How Indie Bookstores are killing Indie Books

The last sacred cow of the book world is planting the seeds of its own irrelevance. The untouchable, most holy of institutions, hailed as the prime literary taste-maker and engine of new discoveries, no longer holds its touted powers, yet none dare voice out loud that the ‘Emperor’ is no longer wearing their clothes.

Until now.

Once upon a time, in the blissful days of the pre-Internet literary world, local independent bookstores played a crucial role in discovering and publicizing new books. Great books on small presses could win the attention of literary agents and major publishers, and the then-Big-Six’s ‘hidden gems’ could find the accolades they deserved.

For the last fifteen years, the Web has been usurping the indie bookstores’ ‘power of influence’. Countless literary review sites and blogs, and book retailers’ online reviews, have, for the most part, taken over the role of “taste-maker and engine of discovery”. Yet, everyone in the literary world still treats the local indie stores as the most sacred of cows.

They shouldn’t.


Yes, one of their biggest issues can be summed up nicely in a meme. Yet, the problems here go much deeper than that. Indies are backing away en-masse from “local author” programs and even stocking any books released by small presses. With the Big Five’s ever-increasing risk aversion, and honing of commercial formulas, how much “literary discovery” can the local indie stores really do, when they restrict themselves to carrying only major-publisher books?

Soon, the indie bookstores will be forced to recommend books by “James Patterson” his hired writers, because they’ll be the only titles left on their shelves.


A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.

Due to the aforementioned risk aversion, increasing numbers of excellent books will never be published by the Big Five. And those books have to go somewhere.

Over the last five years, many have headed for self-publishing. The preponderance of best-selling self-published books has long since proven that the Big Five’s commercial formulae are missing many #1 New York Times (e-book) best-sellers, and even “The Martian”, a novel that served as the genesis of a hit movie. No indie bookstore could have discovered or championed “The Martian”, because it was never on their shelves in the first place.

And the indies’ lack of shelf diversity is creating an even bigger problem for themselves.

Given the relative ease of self-publishing, it is safe to say that any author who signed to an independent publisher after, say, the year 2010, was an author who was committed to having print versions of their books available for sale at bookstores.

With the local stores turning a blind eye to small press books, in the process they also shelf-block the authors who committed themselves to the more difficult path of traditional publishing, just to have print versions of their books, that the typical indie bookstore will now no longer stock. In other words, the indies won’t stock the books by the authors who gave up full creative control and self-publishing’s higher royalty rates, just to get print editions for stores that will no longer carry them.

Not a great way to make friends of those authors. Or, for that matter, their independent publishers.

In the face of this trend, some great small presses have had to shut down (R.I.P. Booktrope). Others, like my own publisher PDMI Publishing, LLC, have moved on to targeting large book retailers. For the last several years, PDMI has been holding its author signings at major chains such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, which have proven to be more receptive to the small press, its authors and its books than the typical local indie bookstore.

Other small presses still vainly holding out hope for the indie shelves will probably go the way of Booktrope, sad to say. And once all of their authors realize the “local indie Emperor” is no longer wearing their shiny book-championing armor, they’ll be free to move on.

Once again, their books will have to go somewhere.

“Yes, self-publishing,” you say, “but what about print? Print isn’t dead.”

Which is precisely why Amazon is venturing into brick-and-mortar book retailing. If the indie bookstores thought CreateSpace was bad, “they ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Once Amazon’s brick-and-mortar infrastructure is in place, any “Kindle” that catches fire can be on Amazon’s bookshelves in a couple of weeks. Are the Big Five and their self-appointed ‘indie’ taste-makers ready for a world where books that bypass them entirely can become #1 New York Times PRINT best-sellers?

Another hypothetical question: What would happen if more independent publishers followed the path of PDMI and focused on large retailers? Unlike the Big Five, smaller publishers could sign exclusive deals with large retailers, in return for print book shelf space. A “Barnes & Noble Exclusive” title could easily reach #1 NYT best-seller status, if carried in enough stores.

And, given the local stores’ current exclusionary climate, would any of the publisher’s authors really object if their publisher went “Barnes & Noble Exclusive”, especially if it meant their book got shelf space at B&N’s across the U.S.?

One thing is sure to continue. Once Amazon entries are regularly populating several places of the Top Ten New York Times print best-seller list, the indie stores will whine and complain about it. Yet much of the ‘blame’ will rest with themselves, for turning a blind eye to the smaller publishers and their authors, all parties involved who had dedicated themselves to the difficult task of producing print books, only to be rebuffed at virtually every turn. Killing off some of the geese that laid the golden eggs, but those eggs have to go somewhere.

Straight to Amazon’s waiting nest. 😈

UPDATE 9/08/16: A quote from this excellent Observer article The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists :

“(For the N.Y.T. list) a hardcover copy of your book purchased on is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X.”
Here may be a more valid reason why people are still treating indie stores like sacred cows.
Yet, if you could sell a million books at Wal-Mart alone, you may not make the N.Y.T. list, and you definitely wouldn’t make the W.S.J. list, as Wall Street Journal doesn’t even tally Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club sales, which is a ‘hole’ big enough to drive literal semi-trailers full of books through….

UPDATE Aug. 2017: Alas, PDMI Publishing, LLC also fell victim to the realities of the book-retailing climate, but their later focus on major retailers was the correct thing to at least attempt to do, even if it didn’t save the company.


