This morning, we got a message from Dana Stabenow. Her publisher was making the offer to send her to shops who could guarantee 100 'pre-sold' copies of her new hardcover by Jan. 17, 2009. This was after we'd gotten an e-mail last week from her announcing that she'd be having the premiere event for the book at The Poisoned Pen in Feb. and directing all fans interested in having a signed copy to contact the hosting shop. This raised many questions and feelings and today's message from her sharpened them further.
On one hand there is the feeling of loss. We were the shop that hosted Dana's first signing for her first mystery. In fact, it was our founder, Bill Farley, who told her she would win the Edgar with it, and his words were prophetic -- she did indeed win Best Paperback Original. That has allowed us to feel somewhat proprietary about her, as we do all the Alaskan authors. There are many independent mystery booksellers around the country and we each have our territory of local authors. We had always felt that Alaskan authors were, as part of the Pacific Northwest, part of our territory and they our authors. Clearly, NYC doesn't give a damn about such considerations. And why should they?
But the larger issue is far more disturbing. We've been in business for 18 years and three months. In that time, we have never had a publisher put any sort of number on pre-sold books (what we refer to as reserved copies) as requirement to host one of their authors. We've had a large number of Big Names in over the years - Dick Francis, Ross Thomas, Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Martha Grimes, Ellis Peters, James Ellroy, Sara Paretsky, Edgar winners, Shamus winners, National Book Award nominees, Golden Dagger winners - but we've NEVER had a publicity department dictate that X number of books have to be guaranteed sold before an author can appear. We've heard of AUTHORS doing this, but not publishers.
Because, to meet this level, every other shop - independent mystery or not (it's unclear whether this edict applies as well to the Big Box Stores, be it Barnes and Noble, Borders, Costco or Sams, or if it IS just the independents - a number of years ago the American Booksellers Association sued a big publisher over preferntial discounts and that win mandated that all booksellers be offered the same opportunities...) - will have to cannibalize the sales of other shops to meet the artificially set minimum. For us to reach the 100 book level, we'd have to steal customers from all the other shops trying to meet the 100. That's undemocratic. That's bush-league and we won't play the game.
Publishers and publicists have no right to place such demands on shops. I can understand how the expenses of author tours are eating them alive and that they need to do something different. Fine, I'd be happy to make some suggestions. St. Martin's could do what other publishers are doing: send the author to the bindery to sign all copies; bring the author to the publicity office to sign all ordered copies; send them to one shop and have other shops send their stock to that one shop to act as a signing depot. Any of those three plans would save the publisher a ton of money and give ALL booksellers the same opportunity to get identically signed copies without giving one shop the advantage.
But this plan does just the opposite. By establishing an unrealistic and artificial sales level, they're limiting the author's potential appearances to a handful - at best - of shops able to gather the required pre-sales. And, as I said, I think they can do that only by robbing the potential sales and customers from smaller shops and that is undemocratic. All shops should have the same opportunity
In 1992, we had the honor of hosting Dana's first mystery author event. Since then, we've been happy and honored to host her for each book. That's 16 years of author events and selling her signed and unsigned books. We will not even try to collect the required 100 copies. We're not going to play their game. 2009 will therefore be the first year we've not hosted Dana and that is too bad. And sad.
JB Dickey, owner