Like many people, I mourned when Borders went out of business. Sure, the end-stage stores were a sorry echo of what they had once been, filled with two many gifts and toys, not enough books. But I remembered the joy I had once had, browsing the shelves of the first Borders store in the area. I recalled my first date with my husband, in our local Borders store, and how he proposed to me in that same store less than a year later.
I felt that I had lost a friend. And a part of me knew that I had lost a business partner as well.
Years before I published my first romance novel, I had heard of the legendary knowledge and power of Sue Grimshaw, the romance buyer for Borders. Sue knew the genre backwards and forwards; she could identify hits at thirty paces (and make not-quite-hits nearly overnight successes.)
And Borders had other buyers as well, folks who focused on speculative fiction. And those people shaped the chain’s inventory every bit as much as Sue did. Some authors found that their books sold much better in Borders than they did in Barnes & Noble or other stores; Borders ordered well and promoted better.
Now, with Borders out of the picture, several authors are feeling the pain of a limited system. Sure, there are nominally two big players left — Barnes & Noble and Amazon. But B&N is walking a line perilously close to Borders — they are eliminating broad swaths of books, making room for toys and gifts and other items. They have reduced their inventory substantially, cutting back on new novels and on backlist, on anything that isn’t a clear blockbuster. And Amazon is still struggling to recreate the bookstore experience, the sensation of browsing, of discovering new authors and books.
As a result, a lot of authors are getting caught in the squeeze. For example, Benjamin Tate’s well-reviewed LEAVES OF FLAME (sequel to his Tolkien-esque WELL OF SORROWS), was not picked up by Barnes & Noble. Readers can’t stumble across it on a New Releases table; they have to know to order it.
Similarly, Martha Wells’s THE SERPENT SEA was largely passed over by B&N, leaving avid fans of the first novel in the series, THE CLOUD ROADS, in the lurch.
So, what is a reader to do? Follow your favorite authors on their own websites and through social media, so that you know when a book is released. Buy that book, as close to the release date as you can. If you are buying in print, order the book from your local store — independent or chain — so that they’re aware of it. And whenever possible, spread the word — in writing, on review websites, to friends and family!
Together, we can all work to move these “hidden books” out into the open.
Mindy, quaking at the thought of whatever changes await in 2012!