Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Of course I love going in actual bookstores—who doesn’t!-- whether it’s Borders, Barnes & Noble, my local Red Balloon Bookshop for children, Sixth Chamber used books, Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books, Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, or my old haunts in the Bay Area—Kepler’s, Book Passage. So many fabulous bookstores, so little time.
But where do I BUY my books?
Honestly? I have bought mostly online for at least ten years now. I have a budget like most people—price matters. Time matters—I don’t like running around looking for books that are not on the shelves. I go to bookstores to browse and see the books, pick them up, and spend time with them. And then I buy books I didn’t know I was going to have to buy—budget be damned. But for books I know I want or need to read for work, I buy them online quickly, efficiently, and with free shipping. I don’t think I’m different from most people. So no wonder bookstores have seen their business drop and drop and drop…..and that was before the e-book explosion.
Historically, when the corporate chain stores first opened (and I’m sadly old enough to remember when they were new) it was all about huge selection and price leverage over the independents. The price wars were between the chain and the independent bookstores. Right there and then we started watching the painful disappearance of hundreds of independent stores as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other chains came in down the block from them (every bit like You’ve Got Mail).
Then came Amazon, and even the corporate bookstores cried FOWL and struggled to compete with Amazon’s pricing. Then Amazon became King Kong, calling major shots and ruling the publishing show in many ways. The brick-and-mortar bookstores started losing their power way back then, over a decade ago. E-books and online commerce just finished something that had already started.
Do we care if Borders or Barnes & Noble is gone? That is a world I can envision and not lose any sleep over. As author Brian Freeman says: “First, large retailers don't devote much real estate to books, so their selection is extremely limited. If your name isn't James Patterson or Nora Roberts, you may never wind up on their shelves, which means readers will find it harder to browse and discover new writers.”
Having no physical bookstores is the biggest problem for the new and “midlist” authors because readers need to browse in order to find them. For the average author—anyone who isn’t a bestselling name—it doesn’t matter what happens to any of the chain stores. It matters what happens to the independent booksellers. It matters that authors continue to have avenues to be published, that their books are available in as many formats as possible, and that they have both online and offline avenues to connect to readers.
Independent booksellers are the ones who have always served their communities, reading new authors, bringing those authors into the store for readings and talks, and being live “shelf talkers” for books. The independent booksellers put new authors’ books on tables and in window displays, and in many, many cases put the author on the bestseller lists.
I don’t think we’re looking at a world with no bookstores, rather, a world of fewer stores. And if ever we are going to vote with our dollars and make sure our local independent bookstores stay in our communities, now is the time. It’s going to take every one of us, me included, dedicated to putting our business where we want it to matter. So even if you’re buying online, buy online from an independent store. The independent booksellers were here long before the corporate box stores and it’s up to us to make sure they are here long after “the chains” are gone.
Bowker, PubTrack Consumer, and Publishersmarketplace (subscription site) conducted a joint survey on book-buying trends as Borders closes its doors. Here is an excerpt:
by Sarah Weinman on July 19, 2011
As we reported last month, the good news for the trade is that more of those primary Borders customers expect to continue to patronize bookstores than one might expect. If a Borders is not available to them, just over half of the group says they would find another bookstore, and 27.6 percent say their book purchases would move online. Only 8.3 percent expect that they would buy fewer books if the chain goes out of business, and another 20 percent expect to borrow more books from the library.
Separately, a surprisingly loyal 14.7 percent say they would move their business to Borders.com, assuming such a site survives. That response alone could indicate a reason for others to consider bidding on the website--similar to Pearson's acquisition of the Borders and Angus & Robertson websites in Australia. (Another 7 percent says their book buying would not change, so it's not clear what they would do.) As you would expect, the anticipated change in book acquisition behavior was smaller for those people who don't see Borders as their primary bookstore.
If A Borders Store Was Not Available, How Would This Impact Your Book Purchasing?
When Borders Is the Primary Bookstore:
• Would Buy Fewer Books 8.3%
• Would Buy More eBooks 5.7%
• Would Borrow More Library Books 19.9%
• Would Buy From Borders.com 14.7%
• Would Buy More At Other Online Stores 27.6%
• Would Find Another Bookstore 49.9%
• Purchasing Would Not Change 7.2%
When Borders Is Not the Primary Bookstore:
• Would Buy Fewer Books 3.7%
• Would Buy More eBooks 3.7%
• Would Borrow More Library Books 17.5%
• Would Buy From Borders.com 4.5%
• Would Buy More At Other Online Stores 22.0%
• Would Find Another Bookstore 53.3%
• Purchasing Would Not Change 25.2%
In Mitch Albom’s tribute to Borders, he said:
“It grew from a dimly lit space to a high-ceilinged warehouse to a coffee-smelling, couch-laden superstore to a multipurpose entertainment outlet. The old bookstores were swallowed by chains. Packaging, bundling, synergizing and the tantalization of profits became the principles. Actual books in these places seemed to be an afterthought, nudged aside by videos, calendars, music and electronics.
