Monday, March 7, 2011

Public Opinion About Writing (As Seen By Me)

As you may or may not know, I work in a bookstore. I am paid to tell people what to read, and I'm paid to organize things. It's a dream come true, really. It's also a good job for an aspiring author because it forces me to keep up on trends, forces me to know about genres I don't read, and forces me to get good at pitching and identifying markets and hooks. It's also taught me a few things about public perception of the publishing process. None of this is exactly news, if you're into the online writing community, but I'm going to blog about it anyway, just 'cause.

(Before I continue, I want to make it clear that this post has nothing to do with specific customers, just The Public as kind of a collective organism. Every single customer is awesome—except when they're absolute jerks and steal things. This is especially true if my bosses are reading this, or any of my customers. If they are, hello and welcome!)

Opinion #1: Paperbacks are released shortly after hardcovers are, if not at the same time or even beforehand. 

That one seems to be pretty common. There's a lot of shock when I say, "No, they haven't released the paperback yet, that book only came out Tuesday/last week/a month ago/at Christmas. You're going to be waiting about a year." And yes, I'm aware of the exceptions and add them into my spiel as necessary.

Opinion #2: All bookstores carry board games.

The national chains do, yes. They also carry chocolates, cooking implements, and toy animals. We are an indie and carry none of these things. I have yet to see an indie that does (unless they, say, specialize in kids books or cookbooks or something).

Opinion #3: I, as a bookseller, have read every book in the store.

There are at least 500,000 titles in my store. To read them all, I'd need to read a book a minute for an entire year, not breaking to work or eat or sleep. And that's not including new stock.

Opinion #4: Bookstores have paper bags, not plastic ones.

Do any bookstores have paper bags these days? The ones here don't, that I've seen. Not even the other indies.

Opinion #5: It takes months, not years, to get a book published.

This one shows up in two forms. There's the "I just finished the Cussler/Kellerman/Patterson/Roberts that came out two days ago. How long until the next one?" form, and the "Oh, you're a writer? When will I be able to buy your book?" form. For both, I explain that there are multiple editors involved, and revisions, and then they've got to print copies, and box them, and ship them for the same date. For the latter, I add that I don't have an agent yet, let alone a book deal. That's at least a year away, right there.

Opinion #6: Agents and the traditional press are evil.

This comes from a couple people who know I want to get published. They helpfully inform me that I'm better off self-publishing because the traditional process is out to fleece me of the money I'm due. I've tried to explain that no, it's not like that, and no, agents are actually looking out for my interests, and no, self-publishing isn't going to work because I'm not good enough at promoting myself to make money that way, and yes, I've looked into ebooks and web-based options and I'm not particularly interested at this time. This does not seem to have changed their opinions.

Opinion #7: All bookstores have an ebook line.

As far as I can tell, the only stores with ebook lines are ones with enough money to develop one. Especially when e-readers are involved. We're an indie. As much as we'd like to, we don't have that kind of money. Maybe if the people asking for ebooks bought paper books from us instead of leaving?

Opinion #8: We are affiliated with the national chains.

Nope. They don't even seem to be trying to put us out of business.

Opinion #9: People aren't reading these days.

Nope. They are. Trust me. Paper books, even!

Now, before you get indignant and tell me that I'm wrong, note that:
  1. I am one person, working in one store, in one neighbourhood, in one city.
  2. This is Canada, not the US or another continent.
That said, I like hearing others' experiences and encounters and opinions. What other publishing-related attitudes have you encountered among the reading public? What opinions did you have, that were corrected once you started writing?


KTHolt said...

I'm glad your indie book shop isn't being actively chased out of town by a chain. I miss working in bookstores and I love that enough indies still exist that I can still idealize the experience. <3

For what it's worth, I still read paper books, too. It baffles me the way that people think paper and electronic text are inherently mutually exclusive. Why not love them both?

JC said...

Dead tree all ther way, at least until I finish filling my las spaces. But I tend to used bookshopsmyself, being broke and all.
I tend to buy new only for promising new writ4rs. And your name again?