If MY vampires drove Volvos…

Volvo 122 wagon rod

1960’s Volvo 122 wagon

If you want to read about a cool vampire with a cool Volvo, look no further than Dark Road to Paradise (Tales of the Night-Kind)

Self-publishers ARE the new industry

The record industry killed the cheap single. Apple iTunes’ 99-cent “a la carte” MP3’s filled the vacuum.

The traditional publishing industry raised the price of paperbacks. Amazon’s low-priced e-books filled the vacuum.



David Gaughran

There’s a lot of talk at the moment that cheap books are destroying the industry.

In traditional publishing circles especially, fingers are being pointed at self-publishers (and their chief enablers, Amazon), who stand accused of encouraging a race to the bottom, of devaluing books, and training readers to pay ever-cheaper amounts – making the whole book business unsustainable.

Today, I have a guest post from Ed Robertson – author of Breakers and Melt Down – which takes issue with that view. His logic is compelling, based on a historical look at book prices. This is really worth the read:

Self-Publishers Aren’t Killing The Industry, They’re Saving It

I’m a self-publisher. An indie author. Whatever you want to call me. I’ve read many articles about how self-publishers are killing the book industry. I’ve heard it from big publishing houses. From the president of the Author’s Guild. From traditionally published novelists and agents…

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Mactus e-book, free on Amazon Oct. 6 and 7

If you’re searching for YA paranormal romance, and you decided to check out my blog because it’s called “Vampire Syndrome”, I have some good news for you.

Emily Guido’s novel Mactus, book two of The Light-Bearer Series, will be free on Amazon this weekend (Sat. Oct 6, Sun. Oct 7).
Her latest blog post features the action-packed chapter “Soaring“.

I must admit that her YA paranormal romance is quite different from my novel “Vampire Syndrome”, which is an adult-reader urban paranormal, and not a romance. But her Light-Bearer Series and my Vampire Syndrome saga have a common theme.

Fighting prejudice.

In Emily’s series, Tabbruis (A sanguinarian Blood-Hunter) meets his soul-mate Charmeine (a lightning-throwing Light-Bearer). Their kindred are prejudiced against one another, so Tabbruis and Charmeine will have to fight to survive (and raise their family!)

In Vampire Syndrome, newly-turned Jack Wendell, born with Down Syndrome, quickly discovers the vampire community’s long-standing prejudice against special-needs vampires like himself. Jack has to convince other vampires that he is an asset to their community. Even winning over powerful allies will not end Jack’s problems, because Jack discovers the human vampires have a fearsome enemy, the Pure (alien) vampires. And the Pures want Jack to be their servant. 😈

Two different sagas, two different sub-genres of paranormal, but under all that, one underlying theme. We have to learn to overcome our differences and find common ground, to survive, and to thrive. 🙂

This is why I’m proud to feature Emily’s novel on my blog.

Smashed Words

The most dismaying thing about my Smashwords experience is that my first version of their .epub file was unreadable, after that file passed their Meatgrinder, Autovetter and Epubcheck systems. Their first version of my .mobi file had no paragraph breaks, but was otherwise readable. Oddly, the other Smashwords files (.pdf and text variants) came out perfectly formatted on the first try.

Meanwhile, I can create a .mobi file with Calibre, upload it to Amazon KDP and the Kindle .kdf file will match the .mobi I uploaded.

Then, I can make an .epub file in Calibre, send it to Barnes & Noble PubIt, and the Nook file will match my upload.

(and you get to preview your uploads at Amazon and B&N, unlike Smashwords)

After that, I can go to Booktango and get my book on the “other guys” (Apple, Sony, Kobo, Google, etc.) You can also do Amazon and B&N Nook e-books on Booktango if you don’t wish to upload to those two companies directly.

On Booktango, you upload an .epub or .doc file directly and preview it. The best part is that you can edit your uploaded file online, after you’ve uploaded it. 😀 Booktango offers a litany of paid services to choose from as well (formatting, cover design, press releases, etc.)

Compare all this to Smashwords. No previews, and my first version .epub was unreadable after it passed their vetting programs (which I could only found out after I downloaded it).

My summary: Smashwords may have the indie cred, but Booktango is everything Smashwords should be. I’ll choose modern uploading functionality (matching or surpassing Amazon/B&N) over hours of editing that produced an unreadable file (passed by their systems!) that you couldn’t preview.

Update: After another week’s labor on my part, I finally created a file that produced decent, usable .mobi and .epub files on Smashwords.

My experiences above still argue strongly for paying an expert to format your file for Smashwords. Look at all the time I spent on it. $20 paid would be a real bargain.

And after all that, the Smashwords files lack the Table Of Contents customizations I made to the other versions. The glossary and playlist pages are appended after the concluding chapter, rather than directly accessible in the TOC (as on the Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Booktango versions).

Another argument for Booktango: You create your own chapter headings in the online editor (in fact, you have to!). If you want to use one service to distribute your work, keep in mind that Booktango’s online editor lets you make sure your document looks correct, and has the chapter headings you want (and where you want them), before you publish it. Booktango also distributes to Amazon, whereas Smashwords generally does not (unless you’ve sold over $1000 of books on their site).

“Vampire Syndrome” is now available for Kindle

Amazon Kindle: Vampire Syndrome (YA version)
Vampire Syndrome Young Adult Cover

Amazon Kindle: Vampire Syndrome (adult version)
Vampire Syndrome Adult Cover