How your choice of good books and new authors to discover is going to shrink and shrink

So, this week, Waterstones announced they’re expanding their range of kids and teens toys for 2014.

Er, were they not watching Borders’ demise? What part of ‘bookseller’ are they struggling to understand?

It seems other business minds are none too impressed by their current strategies.

“…so many copies of the latest Jamie Oliver and Sharon Osbourne there will be no room for the newest upcoming authors; Waterstones seems to have decided it is in competition with WH Smith and Tesco.

Recently one of my top authors went to his local branch to see how sales of his novel were doing: there were no copies left, they had sold out, and he asked if they’d be getting any more in. No, he was told, they wouldn’t. In what other business do you sell out of a product then not bother to re-stock what’s obviously popular?

Not to mention those of us who might like to point out the flaw in their reasoning that male SFF writers (sold at discount in the front of the store) outperform female authors (sold at full price, at the back/upstairs/behind signs saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’) More on that from Cheryl Morgan.

Not that things are any better in the US, now that Barnes & Noble are the sole book chain. As this sorry tale from Mindy Klasky makes clear.

Yes, I have a dog in this fight. I’m an author who’s seeing her income eroded year on year by changes in the industry I can do nothing about.

But if – or as looks increasingly likely, when – the day comes when I simply have to quit because it makes no financial sense for me to carry on – I will still be a reader.

And I don’t want to be a reader offered a narrow, impoverished, pre-selected by electronic sales figures morass of pap!

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

5 thoughts on “How your choice of good books and new authors to discover is going to shrink and shrink

  1. Yeah i’ve noticed that last week when i took my neice to Waterstones in edinburgh
    Saw many teen fantasy books mainly the ones that are movie type
    The main stream authers were there tolkein ,douglas,feist,baxter
    But could i find yours nope devistated as i was gonna buy one for her
    I bought her a copy of The Theifs Gamble online and sent to her and bought her a teen novel there
    Its disgeacefull to be honest

    1. And it’s a vicious, downward spiral. The shops no longer sell backlist, so the sales drop, so the publisher lets backlist go out of print, so sales drop further, so the bookshops look at the numbers and decide this author’s no longer worth their shelf-space, so take fewer and fewer of their new titles, which means that author’s chances of getting in new readers decline…

      I do my very best not to take it personally, because so many other writers are suffering the same decline in their sales/incomes as me. But it’s not good for reader, writers, booksellers, publishers – the entire industry.

      1. I really hope you don’t stop writing, Juliet. I know you have readers and fans who will buy your new books if they can see them. The current market is putting up barriers to diversification, which protects a minority financial interest, but there must be ways of breaking this down to bring the investment back to the creators – perhaps models hitherto unthought of. I’ve a few ideas I’m sketching out for the promotion of genre reading. Might tell you about them at WFC!

  2. I make sure I go into Waterstones and order the books in I want – yes, it means I wait longer for them, and the discount I get on the books is not immediately noticeable (but those points do add up) and so don’t seem as cheap as online… but I like to know I am supporting the creators *and* my town’s economy.

    I am lucky to be so immersed in the industry that it is easy for me to discover books I would like to read. Unfortunately, Amazon is rubbish for that. They recommended a book to me just yesterday that not only have I read already, but bought copies of as gifts for friends.

    1. You are definitely on the side of the angels – and a well-informed angel at that 🙂

      And yes, the discoverability issue is the biggest stumbling block with online sales. There’s only so much blogs by authors and reviewers, Twitter, Fbook etc can do. An awful lot of the readers a writer needs to make a living are simply beyond the reach of online buzz.

      Those of us who engage with each other online sometimes forget just how many people don’t. At Husband’s work Xmas do last year, I asked around. Of the 60 or so people there, about half were on Facebook but either ‘never use it’ or only use it for family and friends. Two were on Twitter.

      These people read – and they used to find new authors by looking at bookshop shelves. Now they don’t go beyond the narrow choice on the discount tables.

      What figures on booksales holding up don’t show is that the gap between the comparatively few authors who sell shedloads and the rest, who sell less and less, is getting wider and wider. Which is a problem for the industry in the longer term, because best-sellers always came out of the midlist, thanks to reader word of mouth and booksellers handselling. That’s how JK Rowling got started with Harry Potter – and any number of other examples besides.

      No amount of marketing can create a best-selling career from a standing start.

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