The Bookstore

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Sunday, March 1, 2020. Day four of posting and if the poor world only knew what it had unleashed upon itself…, well, it’s their own fault. “Get a website, start blogging – you won’t sell books without an author platform!” Such is the unequivocal wisdom promulgated by… other bloggers. And the source of this wisdom? Traditional publishers, of course, and the oddly naïve group of literary agents who service them on their own dime. Literary agents and agencies, don’t get me started. First of all, they’re comprised of 80% women. Which merely reflects the current demographic of fiction readers. Eighty-percent women. It’s crazy. What in hell are men reading?

Who cares? Embitterment amongst writers who don’t sell books seems pervasive. One can find articles – blog posts – that try to suggest that all of us who have less than three published books to sell ought not to try to sell anything – you don’t have enough to sell, they say. Instead of trying to advertise your novel, keep writing more of them. Okay, personally, I’ve already done that to the extent, as I’ve said, that the next two books in the series are in draft. But publishing them is another matter entirely. Because what does it take to indie publish your book? In a word, six months and sixty-five hundred dollars.

WHAT? That’s right, folks; six months and sixty-five hundred dollars, minimum. That’s what it cost me in time and money to get from a self-edited manuscript. And I’m confident, by way of my research that I didn’t get ripped off by any means, that the money that I spent, at least, was about average these days. But publishing on Amazon is free! – you lament. Yes. And if you’ve spent eighty-five bucks on your ALLi membership (Alliance of Independent Authors) publishing at Ingramspark is also “free.” Scare quotes intentional. Because I didn’t find out about this until after I’d waste one-hundred and fifty bucks setting up then revising my book. For the second state version, in which I beefed up my citations with nonsense copyright info demanded by one of my sources – another blog topic, just wait – I got my freebie.

Meanwhile, try reading your own manuscript eight times in five long years and you’ll understand why trying to be an author – the term I use for published writer – is one hell of an exercise in crazed endurance. Who amongst you has read anything more than once? Well, over a lifetime, I’ve read The Great Gatsby five times, the Lord of the Rings twice and, well, with so much else to read who’s going to go back and read anything again?

Why did it take you five years to publish TIME CRIME? It just did, that’s all. And, again, from what I’ve read about first time novelists, five years from the beginning to the end of the process is not at all uncommon. It has to do, mostly, with not knowing anything about what the f*ck you’re doing. So that it’s all a mountainous learning curve that needs to be scaled, step by low oxygen step, until the summit is attained. Oh, and there’s the stopping and starting to endure, too. That is to say, the manner in which probably each of us wannabes variously spends time away from the writing (though the story never ceases to occupy your mind) and the research and the learning of the business of trying to get published. First, in the traditional manner, by way of appealing to the aforementioned literary agents – as tedious and time consuming process as any if you’re going to do it properly – then, by way of surrendering to your indie status, which is all that is left to you. Having collected one-hundred-fifty or so rejections myself from literary agents and agencies over two years because I was naïve and foolish enough to try submitting my pitch and synopsis twice, once soon after I completed the novel and again after I’d finally had it professionally edited, as if it would make a difference. Nobody wants to read your sh*t. This is the advice from yet another blog. And it’s categorically true. Not even professional readers want to read your sh*t.

This post has acquired the embittered tint that I was trying to avoid and for that I apologize. Giving folks something besides your novel so as to try to interest them, obliquely, in the possibility of investigating your book or books is the advice that I’m attempting to engage. That, and like I said, I’ve been journaling/blogging for ten years as a necessary act of self-work and psychological auto-therapy anyway. So that this type of bloviation is a very old, deeply ingrained, reliably cathartic and effective treatment for the chronic disease of obscurity that apparently most writers across the globe, nay, the cosmos, are required to suffer. Yes, suffer. We can all admit, us writers, that we suffer. There’s no shame in it. And if courage, as someone once said, is being afraid and doing it anyway, then I’d say any writer who has fought through and kept writing from within the oftentimes cosmically frightening perspective of the void, is courageous.