But Borders? Surely Borders was safe, right? Didn't we have a soft spot for them? Anyone who ever made that pilgrimage to Ann Arbor on a Sunday afternoon, anyone who ever lost track of the hours while cooing at the sheer enormity of the written word, would insist, absolutely and without hesitation, that Borders, like mankind, would somehow survive.
Instead, we are once again reminded that no matter how lovely the casing, how beautiful the print, how fetching the binding or how stunning the cover, business is still business.
And books are a tough business.”
And last, let’s hear from the booksellers themselves, as they bid Borders goodbye:
Shelf Awareness had an interesting Goodbye to Borders.
Now if this blog has not made you want to run out right now and buy a book from your local independent bookseller, read it again!
Monday, July 4, 2011
The beauty of a memoir is that it can be funny, sad, poignant, outrageous…it is voice-driven creative narrative, which gives each writer a broad canvas. The trick, of course, is to understand the natural style, structure, tone, and voice that your story calls for. And that your own personality demands.
So it’s one thing to write it. It’s another to offer it to The Public Reader. What’s in it for the Reader? Readers can be swept away by the sheer beauty of language in a memoir, or the imagery. Sometimes we’re carried along by the vivid portrayal of events, or the surprising circumstance and turn of events of the story. A memoir can change the way people see the world, or think about their own lives. It can inspire us; caution us; maybe even save someone else the hell you’ve been through.
Many memoirs begin as catharsis for the writer, a way to figure out a life lived. Often a memoir is the writer’s final piece at the end of a long personal journey. Many new writers begin one simply because everyone keeps telling them to write one. I am always thrilled to read one that just stuns me with its craft, story, voice, insight, and thoughtfulness. “Unforgettable” would be one of the highest compliments a memoirist could hope for.
So why are so many authors having a hard time getting their memoirs published?
The memoir presents a marketing problem for the publisher right off the bat—unless you’re a celebrity or well-known author, so I won’t beat around the bush on that. An agent and then an editor can absolutely adore your book, and get shot down in five seconds by a marketing team. Since it’s the first thing a publisher looks at when considering ANY book, including memoir, let’s get a grip on this first.
Ask yourself what the marketing people ask the editor, agent, and author:
- What is the hook of this memoir? (Preferably in one sentence.)
- What makes it media-worthy? (Timely topic? Rare circumstance? Common dilemma? Shocking discovery?—write the press release on it)
- What is the author’s internet presence? (blog? tweet? Facebook? fan base? etc)
- How will the author promote this book and reach readers?
Until you can answer these questions intelligently and thoughtfully, the rest of the publishing process is moot. Beautiful writing won’t overcome insufficient marketing possibilities.
Now let’s assume you have addressed the marketing aspects, so we can address the editors’ evaluation of the memoir.
Writing: Beyond the ability to simply write well, an editor looks for an original, compelling voice uniquely expressing a sensibility and viewpoint from which that author’s particular set of life experiences are told. Such a voice, combined with skillful writing, can make even a commonplace story come alive. Without it, even the most gripping story will have low-impact on the page. And the editor looks for the memoir to be enlightening, reflective, and/or inspiring, as opposed to confessional. [Note: The commercial success of confessional memoirs typically belongs to celebrities, those involved in scandals, or for prurient interests or shock factor (Confessions of a Madam…of a stripper…of a recovering transvestite addict….etc). ]
Content: One of the most common reasons for rejection is “Not fresh enough.” This translates to “Many people have similar experiences or thoughts; I have seen a lot of this.” Imagine how many stories editors have read about sexual abuse; overcoming dysfunctional family upbringing; recovering from alcoholism or other addictions; weight loss battles; mother-daughter struggles; father-daughter struggles; coming-to-terms-with-motherhood; depression and/or mental illness; chronic or terminal illness; caring-for-elderly-parents. If you don’t have a particularly unique kind of story, use your unique personality, voice, humor, and perspective to make your memoir stand out.
Another common rejection: “Lacks a structure to pull it all together.” This means you’re busy just telling us what happened (“and then…and then…and then…”), without any framework or underlying message or direction to give it context, momentum, cohesiveness, and meaning. If you don’t put in the emotional, psychological, spiritual, or mental aspects that are inherent in the stories and experiences, there is nothing for editors or readers to latch onto, no reason to keep reading. “Here’s what happened to me” is pretty presumptuous, if you think about it. “Here’s what I learned,” on the other hand, opens a door for the reader and says “Maybe you’ll benefit from hearing my story.”
Here are some helpful resources for you, among many:
I hope this will help you do the final shaping of your memoir, long after you’ve written your first couple drafts that are for you, after you’ve made some editorial passes, and are now focused on the final shaping for the reader, and the publisher.