Burn your own house down

Last month, Publishers Weekly featured a Soapbox column written by Mike Joachim, a book buyer for The Paper Store, a regional chain based in New England. In it, Joachim offers five "rules" to help self-published authors get access to The Paper Store's retail shelves.

Unfortunately, Joachim's rules sound all too familiar:

  1. Price the book right
  2. Find a "real" distributor (Ingram, for example)
  3. Hire an editor
  4. Hire a cover designer
  5. Don't contact the buyer more than three times

In other words: please do everything that traditional book publishers do, because that's the model that works for us. As Joachim concludes:

… nothing can replace the publishing professionals who have spent their careers learning how to select, edit, create and market solid products that people want to buy. As this self-publishing trend continues, the entrepreneurs involved need to pay attention and try their best to match the market.

Last summer, I posted some thoughts about efforts by a Palo Alto independent bookseller, Kepler's Books, to reinvent itself. The group that convened for a weekend workshop came up with eight "foundational principles" for a new Kepler's. Among those principles:

  • Be dedicated to community outreach
  • Serve as a gathering place for creative events and social events
  • Support life-long learning and literary education

Oh, and one other principle of interest: "Provide a carefully curated selection of books".

I don't think Mike Joachim is going to look my way when it comes to best practices in book buying, but here's my two cents. Local authors with self-published works will almost never get picked up by a chain. Those bigger retailers impose all the same rules that The Paper Store does, and they won't return any of the calls. 

Regional and independent bookstores have an opportunity to turn a bug – dealing with the annoying, unprofessional self-published author – into a feature. Hold workshops. Create dedicated spaces for locally produced work. If you want to spring for an in-store POD machine, you might even help create some of those works.

And invite the public to join in the conversation. Sure, there will be clunkers. And yes, it will take resources. But it will also reward community and create a base of support that no national chain (including the one in Seattle) can readily mimic.

Honestly, I love independent bookstores. I recently went to Posman's and bought books just so that I could thank the sales staff for their owners' anti-DRM lawsuit. That's why I struggle with Joachim's stance on self-published authors. Turn your back on your community, and you're burning your own house down.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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