When I created Life Death & Fog Books, I did so on a shoestring budget. The point was to reissue earlier works my publisher had no interest in and shorter works that couldn’t find a market because they were short. My goal was not to skimp on quality, whether that applied to the story, editing or design. But I could not afford to print thousands of books and store them, risk their return unsold, or incur shipping expense. So I worked with talented book designers who would do the work on spec with the idea of sharing in whatever profit was made. Amazon was willing to print on demand and distribute the trade paperbacks and ebooks. No upfront costs. If there had been, I couldn’t have done it.
But what that did, of course, was bypass bookstores. And bookstores, to the extent they were aware of my existence anyway, hadn’t been happy with me, because the publisher who picked up new books in the Shanahan series and the first two Lang/Paladino books, had a “no return” policy on hardbacks. I understood Severn House’s position. It was, after all and for all practical purposes, my position with my small publishing company. I also understood why bookstores didn’t order the hardbacks. I wouldn’t either. It was an unnecessary risk. There was nothing I could do about either situation. Yet, much like the bookstores, I wanted to stay in business. That meant getting my books out there as best I could.
The situation was uncomfortable. I am an avid bookstore customer. I have visited every San Francisco bookstore, new and used, and have written about them here in an effort to get the word out. I buy most of my books at a couple of my favorite independent bookstores in the city — and did so before Borders and B&N closed in San Francisco — and feel really good when I visit and the aisles are crowded and the stores are buzzing. That makes me feel even guiltier when I promote my e-books on-line.
I am happy to report that last August, Kobo announced it would work with independent bookstores in a revenue sharing program that would allow those stores to provide e-books and e-book readers to their customers. You can find a complete list of independent bookstores and another list of mystery bookstores by clicking the appropriate icon on the right side of this blog.
When my most recent book Death in the Haight was published by Dutton’s Guilt-Edged Mysteries in a recent re-launch of that imprint by Penguin, the novella was made available on Kobo as are the others from Dutton’s new line. Perhaps this is the kind of thing that will bridge the unfortunate gap created between struggling midlist writers and independent bookstores as both try to adjust to the tumultuous changes in the marketplace.