Calling All Authors: Amazon Isn't the Worst Offender

The Publishing War Gets Personal

Money has never been my sole consideration when it comes my career. My degree is in journalism, and writing has never been considered exactly lucrative. This is not the same as thinking I should pay you for my work. Yet apparently, this is exactly what one bookseller thinks. And it's not Amazon.

As a first-time author who's just written a book for a small publisher, I'm organizing my own book tour.* I've been contacting bookstores to a variety of responses, from enthusiastic acceptance to blinding indifference. Nothing I wouldn't expect. Until I got the email from one particular book seller. And I quote: "I am thrilled to let you know that we would love to host an event for you! [ details.] Additionally, we also request a $100 cooperative advertising fee to assist with our promotion of the event. I look forward to hearing back from you!"

No, I don't think you do look forward to hearing what I have to say, because it starts with, "how dare you?" Then ends with another "you."

This store knows full well from my imprint that I don't have a "budget." There is no one to whom I can expense this amount. And for those who say it's tax deductible, no one in the history of tax deductions has ever been motivated by tax deductions when said amounts exceed actual pay. Which in this case would be zero, minus $100 for... what, exactly?

I'd like to see the breakdown on that "cooperative" fee. Who exactly am I assisting do what? Am I paying for seven hours of time for one of your staff to write Facebook posts? Can you guarantee all those posts will be about me? Wouldn't that person be posting to Facebook anyway? Screw you, you have a staff to start with. Who throws $100 around without knowing quite what they're paying for?

Encouraging the Worst Kind of Mediocrity

Independents who can afford to toss $100 at a single event at a single bookstore -- which, by the way, expects me to bring the books that they will sell for $20, keeping $10 for... again, what? I can bring my own Square Reader, thanks -- such people probably didn't write their own book. How could they afford to? Unless they're independently wealthy. Most likely, we're talking about a vanity project.

No, it's not fair to say that the stores need to make money, too. That's what the book selling part is about. Plus coffee and bookmarks and whatever else they sell. The main thing for sale at the store is the thing I've produced. A book. In addition to bringing my own books, I am traveling across country at my own expense. They are providing space, sure. But what kind of audience can I expect from them?

I actually was expecting to be turned down when their response to my offer of sending my book was met with a "no, thanks." But apparently, they don't give a crap about books. Or the authors who write them. Anne Sexton, Dorothy Parker and Carson McCullers are whipping their collective fingers from the grave.

Money and Art Have Always Co-Existed

There's a reason Florence gave birth to the Renaissance. The Medicis. You think there weren't other great artists out there? It takes money to not only foster, but cultivate and preserve art. Same goes for New York City, only the benefactors are more generally known as hedge fund managers. Art, and the artists who make it, have to be supported by money, not the other way around.

Which brings me back to Amazon. Sure, Stephen Colbert can afford to hate on the retailing giant. But from where I, and the majority of authors today, sit without storefront distribution, that company has done more for me than any other. My page looks as good as anyone else's, they ship my books for me, and I don't pay a dime. In fact, they pay me.

Let's not forget, I'm not asking this bookstore to fund my "art." I haven't asked them to pay for my travel, or to compensate me for including them on my website or in my newsletter. I'm offering a value for their clients. If they don't feel my service is of sufficient value to cover whatever this $100 fee is supposed to be for, by all means don't offer to "host" me.

Paying to read your book sets a hideous precedent, and I want to discourage anyone who is thinking they have to "pay to play." There is no universe where it's worth it. I pay for my books. If I give them $10 of the $20, I make $0.39 per book. I would have to sell 257 books before making my first $9. I've been on the BBC, national public radio and in major papers as a result of my own work going after publicity. I have yet to sell 100 books in any single location. Remember, this store isn't offering to stock my book. The odds are impossible. The marketplace is harsh enough without encouraging this sickening turn. Don't do it.

*I understand this is true for other authors with more experience and larger presses.