anghara (anghara) wrote,

Am I really such a Bad Person?

I've been having an argument over on rasfc about the merits and the morality of wandering into your lcoal bookstore and, if you find your book shelved spine-out, turning it face-out for a potential buyer to see. As I pointed out somewhere in the thread, in my specific case it was my books shelved spine out next to a veritable avalanche of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series - all five books in the trilogy - most of them in two or three different editions, facing out. I felt no compunction about facing some of those (much thinner) books spine out and turning my own face out as occupying the same space that the original arrangement did. I have nothing against Douglas Adams - I met the man, ferchrissakes, and I like both him and his work - but as evidenced by the books in this one bookstore his books are available in many many places and in many many copies and incarnations, and this particular store had THREE COPIES of my own novel.

A particular character in rasfc tells me that I am an immoral cheat for doing that.

The >remarks are this other fellow. The rest of it is my response.

>I'm taking a more extreme case, but one closer in its nature than what
>you offered.
>A customer who takes a book off the shelf to look at it and puts it back
>in the wrong place isn't trying to change anything. He isn't trying to
>do anything the bookstore hasn't invited him to do. He is there trying
>to do what the store wants him to do and makes a mistake.
>An author who goes into a bookstore to face out his books is
>deliberately doing something he knows the store doesn't want him to
>do--that's why he doesn't tell the store people what he is there doing.
>The reason he is doing it is to promote his interest at the cost of
>theirs--and at the cost of the other authors who would be faced out if
>his book wasn't.

... in one store, in one small town in the continental US, and I am
perfectly sure someone else has done the same thing to my books in
some other store in some other town.

>The excuses offered for doing it so far are:
>1. The bookstore people really don't know how to run a bookstore, so
>changing things around doesn't make things any worse, so it really
>doesn't hurt anyone.

I have never said or even implied that, so I'll thank you for not
putting words into my mouth. Once again, I reiterate - I have removed
nothing from the place the store people have put it. It's still in the
same precise position. Only in a different orientation. And honestly -
under the circumstances I put forward elsethread - I don't see how it
DOES make things any worse.

>2. It does hurt the other authors, but they are richer than you are, so
>that's all right.

If I ever turn into Steven King I fully expect other authors to do
this kind of thing to MY books in stores. But by the time you get to
be a household name where every new book you write is bought on the
strength of the fact that YOU wrote it and not on the strength of a
decision of , oh, new guy, I'll try him - by that time (a) you have
more than one or even two books out there in the market; (b) they are
available in multiple copies in every store in the country. (c)
your'e receiving a substantial royalty check on your sales every six
months. The truth of the matter is that the best you as J.Newbie
Author can hope for in some cases is that someone will buyt YOUR book
*as well as* the new thing out by BIg Name. Or do you really think
that people who go into a store looking for the latest Harry Potter
will NOT buy the book they came there to get, at that time or later,
just because they happen to notice another unknown book beckoning from
the shelf? Books are not bread and they are not toilet paper, they are
not bought because you cannot live without them in a civlized manner
or indeed at all. Books by definition are disposable income. YOU
decide when, where, how and on whom your book budget is spent. It
isn't "all right" because anyone is "richer" than me, it's all right
because they have saturation presence in the market, their books are
widely available in multiple copies EVERYWHERE, and it's a dog eat dog
world out there. Publishing a novel is not the end of a long road,
it's just the beginning of another, even longer one - and if your
book, however brilliant, however well written, however much your
particular editor believed in it, is buried under twenty copies of
another title - which has been in print for twenty odd years and
whose sales are hardly likely to drop off overnight because you
published a book which shares a shelf with it - well, let's put it
this way, years ago the market might have been more forgiving and
would have let you have more time to establish your presence in the
market. These days you're given months, maybe weeks, before sales or
the lack of them determine what else is to be done with you and your
career. I am perfectly certain that staff often make the rounds of the
shelves and return things to the way they were before I turned my book
out - but if it's out for an hour or two it might be an hour or two in
which it catches someone's eye. Yes, dammit, at this point in my
career it's worth it.

>I have no idea whether or not you would be impressed by analogous
>excuses if someone else was treating you in a similar way--putting
>advertising signs on your house or lawn or car for his products, in the
>hope that it would be a while before you noticed, to take a closer
>analogy than my previous one--an analogy I already offered and you
>ignored. He too could argue that it didn't really hurt you and (given
>suitable circumstances) that you were richer than he was so if it did
>hurt you that was still all right.

You just don't get the difference at all, do you? The bookstore is
there to sell books. I am nudging the sale of MY book. I am in no way
plastering advertising material on anyone's house, lawn or car for any
"products" at all. People write books - MANY people write books - and
without those of us who do the bookstores would be out of business.
WHich business is to sell books, no? WELL, IF SOMEONE BUYS MINE OR

So. Am I abominable? Do other authors really never do this? Am I alone out there? Am I utterly despicable?

Am I really going around "plastering signs on someone else's lawn"?...

Promotion budgets are notoriously low, unless you happen to be a really big name which publishers KNOW will pull in the moolah - or you happen to be really really lucky and hit the jacpot, for instance Susannah CLarke, who wasn't hurt by the fact that she happened to be endorsed by Neil Gaiman.I'm sure that book 1 of Harry Potter was surreptitiously turned face out a few times... until such time as that became unnecessary because you had a couple of hundred people waiting in line outside the bookstore at midnight in order to grab a copy before it even hit the shelf at all, spine-out of face-out. If you recognise the NAME on the spine, your reaction is, "oh, a new Rowling... a new Gaiman... a new King... a new Bujold... a new Nora ROberts... I better get it". Let's be honest, if you saw your own name on a book spine (and you didn't recognise it as being yours) how likely are you to pull the book out to look at it? WOuldn't you just skim right past it, looking for the next Name you found Familiar?...

So what's wrong with giving yourself a little help, while that Name is still not Familiar Enough, in the hope that by selling another copy or two you're giving yourself the chance to start a word-of-mouth thing happening, that perhaps someone else might return to the bookstore, where your books are back to having their spines facing out, and seeking you out BY NAME?

I fully realise that not all books can be shelved facing out. But I completely subscribe to the idea that it is the books by less-than-familiar names that SHOULD be faced out, because books are, indeed, judged by their covers and if it isn't the familiarity with the author that would make you choose to buy a particular book an interesting cover might. The really big household names simply don't need that particular crutch any more. They could put the front cover of a telephone directory on a new novel by Steven King *and it would still be bought anyway*, whether it faced out or not.

Okay, rant over.

Back to my chapter. By this time next year I'll have at least one other book I might be looking for, face out, on bookstore shelves.

Tags: writing, writing life, writing rant
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