Saturday, August 1, 2009

Self-Published Authors

We're going to take a short time-out from our Kindle smackdown to return to our regularly scheduled blog, but be sure to check back on Monday for episode 4 comparing the joys of settling onto the couch with a book or a Kindle.

As the new book buyer, one of my responsibilities is to talk to self-published authors who want Green Apple to stock their book. If you ask buyers from other stores, I think you'll find that this is one of the least favorite parts of their job: having to deal with some pushy, self-promoting author who drops in without an appointment and expects you to stop whatever you're doing to meet with them.

I'll admit, I sometimes grumble when I get paged to the front counter for this purpose. And if I'm in an appointment, I'll give them The Heisman (i.e. politely ask them to come back at a better time).

However, I know that it is important for me to be open to these interactions for several reasons. For one, independent bookstores, I feel, have an obligation to stock books from local authors, assuming the books are reasonably well-produced and have some potential for selling. Two, pushy and self-promoting is the only way to get it done if you want to get your book into a store. And three, it's amazing how often I am pleasantly surprised by the author and/or their book.

The most recent example is when Rauf Naqishbendi dropped in to see if I would carry his book "The Garden of the Poets." Rauf is from Halabja, in Kurdistan, which was famously the victim of a chemical gas attack by Saddam Hussein in 1988, killing 5000 inhabitants. Here is a review of the book. I haven't read it, but it just makes you wonder at the people who walk into your store, and what stories they have to tell. This is one of them. Here are a few more.

Camp Quest has one of the worst covers, but two of the nicest authors I've ever met. Written by two former San Francisco teachers, it is set in a fictionalized Bay area locale during the years 1984-2028, and is about a science teacher who invents a drug that turns gifted but underachieving adolescents into dedicated students (what teachers fantasize about in their spare time, no doubt). The Shankels must have a lot of dedicated former students, because we've sold 36 copies so far.

Bill Lee's Chinese Playground, the story of his involvement with local Chinese gangs, earned him some death threats upon publication, but it is the best-selling consignment book in Green Apple history and has been course-adopted by some schools in San Francisco.

San Francisco has a long and sometimes bloody history of labor strife (the 75th anniversary of the Longshoreman's strike is this year). When The San Francisco Labor Landmarks Guide Book was presented to me, I knew we'd sell a few, but is has done much better than that, selling almost 40 copies in 6 months. A very different kind of tour guide.

A final word to all you self-published authors who are going to rush to the store- we are pretty strict about only carrying books by local authors, i.e. living on the west side of the city. And the books have to have a spine. And please call and make an appointment before coming by.


Paul said...

Ring ring, haha. No seriously, if I'm ever in your town, I am dropping into your store and saying nothing just listening and checking out your amazing books. It's the function of the editor that's changing. You guys are doing a great job.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Dear Green Apple Friends-

I know how friendly and 'menschy' and wonderful and book loving and author-appreciating you are--so was a bit shocked at the 'pushy' comment.

You are right; a self-published author has to knock on doors, visit Green Apple, and get their book out. They are the writer, the designer (thus bad covers), the editor, the publisher, and the marketer--with boxes of books in the trunk of their car and stacks of boxes in their garage. They've got to sell the books.
I've been fortunate to have publishers publish my books (which you sell). I admire those who self-publish. What drive. What passion. What investment of time and money.
It's the purpose and passion and investment of their own savings and time I admire. Presumably publishers have turned them down. They proceed, recklessly, perhaps.
They are writing for a niche market.
Perhaps you were being ironic or droll about the 'pushy'! I see a person to welcome to your wonderful store. I see a brave and focused and hopeful author with a non-commercial concept--an 'alternative' writer to welcome and cheer on.

kpr said...

Hi Diane- That's exactly the point I was hoping to make- that in the current environment, with most publishers barely supporting an author beyond printing their books, authors (especially the self-published ones) need to be get out there and promote themselves. Sometimes this comes off as pushy, but as a buyer I try to keep in mind that it is what must be done if you've spent a year writing a book and want anyone to read it.