Authors Behaving Badly
As Charles Manson once said, “Are people strange, or am I just crazy?” Call me naïve, but as a published author myself, I assumed other authors must interact with booksellers as courteously as I do. I’ve always believed intelligence and unusual sensitivity to be typical traits among those who write. For the most part I’ve found that to be true. But in my time as a bookseller, I’ve discovered that, for a fairly substantial minority, common sense among authors is not as common as you might think.
So here are a just a few of the no-no’s I’ve observed that the authors among you, and those who hope to be, might want to avoid:
*Don’t threaten the bookseller. Even before we opened our doors, someone wrote to say, “I have many friends in that area, and I’m going to send them all to your store to buy my books. But if you don’t carry them, they’ll never shop there again.” Now I like threats as much as the next person, but that one got my back up. I decided they would sell snow cones in hell before we’d carry those books. To date, nobody has asked for one.
*Don’t expect the bookseller to take a sacrifice for you. This advice is directed to the self-published and those published by presses that don’t offer traditional terms to the trade. Someone emailed us recently to say she was published by a small press and asked if we could host an appearance for her. I told her to send a copy of the book, and I mentioned if it wasn’t available through traditional outlets, she would have to provide it on consignment at a 40% discount. For a store to take less means they must sell that book at a loss.
The “small press” turned out to be iUniverse, a self-publishing outlet that only offers a 20% discount and doesn’t allow for book returns — two conditions that make it impossible for most stores to carry their books. Still, the book was well written, if filled with questionable story choices. But when I offered to give her an appearance, she thought it was time for negotiations. “I just bought a $32,000 truck,” she wrote in an email, “I can’t give you 40%. I need to make money from this book.”
Okay, let me take a moment here to laugh my butt off at that idea. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it’s happened too many times. They always seem to enjoy a more lavish lifestyle than I do and they act as if I’m unreasonable for not being willing to subsidize it. (How can one universe have so many centers?) And it’s always for a book that people are not breaking down the door to get. Every spot on a bookstore shelf is a space that could just as easily go to someone else. When it’s a book of marginal interest, that’s a gift. If they have any issue with anyone, it should be with publishers who aren’t professional enough to understand how other books are sold, and price and sell their books accordingly.
* If the store needs something from you to insure your event will be a success, don’t make it impossible for the bookseller to get it. One of our local newspapers will only run artwork that’s of fairly high resolution. Often when we manage to line up prominent coverage in the local paper, I have to ask the author for high resolution artwork, because what’s on their website is too low. Yet too often the author who was so eager to book the date will say, “Can’t you get it somewhere else? I don’t have time to do that for you.” For me? I could just as easily transfer that coverage to the author appearing the next day. Every author should actually have a media page on their website, with good quality cover art, photos and easy-to-use biographical information. But too few do.
You know who to contact at your publisher, I don’t. If a publicist set up the gig, naturally, I would contact her for what I need. But if an author sets it up, who should I ask when I need something? Why wouldn’t you make it easy for me? Sometimes I suspect their resistance stems from the fact that they don’t understand what I’m asking for. If you don’t know what “high resolution” means, ask someone. Why cut yourself off from free publicity because you're too embarrassed to admit you’re techno-phobic?
* If you don’t read, keep your mouth shut. I assumed that, like me, everyone who writes is also a reader. Man, was I wrong! Incredibly strong numbers of published authors display no interest in any book without their own names on the cover. Okay, that’s their business, and in my opinion, their loss. But why would anyone who hopes to sell copies of their books share that fact with the members of their audience. Yet they brag about it, displaying superior contempt for those who are so uncool as to still read. Then they’re surprised when those uncool people don’t choose to buy their books.
Maybe that’s why so few authors buy books in the stores in which they appear. What would they do with them?
* Don’t tell them where they can buy books cheaper. Some authors who do read will note for their audience all the covers of books in our bestseller section that they have read. But they don’t stop there. Oh, no. They share how much less they paid for those books in Costco, the supermarket, or used on Amazon. And then they’re surprised when someone asks how little their book is going for used on the Internet.
* Don’t treat a bookstore like it’s a free swap meet. A surprising number of authors have discovered that they can make more money selling their own copies of their books direct to the store’s customers. We learned that the hard way, when an author seized a moment alone with a customer to sell her own copy of her book for cash, rather than the ones we had stocked. But we’re still surprised by how many need a reality check. A bookstore has fixed overhead expenses and also invests a considerable sum into every store event. Naturally, we all hope for good sales during the event, but when it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t justify the author trying to pick a few bucks from the bookseller’s pocket. All that guarantees is that you’ll never get another signing at that store, and that your books will be shipped back immediately, robbing you of the sales of those signed copies might have garnered after the event.
Well…you get the idea. Authors should display the same level of courtesy to booksellers that they show in every other area of their lives. And if they aren’t polite and considerate — they should learn how to do be.
Please understand that most of the authors who visit our store are great! They’re considerate, fun, and they see booksellers as their partners in the book-selling process. But the numbers of rude, thoughtless authors are higher than I would have imagined. Wouldn’t you think that, if they aren’t naturally courteous, they’d be more practical? It’s hard to get published, hard to stay published. Why sabotage the efforts of the people who stand between you and your readers? Some days I think it would just be easier to sell “Authors Behaving Badly” videos on late night TV.
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"Authors Behaving Badly" was first published on Kris Neri's blog
Kris Neri writes the humorous Tracy Eaton mysteries, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical series, featuring a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess working in the FBI. Her novels have been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards; she is a three-time nominee for the Lefty Award for humor, and her latest magical novel, Magical Alienation, won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for fantasy. She has published some sixty-plus short stories, and is a two-time Derringer Award winner and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for her short fiction. A former bookseller, Kris and her husband Joe owned The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ for ten years.