I came to this link courtesy of Jane over at Dear Author. Read it and weep. I read it and just shook my head. Talk about dinosaurs and sadly, it's these fools who are in control of distributing books to the reading public. Let's leave aside all the debates about e-books, pricing (which for the record ought to be much cheaper because a reader only borrows the the right to read the e-book, the reader doesn't actually own anything)and distribution. Let's not talk about all the new ways of doing business that are available to the forward thinking retailer, or the buyer, or even, the author. Let's pretend a little start-up by the name of Amazon doesn't exist and that buying used books on E-Bay is akin to going to Mars. Let's pretend none of this really matters (we'll certainly be in good company -I'm talking to you Scott Turow!)and focus on an area these guys feel comfortable with: the bookstore.
My bookstore growing up was Walden's at Hawley Lane shopping mall. It was small. When I asked about a particular book, half the time the clerk didn't know what I was talking about. Half the time the clerk was on the phone talking to his friends. The only classics you could get were the junior abridged versions. If the book was three months passed its prime, you would have a hard time finding it. The place was unkempt and often disorganized.
But still, I loved it.
Why,you may ask. BECAUSE THAT WAS ALL I HAD. There was nothing else! And knowing no better, I expected no better! So I was content.
Then I moved to Manhattan. Living on the Upper West Side, I discovered Shakespeare Books. And I discovered what I had been missing all along. Knowledgeable clerks! An interesting selection of books! Clean, friendly and oh so intellectual! And no romance section. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. But by that time I had been taught to fear my romance reading addiction as a dangerous habit. It was okay to smoke pot among the artsy crew at college, but admitting to a liking in reading romance would have called for immediate intervention by the Existentialist Task Force, and a stint in Real Literature Rehab.
So I snuck off to the public library branch on Amsterdam Avenue to get my romance reading fix. I'd bring the books home in an unmarked paper bag and hide them under my bed.
Time went on and I moved around some and Barnes and Noble became my bookseller of choice. Seemed so wonderful, browsing among the shelves and the comfortable reading chairs -sheer genius. And the book selection was rather staggering to my mind. It seemed like they had everything and if they didn't, then I sure as hell didn't know about it. And lo, I was content. At this stage of my intellectual development, I was neither ashamed nor proud of my romance reading habit. It just was something unavoidable, like the weather and eating. I didn't feel the need to join in the snarking at romance, (so common among the literati!) but I didn't trouble myself to defend it either.
Then something wonderful happened -in moaning about my writing career (mainly the lack thereof) I came to the rather startling conclusion that I loved romance. Nay, not loved -worshipped the genre! Yes! I was a romance writer and a romance reader and proud of it too! I embraced this aspect of my identity with all the fervor of a devout cult member. Then I discovered the world of the Internet and the blogs. And most importantly -romance readers and writer blogs. This changed everything.
I would read, with breathless anticipation, about a book I knew I would just adore. And then the baby would cry or something would happen and my minuscule little brain would only retain partial information. Next time I was in Barnes and Nobles, I'd try desperately to recall the title or the author and try to talk to the clerk about the book and I'd get -nothin'. Often times the clerks were not familiar enough with romance authors or their books to help me. Certainly, I never saw a romance book on the "Staff Picks" shelf. I'd try to browse the shelves, but often the book wasn't there. Or they had every book by the author EXCEPT THAT ONE.
And as my romance reading tastes expanded with further knowledge and education, I got continually more frustrated with the big chain approach to romance retailing. Where was the m/m romance section? Where was the erotic romance section? Or how about multi-cultural romance? Those books existed, I knew they did. But I couldn't find them and the option of ordering it from the the clerk at the customer service counter did not appeal to me. The point of going into a bookstore was to be able to physically go in there, pick out a book and read it immediately. If I couldn't do that, there was no point.
Now my story has a happy ending with the coming of the e-book and on-line book sellers. I am pleased to report that OmniLit and others are meeting my romance reading addiction most adequately, thank you very much.
But that's not the point of this little essay. The point is bookstores. If you dinosaurs that work in the publishing company are so wed to the traditional way of doing business THEN DO IT FREAKIN' RIGHT ALREADY. You see, I've been taught to expect better and I want better.
Here is my dream bookstore. You have my permission to use any and all of my ideas. I don't ask for anything in return.
My Dream Bookstore
1. Knowledgeable Clerks. Romance readers deserve clerks with a modicum of understanding about romance books. Romance outsells all other genres combined. We pay the salaries of these people, albeit indirectly. It's not too much to ask clerks receive some training in genre literature. Librarians have a model called "Reader's Advisory" -look into it.
2. Romance is on the first floor, front and center and not hiding in the back, cowering like the red-headed stepchild. Be proud of this genre! Make romance readers feel welcome and they'll come back. They buy most of the books anyway.
3. Expand your romance offering to include multi-cultural, erotic and gay romance. I want to buy in those sub-genres and my only real option is buying on-line. Why are you making it so hard for me to love your store?
4. Embrace the digital aspects of the business to boost bookstores. If a nitwit like me can't remember the name of book she read about on a blog -why can't you offer me the option of looking the blog up on-line, in the store?
I think romance readers want to use bookstores. Half of all readers are off-line anyway. That's a lot of people. But as the Internet changes the way people think about books, they will get increasingly frustrated with your bookstores.
Do you really want to drive them away?