Joshua Palmatier/Ben Tate – The Importance of Shelf Space
When Goblin Quest came out from DAW, my agent took me on a madcap bookstore-visiting spree in the Chicago area. We soon discovered a pattern: Borders almost always had copies of my books in stock. B&N had none. This was more than a little disconcerting…
My friend Joshua Palmatier, aka Benjamin Tate (Facebook, Twitter, LJ) is another DAW author, with two series in print: The Throne of Amenkor trilogy (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne) as Joshua Palmatier, and the Well series (Well of Sorrows and the newly-released Leaves of Flame) as Benjamin Tate. He’s also published short stories in Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, Beauty Has Her Way, and River. With Patricia Bray, he’s co-edited After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012).
Today, Joshua finds himself in much the same position I was in back in 2006 … only now Borders is gone. I’ll be honest, this is something that scares me as an author. Joshua’s been doing some guest blogging lately, so I asked if he’d be willing to talk about B&N’s decision and how he’s responding to it.
My newest novel, Leaves of Flame [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]–sequel to Well of Sorrows–has just hit the shelf . . . so to speak. Typically, an author is ultra-excited when the new book is released, and I am, but almost immediately after the release date I learned some rather disastrous news: Barnes & Noble, practically the only large-scale bookstore chain left in the U.S., elected not to carry the new book on its shelves. For an author attempting to build up an audience, this decision is, in essence, a death knell. It’s also not something that authors generally talk about. We tend to curl in upon ourselves and keep such heart-breaking news hush-hush. I know that was my initial reaction. But Jim asked if I wouldn’t mind talking about it here at his blog, and after some thought I asked myself, “Why shouldn’t I talk about it? It’s the real world of the publishing industry. It happens. Why keep silent?” So here’s why this decision on B&N’s part is so disastrous for me, and what I, as the author, have attempted to do to correct it.
Let’s face facts, I’m writing under a pseudonym now. The reason, to be blunt, is that my first trilogy, published under my real name, Joshua Palmatier, didn’t sell as well as hoped or expected; it didn’t find the audience it was intended for here in the US. So when the new series was set to be released, it was decided to send it into the world with an open pseudonym, Benjamin Tate. The hope was that the new name would attract new readers, and that fans of the Palmatier books would find out about Tate and buy the books as well.
To be honest, I don’t think this happened. WELL, in trade format, did not attract readers. When it came out in mass market with a brand new and incredibly cool cover, B&N decided to put only a few on the shelf, because of the sales of the trade. DAW designed an eye-catching cover for the sequel, LEAVES, that would pop on the shelf. But of course, LEAVES isn’t even on the shelf, which ultimately defeats the purpose of the eye-catching cover.
This means that the chances LEAVES will sell (and potentially bring in sales for WELL) have plummeted. I have little to no hope of a random reader—someone who has never heard of either Palmatier or Tate—even SEEING the book, because the browsing capabilities online at places like bn.com and amazon.com are geared toward the books that are already hot sellers. For all intents and purposes, LEAVES doesn’t exist for the random browser, so my chances of expanding my audience are gone.
What can I do to make LEAVES (and thus WELL) more visible? I really only have two options: cons and word of mouth. Cons are easy, but costly. I’ve signed up for numerous cons over the course of the next few months, but I have a day job, so I’m limited, and besides, each con costs a significant amount–money that I’m unlikely to get back in terms of the sales generated at the con. So cons, while extremely fun (I’m ticked that I couldn’t be part of Author D&D at ConFusion), aren’t cost effective.
Which leaves (ha ha) word of mouth. Immediately after learning B&N had decided not to carry my book in its brick and mortar stores, I e-mailed every friend and author I knew asking if they could help by hosting a guest blog or posting an interview or perhaps just mentioning the book online in Facebook or Twitter. I already had some of these lined up, of course, but now I needed as many as I could get, because the only way to reach new readers was to make the book visible online. You may have noticed numerous blog entries from me posted by my friends and fellow authors over the last few weeks, including this one by Jim. In general, authors are an extremely supportive group. Word of mouth—not just authors supporting other authors, but readers talking about books they’ve read or noticed to their friends in person and online—is the best way for a book to be seen. And for an author to pick up new readers.
So, I would turn to you, the readers: If you’ve read a book that you liked, or you’ve seen a book that you thought looked interesting, talk about it. Mention it on Facebook, tweet about it on Twitter, blog about it. Hit up amazon.com or bn.com or your favorite online bookstore and leave a brief review. Or go to the book’s page at any of those sites and “like” it. Do the same at reader forums like Goodreads or Library Thing. Every little mention, every good word here and there, may bring in a potential reader for that author. In essence, YOU are the balancing factor when a single person at B&N makes the decision—for you—about what books you’ll be interested in. YOU are the ones who make books bestsellers.
For some of us, whose books are only going to be seen online, *cue R2-D2 holographic image of Leia* “You’re our only hope.”