Is your online presence serving you? An important Q&A about Amazon and indie bookstores.

PhotobucketHonest mistakes you can learn from are probably the best kind. I made one of those recently, and I’d like to share it here.

While on Twitter, I started linking to blog posts at Writer Unboxed. One of my followers was an independent bookseller, who visited WU and made an observation: We were linking exclusively to Amazon–with every interview, every book mention, ever “psyched about” update. Was I a newbie author who wanted to befriend indies or not? Why wasn’t I linking to indie stores, too? Did I realize how indie-unfriendly my blog appeared?

Wow, no.

Kath and I have always linked to Amazon because it was easy, and we thought we were doing our part to serve our guest authors and our readers. And, truthfully, we hadn’t even heard of Indiebound until recently. It hit us that other writers–especially writers who don’t yet have a publishing contract, like Kath and I when we started WU–might not (a) know about Indiebound and/or (b) realize how they’re coming across in the wide scheme of things. They might make choices for convenience rather than thinking through the implications of those decisions. They might, inadvertently, close channels they’d want open in the future.

The seller and I exchanged a few emails, and I asked if he’d be interested in an interview for WU to enlighten other writers across the blogosphere. He was more than willing.

It’s my hope that you’ll do your part as well. Link to this Q&A. Talk about the broader issues on your own blogs. Avoid our tunnel vision. Spread the word.

Interview with Rob Dougherty, manager of Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, NJ

TW: Tell us about Indiebound. What exactly is it?

RD: Indiebound is a program of the American Booksellers Association that was launched in the summer of 2008. Basically it’s Book Sense revamped, with a new logo and branding campaign, with the goal of trying to get all indies united across the country. If you go on their website, Indiebound.org, it gives you a complete description, but what they want to do is create a forum where independent booksellers can come together to create a larger web presence.

TW: What makes Indiebound such a powerful tool?

RD: Number one, the staff of the American Booksellers Association are phenomenal in what they’ve done, in getting this message out to the booksellers and giving us tools to go even further with it. It has provided for a real unity among booksellers, and I think that it’s continuing to give us a presence and a voice. Independent bookstores don’t have to be victims of online entities and box stores any longer. We can’t match the prices of those other places, and we’re not going to make believe that we can. But we want to let people know that they have the choice of supporting locally owned and operated businesses in their community, and I think Indiebound is one of the tools that can help us do that.

TW: What do indie stores offer that you might not see in a big bookstore?

RD: The difference is that we care. We care about the community that we live in, we care about the authors, we care about the books that we put in people’s hands. When we read a book we really love, there’s a connection to the author that you just don’t get from looking at a screen. If we’re going to put your book in somebody’s hand, you should be pretty damned honored, because we believe in that book and we want that reader to come back to our shop. We care.

TW: So it’s like sitting down for a gourmet meal at a quality restaurant rather than calling for takeout?

RD: That’s a great metaphor, yeah. Passion really sets us apart. The other thing is individuality. At last count there were over 2500 independent bookshops in the country. Each one is different in personality, each one is different in size, each one is different in inventory. You walk into a box store in Seattle, you’re going to walk into the same shop in Philly.

TW: Let’s talk about what you want from authors. Your bottom line is that you want authors to be fair, correct? If authors put the Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble and/or Borders (etc…) links up on their website, you’d ask them to put the Indiebound link up as well, to give people the choice to purchase a book through indie sources.

RD: Yes. We certainly understand that getting your work out there and getting people to recognize your work is an important thing, and we don’t begrudge anybody trying to sell their book any way that they can. But what we ask for is that if you put Amazon on your links, to please give Indiebound equal footing. Offer indies just as prominently. I think that’s an important thing, and it’s fair. If an author doesn’t have Indiebound listed, it doesn’t mean that we won’t carry their book, but my bookshop will not promote their website or put that author in my newsletter.

TW: Is there anything else authors might do to help support indie stores?

RD: They can talk to their writer friends or publishing friends about Indiebound and suggest giving indies a fair shake when it comes to publicity, to thank the local independents who have supported them.

Get as many ARCs as you can and get them into the hands of independent booksellers and not into the hands of your friends. If you don’t have many ARCs to give, ask the indies if they’ll call your publisher and request your ARC directly. Don’t depend on your publisher to sell your books. They throw catalogs at us, and reps have it tough, but unless the rep has read your book or has spoken with someone who has read the ARC of your book, they’re not going to know if it’s right for a particular store.

Don’t depend on your publisher for a tour, either. Call some of your local indies and tour there, and after you get big keep doing it. For every box store you’re at, go to an indie store, too. Show your indies love, because they probably had something to do with your success.

TW: What can authors do to find specific indie stores that might support their work and be interested in an ARC?

RD: I think you start with the relationship between you and your local indie stores. Go to them and ask, “Where do you think I can go with this?” If they really enjoy your book, they’ll pass the word along to other indies. Then maybe get someone to nominate your book for the Indie Next list. That’s what happened with A.S. King.

Another author came in here three years ago, Maryann McFadden. She walked in with a self-published paperback book, and one of our staff read it and thought it was really good. Book clubs picked up on it, and soon she was our bestselling paperback of 2006 and outselling Kite Runner, after some hard work on her part. She ended up with a two-book deal at Harper. Her first book, The Richest Season, did very well, and her second book comes out this July. That’s just one success story that shows how indies can contribute to authors.

TW: Any final thoughts?

RD: I do believe that when given the choice, people will support indies even if it costs a couple of extra bucks—especially now in this economic climate.

Thanks so much, Rob, for a truly valuable and enlightening interview.

