Do Bookstores Still Matter: An Indie Author's Take
Being an indie-published author is both exciting and incredibly--at time unbelievably--challenging. The opportunity to see one's work published and made available to people around the world is certainly exciting. Managing to effectively market your books and connect with your target audience can be quite difficult for a new author like me. I'm learning so much as I go. For this reason, I'm always observing how people find out about my books and I note what means they opt to use to acquire it--if they do in fact acquire it.
Recently, I have the privilege of being part of a local author's night at a Barnes and Noble just fifteen minutes from my house. It was a fantastic night and all of the authors there that evening had really fascinating stories to tell. I loved every minute of it. I Barnes and Noble was kind enough to order ten copies of both of my book, Unidentified and Short Films 2.0. After a Q&A time with the audience that gathered that evening, all of us authors signed copies of our books that folks purchased right there at Barnes and Noble.
One fascinating observation I made that evening is that even when it came to people I know personally and who definitely knew for some time that I've published a couple of books, there was this unique enthusiasm surrounding this event. And many of these people bought copies of my books that night. It's an interesting thing because I know for a fact that all of these people knew they could have hopped on Amazon anytime and ordered a copy of my books on Kindle or trade paperback. For whatever reason, many hadn't yet, which is perfectly fine. And then this event happened, and they did buy a copy that night.
As I contemplate why they might have chosen to buy a copy of my books that night, I recognize that there are certainly many factors at play. I know one friend bought a copy of my novel for his father because he felt it would be something his dad would really enjoy. Other people were buying for themselves. Some might have bought a book out of sheer friendship loyalty (seriously, friends are awesome!). They may or may not read it, but they do want to see me succeed. If you're an indie author or artist, I sincerely hope you have lots of friends like this. It's so meaningful!
All of these factors and others might have played into why people bought copies of my book that particular night. But the fact remains, they could have purchased copies on Amazon months ago. I don't think any of them were not aware of this option. So, what was different about that night?
Well, I think there's just something about being in an honest-to-God bookstore with real copies of the books you can pick up and hold and look at and feel the physical desire to read (yeah, I have a physical desire to read books at times and I just really need to hold the dang thing and read it). As an author, I'm still giddy that I can walk into this particular Barnes and Noble in Hingham, Massachusetts and find copies of my books on their shelves. While I love the broad reach of online sales and marketing , there can be something so abstract about Internet sales, digital copies, and print on demand books you order and then have to wait to read. Seeing the actual paperbacks on the shelves is so fulfilling. For me, seeing a copy of my novel, Unidentified, in a Barnes and Noble sci-fi section just below one of my all time favorite novels, The Martian, is just mind-bogglingly humbling and thrilling (I know it's not a quality comparison; my last name just starts with W like Andy Weir's).
This seems to affect other people too. A good friend of mine and I were at the same Barnes and Noble on a different day for an unrelated event. She had already bought and read a Kindle copy of my novel when it was first published. But seeing a copy of the paperback at Barnes and Noble with the cool little sticker they put on it that says "Autographed Copy" was apparently something she could not pass up. She just had to buy it. Seriously, I have awesome friends.
Back to the local author's night. There's also something about getting to hear more about an author's process and the story behind the writing a particular book. Seriously, I was so tempted to buy a book from every author that night. Alas, as a stay-at-home dad that's also an indie filmmaker/author, I don't exactly have loads of cash to spare. I know one friend of mine did buy a book from every author that night because hearing from each author was so compelling.
In any case, whatever the reasons each person had to snag a copy of one or both of my books that night, I'm thankful they did. And it was wonderful to see that it wasn't just friends of mine buying copies of the books. The whole night was a big win for all of the authors as I see it. And as I reflect on why it was a big win, I can't help but feel that there's still something important about meeting readers face-to-face, sharing a little of your personal journey, and being able to offer that physical copy of a book they can walk right out of the store with. I love getting a good deal on books by shopping online, but sometimes I just need to walk out of a bookstore with a new book in hand. As an indie author, I'm definitely excited about pursuing more events of this kind as I seek to connect with more readers.