Friday, July 31, 2009

Authors Behaving Badly: A Bookseller Tells All Part 1

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 na├»ve, 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!


  1. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to make me more informed. :) ~Skhye

  2. Keri, great information. I hope you get many well-behaved authors to make up for the bad.

  3. Hi Kris! Every time I visit a bookstore, I tell the bookseller that they are my hero! And it's the truth. Booksellers are an author's best friends.

    I hear you about common sense being AWOL. I've done lots of guest blogging and the horror stories I've heard from blog owners about their guests would curl your toes.

    Demanding diva treatment is the best way not to get it!

    Thanks for all you do!
    Emily Bryan

  4. great job, amber. i like your blog. i interview on mine too.

  5. Great post, Keri. We just had book signings in a local bookstore during the 5 Wednesday's of July. The reason is worked so well is that the bookstore was willing to do what was within their means (space, in store advertising, local authors table) and we were willing to do our part (out of store advertising, multiple authors each night, etc.) It has to be a set-up that is equitable for the bookstore. And anything that gets an author's name out there is good for the author, eh? I can't imagine ever being that rude to a bookseller. Yikes! :) Thank you for giving us this insight. And thanks to Amber for the interview.

  6. Hi Keri, I thought the name of your bookstore sounded familiar. Sedona is my favorite place to visit. Thanks for sharing your views as a bookseller. It was very informative.

  7. So, were I as a publisher to offer booksellers the same deeper discount for direct sales as I give my authors, would that be sufficient balance for a no-returns policy?

    Consignments would still be 40%, and I consider any returnable placement a consignment.

    It's not that savvy authors and intelligent publishers don't understand the difficulties booksellers face. It's that they are no longer willing to subsidize a bookseller's business at the cost of their own ability to make a profit.

    I don't hold with short discounts and never have. However, I, too, have COGS and overhead. Unlike traditional publishing conglomerates, I don't have multiple revenue streams to support my publishing efforts.

    For that reason, I believe booksellers need to engage in dialogue with small, digitally based publishers to determine whether there isn't some new model that would allow us to work together for mutual benefit instead of the, frankly, somewhat one-sided one that now exists.

  8. Libraries that schedule author appearances often have the same problems. Today a publicist (of a very small publisher) told me several of her authors didn't want to do library programs anymore, because the attendance was too small. I told her that was fine, but to realize we are one of the largest systems in the US, provide a huge amount of FREE publicity and know our patrons buy books that are featured on our websites.
    Too bad for those authors, because there are plenty more who want to do programs for us.

  9. Thanks for the reminder. I need to update my media page and make room for Killer Career. So many things to remember when a new book comes out. It feels like I'm forgetting half of them. I've got lists all over the place.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. Keri, as an indie writer, I appreciate the advice. I can't imagine being so rude to a bookseller (or anyone) and if an author doesn't know the business well enough to know 40% is expected and required by bookstores and libraries, that author shouldn't be doing it on her own. I do have heartburn with those asking 55% discounts. By the time you add together the publishing cost and 55% discounts, there's nothing left to make it worth the writer's time to sell a story that she may have been working on for two years or thereabout.

    Returns are an issue, as Elizabeth mentioned. If a store orders 20 and sells 2 just to return the rest, that gets taken out of the author's pay and she loses money. There does have to be a better balance for less risk all around.

    Amber, thanks for hosting such a provocative discussion.

  11. Good post Kris,
    What you say is so true. 99% of authors do the right thing, but there is always that small percentage who are so selfish they can think of no-one but themselves.
    I wish your bookstore was closer to me. But America is too far away from Australia for me to come over and browse through your shelves.

  12. I love your insights, Keri. Your books sound cool too. Amber - the new wordshaping part works for me.