Thursday, April 1, 2010

Give Me Independence!

Kris Neri's published books include HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, a Lefty Award-nominee, NEVER SAY DIE, THE ROSE IN THE SNOW, and the Tracy Eaton mysteries. With her husband, she owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona.

By Kris Neri

When the Stiletto Gang offered me several guest blog dates, I knew I had to choose April 1st. You see, I write the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity Award-nominated mysteries featuring Tracy Eaton — mystery writer, detective wannabe, and the offspring of eccentric Hollywood stars — REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, DEM BONES’ REVENGE and the just-released, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE.

I always knew Tracy had to be an April Fool's baby — nothing else made sense in terms of her reality-challenged family. I don't think I ever shared Tracy's birthday with my readers, but I did describe the circumstances of her birth in the second book in the series, DEM BONES’ REVENGE:

“The story of my birth was a closely guarded secret — known only to the immediate world. Frustrated by three bouts of false labor, Mother picked a fight with Dad, sending him off in a huff. Once he left, the real thing got underway. Apparently, it didn’t occur to her to call for help. She just hopped in the car and took off on her own. When the first bad contraction hit, she lost control of the wheel.

“I arrived on the steps of the church she crashed into. Contrary to rumors, it wasn’t St. Tracy’s. There is no St. Tracy’s in Beverly Hills. And wouldn’t that be silly basis for naming a child? The real story is more subtle. You might remember that Veronica Howard and Mother were great rivals at the time. But you might not know Miss Howard’s much younger third husband was having a torrid affair with a mere child named Tracy West. Clearly, a better way to choose a baby’s name. I’m glad I was able to provide my mother with that opportunity.”

Obviously, Tracy is a pretty independent sort, a one-of-a-kind adventurer, someone who marches to the beat of her own unconventional drummer. Me too. I'm so independent that, with my husband, I own an independent bookstore, The Well Red Coyote in Sedona, Arizona. []

The Well Red Coyote is a great store — always voted Best Bookstore in Sedona. While it's a general-interest store, we have a strong mystery section. Strong sections in lots of categories. What we've created is a real community gathering spot. All of our appearing fiction authors present writing workshops, and our nonfiction authors offer seminars on their books' subjects. Our programs are usually presented to overflowing, enthusiastic crowds. We also offer live music concerts, everything from blues and rock, to inspirational music and Native American flute playing. All always free.

Yet even in an offbeat place like Sedona, independence — in terms of bookstores, and stores in general — is becoming an endangered species. Despite their vocal support, we're losing some of our old customers to Internet booksellers Maybe it's the result of a genuine need to shave costs somewhere, or maybe it's simply that, given the war of half-priced books online, books aren't deemed to be worth their full price anymore by too many people.

It isn't just independent bookstores that are suffering, either. Brick-and-mortar chain stores are hurting, too.

My books are published by traditional, independent presses (see how independent I am!), Red Coyote Press and Cherokee McGhee Publishing, so I'm used to distribution challenges. But I hear from other mystery writers, those published by NY presses, that increasingly, the chain stores are not ordering their books, or are ordering them in such limited number that they can't possibly achieve the sell-through their publishers expect, at least not from the stores where their books used to be sold.

Ironically, with no stores but independents willing to support them, most authors do not do their own book buying in independent stores. I hear this from them all the time — they do most of their buying online, or even the warehouse stores. And I can tell you they rarely buy anything from the stores that host their signings. Strange, since online sellers have never been known to host an author signing.

Surely, I can't be the only one who sees that the purpose of the online sellers' price slashing war is to eliminate the competition, be they independent stores, or chain stores, and to bring publishers to their knees. What will happen when they succeed in closing down the competition? What will happen to choice? Independent stores pride themselves on their independent selections. Will there be anything to read beyond the limited Costco selection of twenty books or so at a time? When there's no competition any longer, what will happen to the prices they charge?

Today, though, they’re often cheaper. And, sure, money is tight for everyone. But we vote with our dollars. We determine the shape of our world with every penny we spend. If you don’t see any value in independent stores, then just keep doing what you’re doing. But if you do, don’t wait until they’re all gone to lament their passing. Help them thrive now, while you still can.

Will anyone miss independent bookstores when they're gone? I know my character, Tracy Eaton, and I will. But we're both independent sorts.

How about you?


  1. I will miss the independents. I go to them when I need to special order a book that the chain store didn't get in. That happens in Canada more often than you'd think. And today, with the internet, I'm much more aware of what is available out in the world. It really wasn't that long ago that I was mostly unaware of all the books that are out there, so if my bookstore didn't carry it, I never even knew about it. Now I do, so I've ended up special ordering a lot more than I ever did before. And I like to give my local independent that business because the chain store already gets enough, ya know?

  2. Thanks for posting, Kris! I will truly miss the independents, even though in the NY Metro area, they are few and far between (curiously). I broke up with Amazon a few months ago after their reaction to Macmillan's pricing structure for e-books but even before that, I was a bricks-and-mortar girl. I have noticed that the chain bookstores aren't stocking as many of my books as they have in the past, which concerns me. But hang in there with your store...I wish I lived closer so I could drop in! Maggie

  3. Hi Kris,

    Wish I lived closer to your bookstore, loved it when I came to visit and do a workshop and signing. For those of you who've never been to Sedona AZ, it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen and Kris' bookstore is absolutely wonderful.

