available through traditional outlets, she would have to provide it on consignment at a 40% discount. For a store to take less means they must sell that book at a loss.
The "small press" turned out to be iUniverse, a self-publishing outlet that only offers a 20% discount and doesn't allow for book returns — two conditions that make it impossible for most stores to carry their books. Still, the book was well written. But when I offered to give her an appearance, she thought it was time for negotiations. "I just bought a $32,000 truck," she wrote, "I can't give you 40%. I need to make money from this book."
Okay, let me take a moment here to laugh my butt off at that idea. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it's happened too many times. They always seem to enjoy a more lavish lifestyle than I do and they act as if I'm unreasonable for not being willing to subsidize it (How can one universe have so many centers?) And it's always for a book that people are not breaking down the door to get.
Every spot on a bookstore shelf is a space that could just as easily go to someone else. When it's a book of marginal interest, that's a gift. If they have any issue with anyone, it should be with publishers who aren't professional enough to understand how other books are sold, and price and sell their books accordingly.
Some authors have suggested to me that it’s unfair that bookstores make a 40% profit on every book they sell. Boy, is that wrong. Here’s the bottom line of bookselling finances: 60% of every dollar goes to costs of goods sold; that’s primarily books, but it also includes a few gift items, greeting cards, journal, etc. 40% of every dollar pays for everything else; that includes rent, utilities, taxes, salaries, internet, printing costs, credit card processing fees, advertising, telephone, computers & printers, and on and on. Clearly, even the most math-challenged can see that adds up to absolutely 0% profit.
The American Bookseller Association estimates the average bookstore is losing money. They say the average successful bookstore averages 1-2% profit. So, when authors suggest that it’s no big deal when their book carries a less-than-traditional discount, it is a big deal to booksellers. Which author do you think a bookstore owner would rather carry or host an event for? The one whose book will allow them to make a tiny profit, or at a minimum, break even? Or the one who will cost them money for every book sold?
What can authors do to help?
If the store needs something from you to insure your event will be a success, don't make it impossible for the bookseller to get it. One of our local newspapers will only run artwork that's of fairly high resolution. Often when we manage to line up prominent coverage in the local paper, I have to ask the author for high resolution artwork, because what's on their website is too low. Yet too often the author who was so eager to book the date will say, "Can't you get it somewhere else? I don't have time to do that for you." For me? I could just as easily transfer that coverage to the author appearing the next day.
Every author should actually have a media page on their website, with good quality cover art, photos and easy-to-use biographical information. But too few do. You know who to contact at your publisher, I don't. If a publicist set up the gig, naturally, I would contact her for what I need. But if an author sets it up, who else am I supposed to ask when I need something? Why wouldn't you make it easy for me? Sometimes I suspect their resistance stems from the fact that they don't understand what I'm asking for. If you don't know what "high resolution" means, ask someone. Why cut yourself off from free publicity because you're too embarrassed to admit you're techno-phobic?
I'm looking forward to reading your first paranormal novel High Crimes on the Magical Plane to see how a few years close to the Sedona vortexes has affected your writing. Besides High Crimes and running a bookstore, how are you keeping busy?
My third Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, will be out in Spring ’10. And I’m hard at work on my next Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, and my next Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty supernatural mystery, MAGICAL ALIENATION. That’s quite enough to keep me busy for now!
Kris Neri is the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award-nominated author of the Tracy Eaton mystery series, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN and DEM BONES' REVENGE, and the forthcoming REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE; a standalone thriller, NEVER SAY DIE, and a short story collection, THE ROSE IN THE SNOW: TALES OF MISCHIEF AND MAYHEM.
In fall ’09, the first book in a new supernatural series will be published, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE. Kris has published sixty short stories, including two Derringer Award winners. She teaches writing online for the Writers' Program of the UCLA Extension School. Kris Neri is co-owner of The Well Red Coyote. bookstore in Sedona, Arizona.
Watch for Part 2 of Authors Behaving Badly
& more of Kris Neri's candid insider information!
& more of Kris Neri's candid insider information!