For any author, getting a book sold at a major chain is an important way to attract new readers and move copies. But it's especially important to scifi writers, who often get little exposure in book review sections. Now Borders, one of the two major bookstore chains in the U.S., has stopped stocking many new scifi titles, closing their shelves to some honored authors in the process. What's the damage, and can something be done?A group of scifi writers recently discovered that their new books wouldn't be picked up by Borders. Fantasy writer Greg Frost wrote of being shunned by the chain, Tobias Buckell already vented his frustration about his latest book not being carried, and the same thing happened to the much-lauded Pat Cadigan. Wiley marketing manager Andrew Wheeler's extensive comments on the controversy this weekend were disheartening:
For the kind of books we're talking about — midlist originals in hardcover and trade paper — there will be no substantial distribution into mall stores. So you're talking about a B&N order that could be potentially as high as 2100 (for what we marketing folks would call a "high B+" book), or as low as a few hundred (for an order only going to "top stores"). The equivalent Borders number runs up to about 1500, with about the same bottom.
That's a huge loss. Most science fiction and fantasy authors who aren't big names with massive back catalogs depend on chain stores for a major part of their exposure. Buckell, author of the recent novel Sly Mongoose, wrote:
Borders central chooses what books to roll out across the entire chain, and across the entire chain, I wasn’t doing very well. Borders stores for the most part aren’t allowed to respond to in-house movement, and are not very independent. When I go around and sign stock (copies of any book stores happen to have on hand) and talk to managers, individual Borders are not able to change their orders. That is how the hardcovers are doing at Borders. At a signing recently a Borders employee who handsells my book told me they were not allowed to bring Sly Mongoose in store, despite their desire to sell it, and had purchased a copy of my book from another store to have me sign it.
For new entrants into the field, even a compelling debut may not be enough to get the follow-up reshelved, and proportionally less writers are getting enough exposure in magazines to build word-of-mouth for that successful debut. As Buckell says, the cutbacks appear to come from on high, not in individual stores. While Pat Cadigan and others have played with the notion of boycotting the slumping Borders chain, it's hard to see how that's going to get the second largest bookseller in the U.S. to order in larger quantities. Blogger Paul Riddell writes:
To paraphrase Chris DeVito of Fuck Science Fiction, most bookstore managers, indie or chain, have memories as long as their dicks are short, and they'll still be paying off Riddell Grudges for perceived slights decades later. In this case, Pat's heart was in the right place, but the trick is to get rid of the system, not further aggravate the incompetents who'll gleefully and "accidentally" leave books in the back for months before they're returned or pulped.
Why Didn't Borders Want Your Book [GalleyCat]