    No bookstore in my little community, only a used bookstore in the next town. It's new and hoping she'll survive since she also carries my books and those of other local authors.

    Best of luck with your new book, Kris and the survival of the store.


  4. Hey, Kris, it's great having you here at Stiletto! And it's wonderful to hear that another Tracy Eaton novel is available. Yay! As for indies, I adore them, of course, and I feel very spoiled in St. Louis with so many really wonderful stores around (like Puddn' Head Books, Left Bank Books, Main Street Books, Big Sleep Books, The Book House). I hope new customers continue to find indies so they can co-exist with the chains and online booksellers. I just find they offer so much in terms of events, support of local artists, and friendships! Wishing you all the best with REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE and the Well Red Coyote! You go, girl!

  5. There's a whole continent out here of small towns and rural areas where independent book stores do not exist. Online orders and libraries are our only resource. Sorry, but that's just the world we live in.

    In my little town there is one book store -- a Hastings. I seldom go there. It is shelf after shelf of best sellers by the famous and infamous. A niche book, a regional mytery, a small press book -- none in sight.

    Pat Browning

  6. Hi Kris,

    I'm looking forward to reading your newest, but more than anything your name will always evoke for me the wonderful class on plotting that you gave to the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime last year. It's made an enormous difference in the way I approach my writing.

    I'll be forever in your debt!

    Thanks so much. Best of luck with the store and your writing. Let's hope the independents survive.

    Nancy Adams

  7. Kris, I like your heroine's voice, and I really like the sound of your bookstore. I would love to visit it someday. I am a big fan of independents--co-host a series called Writing Matters at our own local gem, Watchung booksellers--and vote with my dollars by only patronizing bricks and mortar for my...let's call it profligate book buying habit. Props to you on all you do and may the Well Red Coyote be there if my novel-on-sub is ever published!

  8. I wish there was an independent store near me. I'm stuck with the chains and online.

  9. I wish more people would take the time to do some of their online shopping at an independent. Since I closed Creatures 'n Crooks last fall, my webstore is critical to ultimate survival and perhaps a re-opening down the road but it isn't happening (and didn't while the store was open either). Even folks who have no b&m indy in town could still help keep the indies alive and be enormously appreciated by us booksellers ;)

  10. The Well Red Coyote is a fabulous store, and I've seen their enthusiastic regulars troop in for writing workshops firsthand. Independent stores have individual personalities, and Kris and Joe make theirs fun. Having beautiful Sedona outside its doors is a huge bonus.

    And Lelia's store was just what you want in a bookstore--a quirky, fun place to gather in a historic section of a historic city. It has to be sorely missed by the residents of Richmond.

    I've been doing the book promotion thing since 2003, and I've signed at 57 independent stores in 20 states. (And I probably forgot some.) I spent money there--not necessarily on purpose, because fiction writing doesn't bring in an awful lot of cash, but when a book person sits in a bookstore for a couple of hours, a certain number of books are going to beg to go home with her.

    And I also spent those hours getting to know the people who run those stores. They are uniformly lovely folks. I'm trying to think of a visit to an indie that was just unpleasant...nope. Can't think of a one. Well, maybe one...

    I consciously targeted independent stores for promoting my books, because I learned early that the chains were going to keep pretending I didn't exist. The indies have been good to me in return--two books on the BookSense Notables list, two nominations for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance's SIBA Book Award, a spot on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's bestseller list.

    Of those 58 (just thought of another one) independent stores I've visited, at least fifteen have closed. That's 25 percent in seven years. Katrina washed one away, but the others were all victim to the difficulties Kris described. I am deeply concerned for the impact that the economy and competition from the internet and ebooks will have on the rest.

    Innovative approaches like Kris' workshop/booksignings give people a reason to leave their houses and computers and come out to the store. Conscious shopping by people who care about keeping independent stores open will help. But it's a tough world out there for bookstores, and shopping at Amazon (yes, I plead occasionally guilty) because it's easy will leave us nowhere to shop but Amazon.

    Mary Anna Evans
    STRANGERS, October 2010

  11. I couldn't agree more about the lack of choice we're being given. I noticed this especially on my last trip where, with two "bookstores" available at Sacramento airport, there were roughly a dozen of the same old titles and the same-i'll leave out the "old"-authors available. I gave up and decided to save my 7.99 and reread a great EM Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread. We have no indies in my part of rural Northern CA. and I'd counted on the airport for something new! Well, they had "new," but not interesting. If I were in Sedona, I'd make the Red Coyote my second home!

  12. Thank you all for your comments, and especially a thank you to those of you who are trying to support indies. I know they've vanished in too many places.

    Mary Anna & Marilyn, I appreciate your kind words about the events we hosted for you at our store.

    Nancy, I'm so glad the class I taught for the Guppies was good for you. Much luck with your writing.

    Thanks to the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to guest-blog and for such a warm welcome!