Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Independent Bookstores Must Support Local Self-Published authors and Small Presses!

I got a comment from a small Independent bookstore owner regarding my blog about the closing of the Hue-Man Bookstore. In it she stated stating that self-published and small press books don’t sell well as books from trade publishers.

I’m gonna have to call bullshit on that.

With small independent bookstores in crisis from competition from online booksellers like and chain stores like Barnes & Noble, I’d think they’d want to take every advantage offered to them.

But they’d still rather thumb their nose at authors and self-publishers like myself who want to help them and bring business to them.

Selling the work of small press and self-published authors like myself give small independent bookstores an opportunity to stand out in the ruins of the collapsed American book market. Our work allows small independent bookstores a chance to form a relationship with the customer. When we’re allowed to do book signings and readings and take the time to promote our work there, we show the people in the neighborhood who shop there they have a value there beyond just being customers. When people from the neighborhood can get their work sold at a local independent bookstore it shows them the bookstore is a part of their neighborhood. That it’s a part of their lives. That it’s THEIR bookstore.

A person can buy a book from a trade publisher at any Barnes & Noble or order it from an But they can’t buy a relationship with a retailer.

A business owner can’t put a price tag on forming that kind of connection with a customer. It’s the kind of bond that produces customer loyalty that lasts generations. A loyalty so strong that people will bring their business to a local shop first before going over to Barnes & Noble or logging on to The kinds of customers who are so committed to a shop’s owners they’ll pay extra just to put that money in the till of a friend and help them out.

Salespeople at most modern retailers maintain their livelihoods on these kinds of relationships. They’re the kind that allow them to make six figure salaries.

When people provide this kind of support to a business has a tremendous impact on it and the community. It’s how a small local shop becomes a community staple, an iconic place everyone wants to go and needs to be.

Today’s small independent bookstore owners don’t seem to understand that they’re not selling books. They’re selling an experience. When someone comes to their store they’re not just coming for a book. They’re coming for memories.

Moreover, they’re selling a relationship with the customer. Customers want to go to a place where they’ll be treated with dignity and respect. Where they’ll be seen as someone with value. Where they’ll be presented with something special they can’t get anyplace else.

In the aftermath of the publishing industry collapse of 2008 I’d think a smart independent bookstore owner would be looking to build their business working with local self-published authors and small presses. Trying to build a relationship with people who can draw people into their shops. Trying to give their customers that unique shopping experience they’ll never forget; the kind they’ll tell their friends about. Offering distinct products that people can’t find at Barnes & Noble or Stuff that usually has to be ordered. Stuff that takes a week or more to be shipped.

Usually when books like these are on hand, people tend to buy them. And they tell their friends where to get them.

That’s how Borders built its business back in the day.

But the surviving independent bookstores don’t seem to think that business model will help them to compete against the Barnes & Noble, Amazon or the other online booksellers.

No, they want to be dismissive of the work of small presses and self publishers like the now defunct Hue-Man was. Not understanding how this condescending attitude towards local self-published and small press authors is part of what’s turning people away from their businesses to online retailers where they can buy those same books in bundles at discounted prices with free shipping.

Hue-Man touted itself as a community bookstore. A place where African-Americans from the neighborhood could find the works of other African-American authors.

Unfortunately it never supported authors from the African-American community and their work. Most small presses and self-publishers like myself were completely blown off.

Instead it became a place where uppity Niggers hobnobbed with celebrities and dignitaries forgetting the very brothers and sisters in the neighborhood they were supposed to be serving.

And those slighted customers walked right past Hue-Man. Right over to the vendor tables at the end of the block. Now those African brothers with the book tables knew how to treat a customer. They were polite, friendly and often had the most recent merchandise. Many were receptive to buying and selling the work of a self-published or a small press publisher. Forming that relationship with the nobodies who would eventually become the somebodies who they felt would take their business to the next level. Building another business that takes money out of the Black community and making wealth for someone else.

All while the local neighborhood Black-owned bookstore packed up and left the neighborhood leaving brothers and sisters out of work.

I wanted to help Hue-Man by promoting my work there. And I still want to help the small independent bookstores out there. But because many independent bookstore owners are indifferent and belligerent towards me, I can’t form that relationship with them. Sure people can find my work at But there’s nothing like interacting with the reader and giving them an experience that goes beyond the page. That’s what builds the word-of-mouth that brings sales to bookstores long-term.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very thoughtful and well defined blog, Shawn, on of your best. I know there are two sides and more to every story, but this one facet you bring light to it simply overlooked. The AA bookstores themselves are taking a very narrowminded view of the topic.

    If ever anything called for cooperation, collaboration and friendship it's the possible and positive tie between AA bookstores and AA authors. As the man implored, "Can't we all get along?" Certainly we'll all profit. AA bookstores are going off the map with amazing and sad speed. I'd think they'd be willing to do anything reasonable to prevent their demise.

    This is a fight well worth carrying on, Shawn. I wonder if it would be helpful for you to publish an open letter mailed to all AA bookstores, seeking cooperation and understanding. They and we have far more to lose if they don't shape up than we do.

    Thanks for a great blog.