A few weeks back at Books & Books, we hosted Ann Louise Bardach for her most recent book, Without Fidel. Nearly eighty people showed up to hear this expert on Cuba speak. The Q&A session lasted two hours.
We sold four copies of the book.
Before I get into the reasons why this frustrates me to the growling point, let me explain that what I’ve just done is a no-no. I’m sure we reported a crowd of one hundred plus and dozens of sales to the publisher; telling an author, publisher, or publicist the truth is a no-no.
On one level, we want everyone to be happy. It’s disappointing for everyone – the buyers, the events and marketing folks, the booksellers, the author, the publisher – when only a handful of people show up. Padding the numbers is sometimes a way of spreading cheer.
On another level, events keep Books & Books in business. We need these events to be successful.
I remember reporting sales to our Penguin rep a few weeks back. He’d sent a list of several key titles in their winter catalog to see how they’re doing. Right down the line, it was one to three copies sold on titles we’d ordered for the shelf and dozens of sales (or hundreds, in the cases of some more well-known authors) on titles associated with a signing.
“Hmmm,” the rep dead-panned. “I think having author appearances positively impacts sales.”
Publishers know not every event can be a home run, so I don’t understand this need to be so secretive about the numbers. And if you’re going to inflate, why not be consistent? If Elizabeth Gilbert sells eight hundred copies of Committed when she comes to the store, why not say she sold two thousand?
We need these events to be successful. If they’re not, publishers will stop sending authors our way. Miami is gorgeous, but the authors are here to push copies, not get a tan.
Let me also say, Ann Louise Bardach is one of our bestselling authors, and has been for years. Her consistent sales performance is strong enough to be immune to lackluster sales at one event.
When it comes to packing a house and loving an event but keeping your wallet closed, I know times are tight, but think of the consequences. How long do you think you’ll be able to treat Books & Books as your free meeting place to get together and discuss hot topics of the day, then move on without buying anything, often taking a parking stamp on your way out?
Side Note to Books & Books customers: WE PAY FOR THOSE PARKING STAMPS. The City of Coral Gables doesn’t give them to us out of the kindness of their hearts. We buy them. We’re paying for your parking. Show some appreciation.
Side Note on “Appreciation”: I mean money.
If the doors close people will say, “Wow, I supported them for so many years.”
Did you? Really? Or did you come in, sit down, watch an event, walk out with a smile, and leave us holding unsold copies of the book? No one’s asking you to buy a book for each of our seventy events a month, but how about half of the events you come to? How about buying a latte or a glass of wine? How about not showing up at our store with fucking Barnes & Nobles bags and Starbucks cups?
When one of our booksellers spends her time with you, making recommendations, walking you through the sections, then you smile and say you’ll probably pick it up on Amazon because it’s cheaper, how do expect not to get slapped?
Does Amazon employ native Miamians? Does Amazon do anything at all for this community? Do you want to shit on your neighbors in the long run to save some pennies in the short term?
Our reliance on events also bothers me because of our booksellers. There are far fewer booksellers working at Books & Books now than when I started five years ago, and I don’t just mean fewer employees. With all the events going on, and the pressure for them to be successful, who has time to talk books anymore? Who remembers folks by name and says, “Hey, Mr. Valdez, Out of Sheer Rage just came back in print. I set a copy aside when it came in, because I thought of you.”
I’m a firm believer that it takes a penny to make a dollar. I think the nuts and bolts of bookselling – organization, displays, and matching book to reader – are more important than what best-selling author is on the bill that night. Of course, I haven’t been in the game for twenty-seven years.
I just think there can be a middle ground between hardcore bookselling and being clowns in a three-ring circus.
Especially when no one’s buying a ticket.