So. PSA time.
Every single day I get messages–tweets, fbs, emails, etc–from people letting me know their store doesn’t have my books. Or at least, not all of them.
Sometimes it’s because my book isn’t being published in their country, and then I can apologize (not in my control) and direct them to an awesome site like Book Depository (which ships to dozens of countries for free).
But often it’s that their US store–be it their chain store or their indie–doesn’t carry my books. Or doesn’t carry whichever one of my books they were looking for. Chain stores especially have a time frame during which they carry a new title. It depends on a variety of factors, but one of the biggest is shelf space. YA has a huge turnover, a vast number of new books coming out, and that means they have to make room. Sometimes a new hardcover gets a year on the shelf, sometimes 6 months, sometimes 2-3.
I feel like I’ve been lucky. Each of my books has gotten better bookstore placement. When THE NEAR WITCH first came out, Barnes and Noble only took an average of 2 copies. When THE ARCHIVED came out, it averaged 5-6. When VICIOUS hit shelves a week and a half ago, it had absolutely awesome placement.
But store size is also a huge factor. Even VICIOUS, which has New Arrival placement in big Barnes and Nobles, and New Science Fiction and Fantasy placement in medium stores, is not being shelved in EVERY Barnes and Noble. THE ARCHIVED has lasted 9 months, but is fading from shelves at a rapid rate as the stores make sure to clear their stock before the paperback hits shelves in January.
And indie bookstores are a whole different beast. Since indies place their orders independently–where chain store stock decisions are made in blankets–there’s just no way to guarantee that an author of book gets onto the radar of every indie bookstore. Trust me, if there were a way, I would have found it (so would everyone else in the industry).
Every time I get one of these notes, telling me a store didn’t stock my book(s), it’s like a little punch in the chest. Not just because I WISH that every store had all my books, but because many times people say they bought something else instead, or simply left, instead of requesting it.
Here’s the PSA part:
Authors have NO control over which stores do–or don’t–carry their books.
But YOU, as a reader and a book-buyer, DO have control.
You can ask the store to order it.
If enough people do, a store will often start carrying a couple in stock.
Same goes for libraries. If enough requests and holds get put on a book, they will usually order more copies.
YOU are the way to ensure that the books you want by the authors you want get shelved in stores.
So please, when you want a book from a store, ask the store to order it. They will be happy to. And you’ll put a few years back on my life because every time I get that note, it strips a few days off.
So very true. I worked at BAM for three years, and often times if a book wasn’t on a shelf, we couldn’t order to be put on shelves, but we could order it for the individual person and have it shipped to the store or to the person’s house. Now, I work at a library, and we completely listen to what the patrons want ordered. Especially if there is two or three people ask for the same people, the librarians do everything in their power to order the book. If enough people ask, and we know it’s part of a popular, sometimes they will order two copies. It’s a smaller library with limited space in Youth Services (where I work) so we have to be careful about what we order, but if multiple ask, as long as its possible to order, it will get ordered.
Thank you so much for writing this. I’ll be sharing it!
I definitely agree that the power lies predominantly with the customer. But speaking as an indie bookseller, there definitely other factors involved too.
First, indies thrive on relationships. They’re community-focused. If you’re a regular customer, your indie is going to go out of their way to get you whatever you want because you’re really important to them. So yes, please, ask for a book to be ordered. There’s only so much room on the shelf and more books in the world than can fit on those shelves. If you want one that isn’t there, please please please request it. We’re more likely to stock and restock it if you do. However: if I’ve never seen you before and I sense that I’ll never see you again, I won’t go out of my way to keep the book stocked because I don’t have any basis to do so (there’s no relationship there).
Second: authors also have power. When I look into ordering an author’s book(s), one of the first things I do is check their website. Do they *only* link to Amazon? Because that’s definitely not in their favor. Also, what are they like as a person? Maybe that’s unfair, but again, indies are more personal and community-based. Here’s a scenario: Our store is hosting an event for, say, a group of authors and one of those authors is over-the-top-kind. This is what happens: a) if I haven’t read their book I certainly will now, b) I will make sure to always have it on the shelf, and c) I will actively be putting it into the hands of customers. When you have booksellers actively putting your books into the hands of customers, that’s a lot of power.
These are SUCH great points, thank you so much for adding them to the post. It’s invaluable to have an indie store weigh in.
Awesomeness! I have to say, as a book addict, I have no shame what-so-ever in walking up to the front desk of a bookstore and asking if a book I can’t find can be ordered for me. I’ll even provide the author, title, and ISBN if they want it. The store is usually great about this, and calls when it comes in. Plus, I avoid paying for shipping this way. Win-win, right?
As a librarian, I’ve got some of the same problems going as the bookstores: too many books and not enough money or space. So, I pick carefully, hoping I chose correctly. One great thing I do want to mention about public libraries is something called the InterLibrary Loan system. Just because your library system doesn’t have the book, and is probably not going to buy the book just for you, doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy it. The ILL system is a great thing libraries use to borrow items from different systems around the state or country. You just need to ask your local library about it.
[…] Victoria Schwab wrote an interesting and informative blog post called Authors, Bookstores and the Books that Are and Aren’t In Them. […]
Hi there and excellent points. I worked for a bookestore chain in Europe for a while. Shelf space, store location and predicted book performance all factor in the decision of a bookstore to carry a title. Publishing companies visit the bookstore buying teams 3/4 months in advance of any book release and the decision of what title is purchased is made then ( so for example now they’ll be buying for the January sales). Once it arrives on the shelves the books is “new” for three months. If the title performs well in the three months it becomes core stock (i.e it is always in store) otherwise it gets discounted and/or returned to the publisher (or a combination of both.
Here where I am unfortunatuly there aren’t that many indies – and frankly, the indies buy from the chain wholesale – so that kind of defies the purpose of a indie.
Also – and this is my personal opinion and personal experience – a lot of titles in the States never, ever make it onto a bookshelf over here and when you try and order it at a store they won’t necessarily include it in stock. It depends on the range the store carries.
This is so very true Victoria! I’m glad you posted this because it’s something that most people don’t realize or even try to do when they can’t find a title they want. While I’ve been lucky to visit stores that carry most of the books I’m looking for, I definitely would be one of those people who would request a book if I couldn’t find it!