Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Save the Indy 500

This posting is NOT in honor of those guys (and gal) making that three-hour left turn up in Indianapolis today. This post is about some folks who need far more than flame-retardant suits and crash helmuts to survive their race.

I'm talking about independent bookstore owners. Two more closings were announced this month: Cody's Books in Berkeley and Ruminator Books, the nationally-recognized indy in St. Paul. You have to ask the reason? Declining sales and competition from chain stores and the Internet.

This is not an isolated bad month for the indies. Battered by online discounts and chain superstores, the American Booksellers Association has crumbled from 5,200 bookstores in 1991 to 1,702 stores in 2005.

Why should you care?

If you are an author, you probably already know why. As much as we need the chains to make it, most authors' chances of getting big-bucks promotion and placement in the chains and big-box discount stores is pretty small. So the handselling culture of the indies is probably your best chance of making a dent these days. We need these people. Badly.

If you are a reader, you need the intelligence, experience and personal touch the indies can provide. Say you suddenly discovered Val McDermid and ran through her entire catalog in a month. Do you think anyone at your local chain is going to suggest you try Minette Walters? (please, no emails about the fabulous clerk at your local Borders; they are the rare exception, not the rule.)

You're neither reader nor writer, just a human being? Well, damn it, you still should care. Because we need things of charm, idiosyncracy, intelligence and human scale more than ever in our supersized, homogenized, a Gap-on-every-Corner lives.

Yesterday, I attended the second annual Booksellers Appreciation lunch put on by my local Mystery Writers of America chapter. Mitch Kaplan, owner of the splendid Books & Books in Miami, and prez of the American Booksellers Association, was one of our guests. Mitch got into the book biz from a sheer love of what a Carnegie report once pronounced dead: books as things-in-themselves. I'll%


Blogger NL Gassert said...

I just ordered a book through my local Borders, but I think next time (and there will be a next time soon) I’m going to check out a local indy. Now I just have to find an indy in my area … where are the yellow pages?

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. And thanks for a great blog. I spent all day yesterday reading my way through older entries.


4:21 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Try this site. It is the American Booksellers Assn. listing of all their members with phones, websites and everything you need.

Soldier on!

And thanks for reading my blog "backlist"!

6:20 PM  
Blogger NL Gassert said...

Found one. Thank you. Nifty site.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

I'm fortunate enough to have a mystery bookstore in town, Clues Unlimited. I try to buy all my books there.

This weekend I had a signing in Bisbee, at Atalanta Bookstore, an independent owned by Joan Werner. When my first book came out in 1990 (a ghost story set in Bisbee) she sold 125 books.

She recently got 150 more of DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (she's sold 139 in the last two years). Joannie LOVES books set in Bisbee, and fortunately for both of us, the first third of DARKNESS takes place in Bisbee.

The signing was vintage Joannie. She put me at a table outside (fortunately, the shady side of the street) with another author who was selling a book also set in Bisbee. I ended up baby-sitting a dog who is looking for a home, and my husband accosted tourists as they walked by, steering them over to us.

The high point of the day was the guy with the dog, cat, and two mice. The cat sits on the dog, and the mice sit on the cat.

Once, on Halloween night, Joannie and I were having trouble attracting the wandering masses to a booksigning, so we made up a sign that said: "Will Sign Books for Food".

Try that at a chain.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

I've seen the decline of smaller publishers linked to the decline of the indies as well.
A vicious circle.

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Ross Hugo-Vidal said...

Ladies, you rock! As crime writers Julia Spencer-Fleming and Steve Hamilton said in a recent interview, and I quote:

J: Steve, how have independent booksellers influenced your career?
S: They're absolutely essential, as you know so well yourself. First book you have out, especially...Who else is even going to carry it in hardcover?
J: Or handsell it. That's what gets you started and keeps you going as an author. An enthusiastic bookseller putting your work into a customer's hands and saying, "you're going to love this book."
S: Without the independents we both would have blipped in the chain stores and then disappeared. I'll never, ever forget that part, and I'll always make sure I go back to the independents with every book. Always.

Guess that says it all. Midlisters (another endangered species) and indies really ought to band together. Let Julia know if she can anything to support your project. I'll even venture into her garret during writing time! And, trust me, that's taking my life in my hands.
Ross the husband

9:16 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Kris. I'm going to make a point of seeking out indies for my future book purchases.

10:16 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Hey Ross,
Welcome! Any friend (or husband) of Julia's is a friend of mine. Thanks for the kind words, and having just come back from a terrific Florida Mystery Writers conference in Sarasota, let me say it would not have been possible without the participation of Circle Books, a great indy store there. (another must stop in our state). Debbie and Eric not only sold our books on site but were also a conference sponsor. We'll be featuring them in our Indy 500 in the future.

ps. my husband Daniel aka PJ's Cabana Boy, says hey to a fellow Boy.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

what a great post and idea! I've just begun a blog geared towards writers and readers -- after reading this, I too will implement a 'save an indy' element. I'll get my wheels rolling and come up with a format that may work. Again, thanks for the great idea.

Btw, I was referred to your blog by another writer. I'm a reluctant blog reader but have been pleasantly surprised (and have bookmarked) yours -- your intelligent posts make all the difference.

10:21 AM  

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