Readers, Kath and I will be overhauling WU in the coming weeks to create fair links to Indiebound. How about you?

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    Very valid points. On my group blog, we discussed this and opted to not link to Amazon. I didn’t know about Indiebound to suggest that link as an alternative. We opted to link directly to the publisher’s page.

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  2. thea says

    I would be happy to support an indie bookstore. is there any link to locate one in your zipcode area? also, do they support romance writers?

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  3. says

    Thanks for linking to the store finder, Paige.

    Thea, I don’t know the answer about romance writers, but my guess is that it depends on the store.

    Cyndi, we’ve just updated our Psyched About sidebar to link to a combo of publisher and author pages. That’s fix #1.

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  4. says

    I just looked up my zip and found three listed in my town. I knew of two of them. One is always giving writers a nudge with signings and publicity. The second one, I thought was simply a used book store and never even heard of the third one.
    Thanks for the info, Therese and Rob!

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  5. says

    Not long ago, my publisher nudged me toward including all booksellers on my website. (I thought I had everyone, but had missed a couple.) Thanks for a valuable post.

    Still need to update my blog, but the webpage was easily done.

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  6. says

    Bravo! I have to comment here, because if it were not for Rob’s store, Clinton Book Shop, helping me to navigate the bookselling world, I doubt I’d be published today. While chains wouldn’t touch my self-published book, indies like him championed it. THE RICHEST SEASON went on to sell at auction to Hyperion! My second novel, SO HAPPY TOGETHER is coming July 7! Talk about a dream coming true, thanks to the indie booksellers.

    When I meet with Book Clubs and give talks, I tell this story again and again, because most readers have no clue how it all happens. And that as far as Amazon is concerned, it’s a business and they’re out to make money. While the indies care about authors and readers, and are a place they need to visit and support.

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  7. says

    I’ve been linking to authors’ websites instead of Amazon when I can. Sometimes, though, I do link to Amazon. I just signed into Indiebound and brought up a book. If I give this link can everyone see it? Or does the viewer have to join the site?

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  8. Cathy J says

    Thank you, Teri, for this blog. I always enjoy the locally-owned shops when I am shopping in person but never really thought about it when I am buying books online. I think supporting the little guys, especially in this economy, is going to become very important. I am linking this specific blog to my Facebook. I think there are many people out there who will appreciate having options when buying online.

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  9. says

    Very informative interview. I like the openness you and Mr. Dougherty display here. We all can learn so much when we aren’t attacking or defensive.

    Once on my blog, someone tried to hit me over the head with it, in a “you suck if you don’t buy exclusively from independents” kind of way and it was a big turn off.

    Now I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy. I will add an Indiebound.org link on my blog.

    Thanks!

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  10. says

    Therese, do you know if there is a listing of indie book stores in Canada? If you or any of the WU readers know of a Canadian equivalent of Indiebound, I’d like to know what it is.
    One of my first signings happened at a small bookstore/coffee shop. The shop owner was so kind and accommodating, even contacting the local newspapers on my behalf. It worked out well for both of us and I was so pleased to find out I was the most successful signing they ever had!
    Thanks again for reminding us of this crucial element in our literary world!

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  11. says

    Lorna, that’s such a great question. I just did a little research and found this:

    http://news.bookweb.org/news/6443.html

    November 25, 2008

    The Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) has rolled out a new marketing campaign — Independents Matter — that invites consumers to “Think Independent. Read Independent. Buy Independent.” The program, which was influenced by the American Booksellers Association’s IndieBound movement, was launched on November 15, CBA’s Independents’ Day, and will tap into the growing localism movement in Canada.

    “Members will be promoting Independents Matter throughout the year and using the new logo and materials that we’ve made available for bookstores to incorporate into their own bags or ads,” said CBA Executive Director Susan Dayus. “We’ve created posters and bookmarks, much like IndieBound.” Materials, including reusable book bags, are available to CBA members via the organization’s website, http://www.cbabook.org. CBA has also produced a YouTube video highlighting the main points of the campaign.

    Spread the word to your Canadian friends!

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  12. says

    Thank you so much, Therese! You’ve been most helpful and very quick to find this info for me. I’ll take a look tonight and forward it on to the members of my writing group.
    Thanks again!

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  13. says

    Thanks, Therese, for looking to see if any of my books are on Indiebound. I’m not surprised that my first mystery is there (A Spy Within), but I’m very surprised to see my latest book, a romance from The Wild Rose Press, is there. I’ll be sure to link from my website.
    Other authors epubbed (plus POD) should go to Indiebound and check it out.
    Lynnette Baughman
    “Love with a Welcome Stranger,” Winner of the 2009 Eppie Award for Best Contemporary Romance

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  14. says

    Thanks so much for this post!

    I’ve never even heard of Indiebound before, but I’m thrilled it exists. I’ll be sure and put a link on my website just as soon as I have a moment (I only link to my publishers at the moment).

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  15. says

    Hello, I’m a newly published author and I am in the big online stores but until I see my book in the small independant bookstores, I won’t be happy. I support the independents because it is how I grew up buying books. There is nothing like holding that book in your hand, looking it over as you read what it’s about, and taking it home to read. It makes the book more personal in my opinion. I have a link to Indie Bound on my facebook page but I will check all my blog sites and make sure I am linked there as well. Oh by the way, my book is titled, Lies in a Season of Tribulation by Launa McNeilly if anyone is interested to check it out. I believe it is listed on the Indie website. Thanks all for what you do.
    Best Regards,
    Launa McNeilly

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