Monday, March 26, 2007

Murderous Thoughts on Chains by Deb Baker

Last August, Murder Passes the Buck was on the shelf in three Milwaukee Barnes and Nobles. Two copies in one store! Then two copies in the other stores. When I went back, my baby wasn’t on their shelves anymore. Just to make sure my Yooper mystery had been purchased rather than returned, I approached the customer service desk and introduced myself as the author.

“We’re sold out,” the friendly helper said.

YES!!! An internal high-five. Way to go, Baker! You rule the universe!

“When are you getting more in?” I wanted to know, big stupid grin on my face.

“Would you like me to order one for you?”

“No. No. I just want to know when you’ll have more on the shelf.”

(So I can come back and turn them out.)

Pause while the computer is searched for clues.

“We won’t be getting anymore of that particular title.”


“Your book isn’t on automatic reorder. Would you like me to order one for the store?”

Duh, yah, of course.

Since that eye-opening day, I’ve been on a campaign to restock MURDER PASSES THE BUCK in the chain stores. I’m finding the same story at every B&N I stop at. Had two. Sold out. No plans to carry more.

If a book sells out in the first week or two, doesn’t it stand to reason that a bookstore would order more??? Doesn’t this make perfect financial sense? Apparently not to B&N.

Some computer software program determines what books are reordered. But the local managers do have ordering authority. If you check the shelf and don’t find your book, ask the store manager to order a few. It’s worked for me every time.

Should I do a Joe Konrath? Instead of visiting over 600 various bookstores like he did, I could do drop-ins at the 800 Barnes and Nobles across the country. I’m doing the math in my head. Even if half of the B&Ns order two more and sell them, that’s still not enough to get placed on auto-order.

Somehow, between last August when the book came out and now, I forgot who counts the most. It took writing this post to get it back.

Who cares about writers? Say the magic words.

The Indies!

Every independent bookseller has greeted me with enthusiasm, especially my local store, Books and Company in Oconomowoc, and those in the Michigan Upper Peninsula where my story is set. The one in my home town of Escanaba is ‘shooting’ for a sales total of 100. Iron Mountain still has Murder Passes the Buck on a special display right next to the counter. My local indie can’t wait for the launch of Murder Grins and Bears It on May 17th. Last year I supplied the wine (you’d be surprised how many friends and acquaintances show up when you mention alcohol), this year they offered to pop for the refreshments.

The independent bookstores can’t afford to ignore sales numbers. If my book sells well, they are absolutely, positively going to order more. They love it when authors pop in. So get out there and meet them! Give them plugs. Buy books from them.
They are your best friends.

Visit me at


Mark Terry said...

Terrific post, Deb. (From Michigan as well). This is why repetitive drive-bys seem necessary, I guess, although perhaps it's just a reminder that bookselling has a strange business model.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Deb! I've had the same experience, which is why I do drive-bys as much as possible wherever I am.

But while my wonderful local indies do sell dozens and dozens more of my books per store, there is no escaping the fact that we must court the big chains as well. I've found in my drive-bys that many of the chain managers love getting to know the authors, and often you can encourage a close relationship with some of them on a store-by-store basis. A Borders a few miles from me hand sells my books for that reason, but the B&N closest to me turns their nose up at the suggestion of ordering more. Yet another B&N about 25 miles aways re-stocks them happily and gives me great space. Go figure!

It's all part of the mystery of the books business.

Keep up the great work!

Bill Cameron said...

I went into a Borders yesterday, and couldn't find a single Midnight Ink book. It was disappointing. I talked to the info desk person, and they were very nice, offered to order copies of anything I wanted. I was on a scouting mission though.

Because I already knew I could find just about any MI book I wanted at Murder by the Book here in Portland. And if it wasn't in stock, that was a temporary aberration they'd probably already taken care of.

Hail, Indies!

Mark Terry said...

I've been in most Borders, but B&N has been much harder to come by.

In lower Michigan there aren't that many indies, so it's been harder for me to judge.

Deb Baker said...

It's constant work. Mark, you have some awesome indies in lower Michigan. McLean and Eakin in Pekoskey, Horizon in Traverse City... I search the booksellers trade associations like the Great Lakes T.A.

Mark Terry said...

I mean lower, lower Michigan--those are northern lower Michigan. I'm in a Detroit suburb.

Joe Moore said...

Nice post, Deb. Makes you wonder if there's anything easy about this insane business we're in.

Susan Goodwill said...

I'm in lower-lower Michigan, too and have had great luck with Borders stocking and some handselling.
B & N same experience as others. Some are very nice once we meet and a few have been super about signings, but I have to schmooze to get the books on the shelf in the first place.
I think the only indie down here is Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor.

Keith Raffel said...

Ain't it the truth, Deb. Gotta keep driving by. Yesterday I stopped by a local Borders and talked to a fellow behind the counter. I mentioned to him that they were out of Dot Deads even though the store computer said they had one. Just then a store buyer walked by. We spoke for a few minutes. Then this morning he sent me an email saying he'd ordered a hundred. I'm gobsmacked! Is he pulling my leg? Anyway, I emailed back and said that I'd be glad to come in and stand at a table and hand-sell books. He said to get in touch with the manager next week. Is all this a fantasy? Dunno.

Mark Combes said...

Being "in the business" I know that chains often get a bad rap - sometimes deserving - sometimes not. Remember that the PEOPLE at the chain stores are often book lovers as much as the person at the independent across town - it's just that they are chained to the radiator of corporate rules and procedures. Getting the corporate buyer to "model" your book and thus getting it to be on auto-reorder is like trying to divide ice from snow so the best way is via the "back door." And in this case, the "back door" is your store manager and the personnel in the store. Treat them like the book lover you are because you don't work at Borders and B&N etc if you are just looking for any old retail job. Work 'em like you'd work an independent and you'll get, more often than not, a decent response.

G.M. Malliet said...

This is a scary business. I had no idea.

Mark Combes said...

You better be a writer because you love to write - because it's going to be a long slog to fame and fortune. Persistence, honing your craft, working your marketing plan and a little love and luck and you just might make it big.

Julia Buckley said...

I will try to learn by your noble example (and all of your footwork). Thanks for going first. :)