Q: What do small publishers and indy bookstores have in common?
A: They’re making hardly any money. It’s a labor of love.
I knew that intellectually before, but now I really know it. Having finally self-published my book, I now understand all the time and effort that goes into it. You have to sell a lot of copies to recoup the cost. And how do you sell those copies? By spending even more money to promote the book. And time. Lots and lots of time. It’s definitely deepened my respect for small publishers.
Small bookstores are struggling too. I miss A Woman’s Place bookstore in Salt Lake City and Red and Black Books in Seattle. A Woman’s place hosted my first reading, and Red and Black Books hosted a reading AND introduced me to Octavia Butler, an author I would not have found on my own. I remember that when I went in to give the reading, I saw a paperback book of hers sitting on a spinner, looking shiny and new and fun.
The small bookstores that survive, like Ravenna Third Place Books near my home, have to sell both used and new books because the profit margins on new books are so small. Third Place also had to add a restaurant and pub. Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the restaurant and pub. I’m just saying that’s what it takes to break even as an independent bookstore.
Enter the writers struggling to break into publishing. We don’t just have to write excellent and desirable books; we also have to convince a publisher that they won’t be taking a loss by putting out our books. We must also somehow convince a publisher we’re worth the risk. That’s the part I didn’t understand all the time I kept trying (and failing) to sell my book to a publisher.
What’s a writer to do?
You don’t need me to answer that question. Everybody and their dog is going to answer that question for you: there’s that one story about the guy who made a million bucks selling books out of the back of his car. (Of course, that’s not going to be the reality for most writers, but never mind that.)
Let me ask a different question:
What can writers do in order to make the publishing and bookselling world more hospitable to authors? I’m talking big picture, can we forget about our piece of pie for a second and find out how to make that pie bigger for everybody?
Yes indeed! We need to band together and support the small presses and independent bookstores we eventually hope will support us. So without further ado, here are a couple publishers and independent bookstores that make my five-star list.
Calyx – for supporting women’s writing
Aqueduct Press – for supporting speculative fiction and women’s writing
Book View Cafe – awesome midlist authors who banded together to sell ebooks
Ravenna Third Place Books – my neighborhood bookstore and new-mom refuge
Elliott Bay Books – Seattle’s best-known
Powells Books – I seriously take trips to Portland specifically to spend all day (or days) at this “City of Books”
Got a small press or independent bookstore you’re crazy about? Add a comment.