Thursday, March 8, 2012

Andromeda/Your Turn: Writer in the middle -- Amazon, B&N, and NBA nominee Debby Dahl Edwardson

Imagine: You write a book. It receives an exceptional top honor. And still, you can't find it in bookstores across the nation.

This is the problem plaguing Barrow writer Debby Dahl Edwardson, whose YA book, My Name Is Not Easy, was a National Book Award nominee. Perhaps you already read the details in the March 3 Anchorage Daily News article: Edwardson's small publisher, Marshall Cavendish, with whom she has had good relations, was bought out by Amazon, the industry giant whose power is worrying bookstores and publishers both. Barnes & Noble responded by no longer stocking that publisher's books.

If you were like me (an apologetic but usually highly satisfied Amazon customer, who has ordered from them four times just in the last two weeks, but only because my local indie didn't have those books in stock), and you assumed that Amazon -- or maybe even her publisher -- was probably the bad guy in this particular fight, consider this from Edwardson's blog (worth reading in its entirety, but I'll quote just a piece):

Now, here’s my personal experience. I spend ten years writing a book, a book of my soul, one I was driven to write. Some people tell me it’s a good book, maybe even an important book, but I don’t really care for any of that. I'm writing it because I have to, because I'm a writer and that’s what writers do—we write the stories that speak to our souls, looking only at where we have succeeded and where we have failed, determined to do better this time and even better next time. Happily, in my case, my book is published and a small group of other writers sees fit to name it a finalist for one of the top awards in the industry. Suddenly lots of people want my book. My small publisher, who has never had a National Book Award finalist, goes into a frenzy trying to get the book reprinted and into bookstores. I’m patient with them. They get a reprint done fast and the book is out there. Or so I think. Then I start getting reports from friends all over the country: no one can find my book. In NYC, not one Barnes and Noble carries it. Ditto in LA and Boston. Two weeks ago, my husband, who is president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, had ten minutes with President Obama. I didn't have a copy of the book to send with him so he decided to pick one up in DC. The book, after all, is his story. He went to five bookstores there and nobody had it. He finally found a copy at a used bookstore. Yes, President Obama got a used copy of my book.

...

She goes on to explain that people are threatening to boycott Amazon, but she is herself a satsified Amazon customer (especially living so far off the road system and needing to frequently order books by mail) and is glad that at least at the online giant, you can count on finding most books.

People can go ahead and say what they please about Amazon but at least they’re not killing our books by not selling them. Amazon is very democratic this way: they sell everything. Yes, the move into publishing is a game changer. But then again, maybe the game needed changing.

Again, it's a really good post, and you should visit her blog directly. She also has an apologetic reply letter from the local Barnes & Noble. Still, Edwardson is stuck.

I want to keep this short because I want to hear from you: Where do you stand on the issue? What problems have you had with finding books you've written or want to read, whether in chains, in indie shops, or online?

My own experience with my own latest book: I've been told it will be stocked in certain stores, only to find it's not stocked there. A friend who just brought over eight gift copies to have me sign had to buy them--where else?--Amazon. Other friends have told me they bought the ebook. (Good for them! But I get a much smaller cut.) If Amazon didn't exist, would there still be a friendly neighborhood Borders, a store that tended to stock my titles well? If Amazon didn't exist, would Borders have gone under, and my own local friends wouldn't be able to find my own recently published book at all?

Tell us what you think!

And if you do read Debby's book, make sure you post a review online, at Amazon, Goodreads, or on your own blog. That kind of word of mouth really does matter in this increasingly social-media-driven world.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

A writer’s work is never done. It seems this business of making sure the books are on the shelves is perennial and applies to all authors of all stripes.

I was in a bookstore in Chicago, many years ago(mid 70's), where a man was asking the clerk where a certain book was. The clerk was unsure and not too forthcoming with information.

This made the man angry and he unleashed a vitriolic storm upon the young clerk, demanding he find a copy of the book at once and get it in the front window.

You might think a bookstore and its clerk could be forgiven for this delinquency. But, the bookstore was on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue), the book was WORKING, and the author/angry customer was STUDS TERKEL, famous Chicagoan whose book WORKING was a huge smash hit. Studs was having a grand time giving this clerk hell. Certainly by the time the kid went home he knew, and would never forget, who Studs Terkel was. The book was in the front window within minutes –center of the window.

Therese H

Deb Vanasse said...

Thanks for sharing that great anecdote about Studs Terkel, Terese. Remember back when the threat was from chain stores like Borders? How times change, and quickly. The inherent problem, as Debby points out, is that publishing seems eternally damned to keep trying to force those square pegs into round holes.

Morgan said...

I bought my copy of The Detour at the Anchorage Barnes and Noble, but was disappointed that the clerk who helped me find it didn't know that you were a local author. I expected to find a display or something to showcase that fact, but nothing.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Hey Morgan -- I'm just glad the book was there!

But yes, it would certainly be nice if more of the local booksellers knew the AK writers and AK-authored books. At the indies, people stay around longer and seem to pick up on those things, but where there is lots of turnover and less interest...

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

LOVED the Studs Terkel anecdote, Therese. Ah, to be that much of a confident, larger-than-life character-- and willing to make such a ruckus!

teri sloat said...

I wrote today to a blogging genius, Sharon Levine, who will read Debby's book and post to the Northern California Booksellers. BLESSING'S BEAD was in our local Copperfields, but not MY NAME IS EASY, so I will order another copy and give it as a gift to a friend in Alaska.

Teri Sloat said...

I mean, MY NAME ISN'T EASY. Sorry.

Debby Dahl Edwardson said...

Thanks, for this Andromeda. I have been on the road and am just getting caught up on reading the blogs I like to follow.

It's so good to get home to Alaska! I think a lot about what it means to be an Alaskan writer--the references that Alaskan's get instinctively, which are difficult for others.

Industry politics and book promotion tend to wear on one. I ready to leave it all behind and just write again.

I just blogged about this today:http://wordsfromthetop.blogspot.com/2012/03/about-connections-we-make-with-each.html

(Teri, you made me think twice about the book's title, too. I'm reading your post and saying "My Name is Easy" has a lot nicer ring to it than "My Name Isn't Easy." Ah, but the title is actually, "My Name is Not Easy." :))

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I found Andromeda's new book at Metro Books today, but they didn't have Debby's. (And yes, I bought Andromeda's. :-) )

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

And I just saw on Jeffery O's lit events calendar: Debby will be at UAA Bookstore on Friday March 23 at 1:00. Good place to buy her book and meet her!

Thanks for adding your comment here, Debby. I plan to read your "words fromt the top" blogpost next.