Hidden Books

Posted by on February 24, 2012 in business of writing | 4 comments

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!


  1. Great post! Mind if I share?

    • Please! Share away!

  2. Yes, this worries me, too. Borders carried all of Jack McDevitt’s books, while B&N carries only a few of them. I stumbled across your Glasswrights novels in a Borders store. Otherwise, I probably never would have heard of you.

    Relying on Amazon’s “if you bought this, you might like that” system is dicey at best. At one point, I received an e-mail from them suggesting that, since I’d bought DVDs of “Ratatouille” and “Masada”, I might also be interested in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.

    Let’s see … I bought a warm, fuzzy G-rated video about a rat who becomes a gourmet chef. I bought a classic 1980 miniseries starring Peter O’Toole about the Jewish fortress besieged by the Romans in 73 A.D.

    Therefore, I’m going to be interested in an R-rated musical about mass murder and cannibalism? I don’t think so.

    Since I can’t trust Amazon’s system for suggesting new things, how am I going to discover new authors? There is no substitute for being able to pick up a book and open it at random. Maybe that’s where I’ll spot the offensive language or the explicit sex scenes which will turn me off a book in an instant. Amazon’s “see inside this book” feature is very restrictive in what it will let us read.

    I too am very concerned about B&N’s “dumbing down” process. It looks like they’re gutting out the SciFi/Fantasy section. If they eventually fold like Borders did, that will leave no major bookstores within a reasonable driving distance of my house. And I live in a major metropolitan area.

    What will I do then?

    • I have heard ***many*** hard-core readers complain about the slimming down of the genre sections — regardless of genre, if you read a lot, B&N no longer has the depth to keep you truly satisfied.

      As for those “cross-reference” recommendation engines – in *theory*, there’s a lot of power there – I would *love* for someone to tell me accurate “if you liked this, you’ll like that” pointers. But I have yet to find a book recommendation engine that comes close to working.

      Sigh – we obviously need to buy more books, so that the programs can better predict our interests, right? 🙂