The bookstore. My wife Angie and I like to go on urban treks – walking is one of our unpaid vocations and meditations, devoted walkers will understand what I mean by that – and yesterday, on a whim, we decided to haul ourselves all the way across town to visit the other bookstore in town that was supposedly stocking the novel. Crazy Wisdom is the other and it’s stuffed spine-out in the dark, bottom shelf corner of the store entitled, “Local Authors.” Yikes, who in hell would dare to get down on their knees and examine such detritus? Not me and I write the stuff. Anyway, knowing it’s a little threadbare place – the owners are ex of the infamously out-of-business Borders – I expected to struggle to find the novel anywhere but indeed there it was, face out! – on a rack near the front of the store. Too bad it was filed under “Michigan Themed.” Yep. The “Local Author” shelf above it was probably too full. Oh well, there it was, nonetheless. My novel, my book. For sale in a bookstore!

And not selling. With no hope of selling. Who would be motivated to pick it up? The science fiction section, with an empty little book stand practically crying out for the presence of TIME CRIME, was on the other side of the albeit diminutive store. But it may have had a chance there, face out amongst its kin, at least. And I thought of suggesting that to the owner, occupying his behind the cash register that wasn’t ever ringing. Ugh. I can tell you, what I and perhaps every wannabe author considered a thrilling right of passage into authorship – getting your book displayed in an honest to God real bookstore! – had turned out to be one of the most disappointing and downright demoralizing experiences of my life. Yes, there’s my book on the shelf. Fraught and alone and without even a bookstore employee review card attached to it to help distinguish it from all the other lost books souls. Which is to remind everyone that bookstore owners and, if they can afford the luxury of employees, their supposedly book loving employees, don’t want to read your sh*t, either. You can’t pay people to read your sh*t. I’m telling you, with all sincerity. Because all of us wannabes have considered it, c’mon, you know it: paying somebody to read and then – hope beyond hope – review it. It won’t happen. But now I know why record company folks used to supply disc jockeys (yes, I’m dating myself now) with not only their latest album releases but a bag of cocaine or pot or, I don’t know, cash? Hey, man, here’s the latest, your listeners will love it, give this a spin, wink, wink.

The bookstore. I’ll be going through the motions after March 5th with the last of independent bookstores in town that agree to stock indie books. After March 5th because that’s when Nicola’s, as they told me, updates their inventory and they’d be happy to take the book for consideration then. The aforementioned bookstore, BookBound, used Ingramspark to order it under the return policy (I’m waiting to see that return show up in my Ingram account, to be sure) but Crazy Wisdom and Nicola’s for whatever reason want you to “donate” the book to them – they let you have it back after six months or they supposedly give it away. Why bother, why not just “destroy” it? Or just toss it? Who cares? I asked the manager at Crazy Wisdom how many copies of popular books they sell, just to get an idea of the possibilities, and she responded with the shocking truth that for them, a best-selling title amounts to two-hundred copies. Hmm. But here’s the shocking kicker: two-hundred copies after THIRTY YEARS of being in business as a bookstore! My God. I mean, never having worked in a bookstore (I’ve worked in music stores and ought to have been able to predict such unholy impossibilities), it was a devasting realization. Well, not devastating. But it made me wish I hadn’t blown ninety-five bucks on the “email blast” advertisement I went to the trouble to design myself and have “blasted” to their so-called “6,000+ member” email list. Hmm. Two-hundred copies in thirty years? And unbelievable and complete waste of money. Let it go.

Bookstores, then. Forget it. Oh, but I can hear somebody saying, Hey, buddy, don’t be so negative – you never know who’ll be in a bookstore and might buy your book and recommend it to somebody else and she told two friends and… how do you think J.K. Rowling got her break, after all? Yeah, I know, word of mouth. But the idea of the type of remarkable success experienced by what I’m calling statistical outliers will be discussed, inevitably, in yet another blog post. Meanwhile, getting your book into the hands of a person of influence, getting them to somehow read it and then having them, by the grace of the gods above and below, actually like it is the only realistic expectation – strike that, strategy – that makes statistical sense. Sorry for the dismal atmosphere on this post but so be it, it’s part of the wild, psychological rollercoaster ride of the wannabe author. Good days, bad days, pass the bottle. See you tomorrow?