Dec 5 2006
Okay, so you know I’ve tried to stick with my one rant a week theorem because no one wants to hear rants everyday or even every other day or, generally, more than once a week. But the more that I ponder the December 1, 2006, blog post by Holly Lisle, the more I am moved to respond.
Ms. Lisle is the author thirty published books, some non fiction, some fantasy and some romantic suspense. Tara Marie read and enjoyed one of Lisle’s Last Girl Dancing. I have that book in my TBR pile, but haven’t gotten around to reading it. PaperbackWriter aka Lynn Viehl is giving away Lisle’s latest book because she loves it so much (and probably because she wants to help another writer’s career along). Apparently, Ms. Lisle’s books have an extraordinarily high sell through rate. On Bookseller Chick’s blog, Lisle claims
Through most of my career, my sellthrough on first books out has been around 90%. On several novels, it has been 97%.
Despite these astronomical sell through rates (industry average is less than 50%), Lisle says that her career is being killed by Chain Bookstores. In Ms. Lisle’s fantasy construct, the white hats are the Indie Booksellers and the black hats are the Chain Booksellers. The dark lord Sauron is determined, according to Lisle, to bury the midlist author.
Then came the chains, which began slaughtering midlister's careers left and right, hundreds at a time.
Amongst the dark lord’s sins are the failure or refusal of the bookseller in the chain to read the book; to want to respond to the market (ie promising sales); or even to actually want to sell books. Gandalf, on the other hand, merrily reads all the books sent to him, lovingly stocks the books even after interest has waned and ensures that the midlist writer could make a living writing.
Once upon a time, all bookstores were indie bookstores, and many Midlist Writers had real careers and could feed their families on their writing.
Gandalf’s minions, the Hobbits, cheerfully handsell all books. They never scoff at a romance readers inquiry about midlist authors like Caroline Linden or Carla Kelly. They never deem romance books as trash; instead the Hobbits value all the book readers the same. In Lisle’s Middle Earth, there is no Wal-mart, Costco, Target or grocery stores that comprise over 50% of the book market. There is only Moldor and Gondor.
Lisle goes on to say that Local Chain booksellers do not order books once they run out in the store and that they are prohibited from doing so and that midlist books have no chance of selling more than their original order. Perhaps she does not know of the story of Lora Leigh’s Megan’s Mark, a debut book that went back for a second printing within the first three weeks of its release. Lisle then claims that when the last copy sells out, it will never been seen in the bookstore again even if it is the first book of a series.
Even if they are not, though–"even if Local Chain receives seven copies and sells six, Local Chain WILL NOT REORDER THE BOOK unless it sells above a set number chain-wide.
Not true according to my sources. A book may be re-ordered according to the discretion of the local chain bookseller. Bookseller Jolie makes it a practice to have each one of a series no matter how the first books have sold because readers don’t want to come in and buy book 3 without having book 1 and 2 available. It’s an immediate upsell to have all the books in a series available at the store.
The computer spits out the fact that Midlist Writer's New Novel sold 900 copies, so Corporate Buyer, who almost certainly hasn't read the book, hasn't talked to a single reader about the book, and looks at the book as no different than Cans of Tuna, Brand A, will order 900 copies of Midlist Writer's Next Novel.
Lisle does not appear to have cultivated a relationship with corporate bean counters. If she did, she would have found that at Borders, there is a buyer designated for romance who believes that booksellers get into the business because he or she likes books. Sue Grimshaw often gets feedback from her 200+ romance experts situated throughout the country at Waldens and Border bookstore. She even reportedly browses the internet to learn more about an author and her novels. Now it is true that Lisle recent releases aren’t romances, but maybe she could have tried to take advantage of this list, of making a connection with a buyer, of making connection with chain booksellers.
Maybe a dozen novels a year, marked for failure, will rise naturally out of the midlist, saved by reader word-of-mouth, and force corporate beancounters to take notice.
Bookstores, says a manager of a local chain bookstore, receive arcs and promotional items from authors to help cull their book from the pack. She also says “if she doesn’t have time to read an entire book, she’ll read bits and pieces so she’ll know what customer to recommend the book to and if she hasn’t read it at all, she’ll ask customers about the books.” Perhaps Ms. Lisle should have spent time cultivating relationships like those.
It’s true that midlist authors don’t get the recognition and sales that they perhaps deserve and that promising careers have been terminated but to blame the midlist authors sales demise on one thing such as chain booksellers seems shortsighted and erroneous. I find it hard to believe that an author whose sell through rate is 90%+ could ever lose a contract with a publisher. After taking a beating in the comments at Bookseller Chick, Ms. Lisle appears to backpeddle, defending herself by stating
First, offense here was taken where none was given. I noted that good booksellers are hard to find at chains. This is based on my fifteen years of experience as a professional writer visiting, signing at, and being a customer at uncounted stores from San Fransisco all the way to South Florida, and everywhere in between.
I NEVER suggested that all chain booksellers were mouth-breathing drones, or anything of the sort. I never suggested that all chain booksellers were incompentent, or whatever else has been suggested here that I said or implied.
Dunno, Ms. Lisle. Pretty sure that when you call Indie Booksellers the HEROES and Chain Booksellers the VILLIANS that your words were taken and consumed appropriately.