Choppy waters ahead
I’m going to start out by saying I’m sleep-deprived and cranky (well, crankier than usual) as I sit dow to write this. I’m in the final push to finish everything necessary to get Nocturnal Revelations ready for publication. I’m in the middle of preparing a new entry in the Honor & Duty series. I have a stack of files that is literally a foot tall sitting on my desk for other projects in the pipeline. So I have little patience for some of the crap I’ve been seeing lately on blogs I follow, in social media and in the media in general. Consider this your fair warning. I’m swinging for the fences and getting some stuff off my chest.
Let’s start with the recurring (damn but it is ever-recurring) cry by a certain group of people that Amazon is to blame for the closure of bookstores. I love the selective memory these folks have because it is so simple to blame Amazon. They forget the locally owned bookstores they so loved fell victim, not to Amazon but to the big box chains that came in before Amazon arrived on the scene. Oh, the stores might not have closed right away, but the damage was done. The Barnes & Nobles, the Borders, the Books-A-Million could all buy in larger quantities and at lower prices, allowing them to sell for lower prices than the mom and pop stores could. At the same time, landlords were raising rents, cutting even further into the store’s profit margin. By the time Amazon because a viable alternative for book buying, the damage had already been done and many of those small stores had closed.
But it’s Amazon’s fault.
No, it’s not.
Now, I’ll admit Amazon does play a part in what is happening now to the big box stores that are struggling. Amazon does offer books at a lower price often. It presents the convenience factor. But there is more at play. If I am looking for a book, I know I can find it on Amazon almost every time. There have been a very few exceptions over the years. I don’t have that guarantee with a bookstore. In fact, even if the store’s website says they have something in stock, I’ve often times gotten there only to discover they don’t have it. Sure, they can order it for me, but I’d have to wait longer to get it than I have to wait with my Prime membership.
And let’s not forget about the fact bookstores like B&N are more about gadgets and toys and other things than they are about books these days.
But the biggest culprit, at least in New York, is the same seemingly unstoppable force shuttering small businesses across the city: rising rent. Rent is a particular concern for bookstores because they operate on low margins but require large storage space.
That’s not just in New York. Most bookstores, especially locally owned stores, don’t own their own building. That leaves them at the mercy of their landlords. Sure, they negotiate–or try to–favorable lease agreements but they don’t hold the cards. The landlords do. As The Passive Voice notes:
Since the beginning of 2010, Barnes & Noble has been profitable in 9 calendar quarters and reported a net loss in 27 calendar quarters.
PG did a little online research that disclosed the average net profit margin for an independent bookseller is 2-2.5% percent. On an annual revenue of $1 million, that represents $20,000-$25,000. According to The Washington Post, Politics and Prose, a highly-successful independent store in Washington, D.C., generated $6.8 million in revenue in 2009, with $173,000 in profit that was split between the store’s two co-owners.
TPV puts it in easier terms, if you were to buy $10 worth of books from an indie bookseller, their profit would be 20 cents. Hand them a $10 bill and it is the equivalent of buying $500 worth of books.
But it’s Amazon’s fault they are closing their doors.
To which I say bullshit (sorry, Dave. I warned everyone I was cranky)
Next up on the hit list are all the writers (and I use that term loosely) who try to write in a genre they have never read, never plan to read and who won’t do the research necessary to know what the expected tropes, rules and requirements are. The excuses vary as to why they believe they can short cut their way to the top but it all boils down to this: they are too lazy to do their homework.
If you want to write historical fiction, you need to have at least a passing knowledge not only of the historical events that took place at the time, but the way folks lived, what they wore, how they dressed and spoke. You need to know the cultural expectations and taboos. Then you need to know what is selling now and figure out why. What makes Courtney Milan or Kristen Hannah best sellers(besides publisher push)? What do readers expect when they pick up a book in that genre or sub-genre?
In other words, you have to do your homework.
No, thinking you will “taint” your wonderful idea by reading someone else’s book isn’t an excuse. Let’s face it, there are not new ideas out there, only new ways to deal with the idea. The “it” that makes it your own. Simply writing Jane Eyre and putting her on Mars doesn’t make it a science fiction novel, much less hard science fiction. Try claiming that it does and you will be laughed at or worse.
So do your homework. Learn what is involved in your genre and sub-genre of choice. Learn the rules and the tropes. Read in your genre. (Admission time. I read extensively, even when I’m writing. However, I don’t tend to read the genre or sub-genre I’m writing at the time. Like now, when I’m writing and urban fantasy/police procedural, I don’t read UF. I will rarely read procedurals. What I will read is a lot of non-fiction and science fiction. But, once this book is put to bed, I’ll catch up on the UF and procedurals I missed.)
Finally, as a blogger, there is little that sets me off quicker than someone coming in, dismissing everything one of us has said (or that our regular commenters have said) and then demanding we prove our point. That’s especially true when we are either speaking from personal experience or have given more than enough information for a simple web search to find all the proof you might need. that happened in the comments yesterday when someone actually accused us of “getting in a tizzy” over Sad Puppies. I guess it wasn’t enough to have our livelihoods threatened because we dared rock the boat where the Hugos were concerned. It wasn’t enough for some of us to still be the target of attacks by others in the industry because we actually believe reading should be fun. Our words about having messages in writing have been twisted and turned into nothing that resembles what we’ve said. Some of us have had smear campaigns waged against us. It got so bad Brad was accused of marrying his wife to hide the fact he’s a racist pig. But we’re the ones getting our panties in a twist.
So here’s the deal. MGC has always been a place where we’ve welcomed writers and reader alike. We’ve had few rules, mainly we’ve asked that your not promote your own work without first asking us if it’s okay. We’ve never gone in and edited comments on the blog (like certain folks on the anti-puppy side). And I can count on one hand the number of people we’ve banned fro the blog in our more than 10 years of existence. Even then, we’ve given notice before banning, giving the person involved a chance to avoid the ban hammer. That is a great deal more than many blogs do.
However, we’re human. We sometimes make mistakes. When we do and we become aware of them, we admit it (again, more than a lot of others do). We allow dissenting opinion the blog, even when it irks us. But we have not and will not allow commenters to come in and insult us and our readers. So here’s the warning from the cranky writer. If you come in and do what is nothing but a drive-by trolling, you will be warned once. Do it again and you will be banned. If we see a pattern of someone coming in, stirring up trouble and then running away, that person will be warned and then banned. If you are a butthead, you will be warned and then banned. Banning will come only if there is a repeat performance.
Gee, maybe I’m not as cranky as I thought because we are still giving everyone a second chance–again, more than a lot of blogs do.
Anyway, it is time for the cranky writer to get to work and find more coffee. Here ends the rant.