North Florida Writers Group , Bookstores and other Stuff

Saturday, I drove up from Dunnellon, Florida, to Orange Park, just south of Jacksonville, Fl, where I visited with Kathy O’ Donnell in her independent book store, “Well Loved Books”. It was a sad occasion, because after a few years of working hard and investing a great deal of her savings, she was closing her doors.

Not because she is a poor businesswoman; she is not. And not because she treats her customers badly; she does not. She is closing her doors because the economic situation does not allow people to hold any cash back for discretionary spending – in other words, folks just do not have enough money left over to spend on frills like books. In the past year alone, three books stores (including Kathy’s) that carried my novels have closed their doors. I know of at least three others that have also closed due to the economy.

Every one of them is a disaster; for the owners who have lost their dreams right along with their income and for the customers who will not have a book store in their neighborhood for many years to come, and for authors who will see a marked decrease in their income.

If I were willing to write about politics I would have a great deal to say on the subject. But I am not willing to do that. I hate politics and politicians with a passion and will not do anything to encourage any of them.

But when I spoke with Kathy as I picked up the copies of my novels she had not sold, she said she blamed the loss of her business on the Kindle. I could have argued the point with her, but chose not to. She had enough on her plate, and I did not want to leave her with any reason to be angry with me.

It would have been meaningless anyway, because in one true sense she was right.

I had a speaking engagement with the North Florida Writers Group in Green Cove Springs later that afternoon, so I bid Kathy a good bye and climbed back into my car, retraced part of my trip and got to Green Cove in about twenty minutes.

Howard Denson, President of the group, contacted me about two weeks ago to ask if I would speak to the group (it normally meets at the Willow Branch Library in Jacksonville, Fl, but the basement room where they meet is now covered in about two feet of mud from the last heavy rains) at their temporary location, the “Historic Grounds Book Store and Gift Shop” in Green Cove Springs.

When I asked for a subject, he said I should ‘wing it’. So I did, just as soon as enough folks sat down to make the effort worthwhile. I gave them a good fifteen minutes on how and why I write, and why people buy on author’s work instead of another’s. Just to catch you up, I work from a snapshot of an activity and ask myself who is in the photo, what they are doing, where they came from and where they went after the snapshot was taken. In other words, I just make it all up as I go along, and do whatever research is necessary to describe the area where scenes take place and provide enough background information to convince the reader that I know what I’m talking about.

Then I spoke on a part of the writing craft that should be near and dear to every author; marketing and promotion. In other words, why should that pesky reader buy YOUR book instead of mine?

After about ten minutes on this I moved on to the closure of Kathy’s bookstore and what she gave as the reason. And why I thought she was wrong.

The growth of the Kindle did NOT create the economic situation we find ourselves in today. The success of the Kindle and the other eBook readers is, however, due in large part TO the economy. People just cannot continue to pay twelve, thirteen and even fifteen dollars for paperback books.

They cannot even afford to pay three or four dollars for a used paperback. That is why Kathy lost her store. Customers just cannot afford to buy books in any number, at any price.

But if you pay $80.00 or $90.00 or even $200.00 for a Kindle, you can download lots and lots of free books and every once in a while you can even afford to treat yourself to a book or two you have to pay for.

And you don’t even have to leave your house to do it (so no gas gets burned up and you don’t have to drive to a bookstore and wander around looking for something to read. You can do it all on line).

Content really is King, ladies and gentlemen. Really.

Authors create content. That’s what we do. We don’t write ‘books’. We create content and package it as necessary to meet the expectations of our market. Sometimes it’s paper, sometimes it’s hardback, sometimes it’s audio and sometimes it’s strictly digital.

And you as the author had better figure out that you have to follow the market wherever it leads you. And right now it’s leading you away from paperback publishing.

I do not say that you should throw up your hands at publishing in paper or hardback. People will always buy books. But most of the reading public just cannot buy them in the number they used to. The economy simply will not allow that any more. But eBooks are right there with an alternative, and more and more readers ARE going digital (whatever eBook reader they choose).

Whatever funds you have set aside for marketing and promotion, focus on your eBook versions. That is where the majority of your sales will take place for the next several years.

That is what I told the North Florida Writers Group, and now I’m telling you.

Your comments are always welcome.

About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. Those words were written a few years ago. Frankly speaking, the literary well has dried up. I now live in Dunnellon, Fl, where I amworking as the caretaker on a horse farm and looking to build a workshop here on the property where I can get back to building furniture. With any luck I will be sinking piers some time early in November and hope to have the floor joists ready for flooring by the end of the month. I'll get back to you on that.
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4 Responses to North Florida Writers Group , Bookstores and other Stuff

  1. Sara Flower says:

    Great post about how the economy has shaped how writers format their stories. “Authors create content. That’s what we do. We don’t write ‘books’.” rings so true.

    It’s sad that independent bookstores are suffering these days, but, as a writer, this market shift is exciting. Readers can also enjoy reading more stories now that they are in ebook format.

  2. dianesloftis says:

    I have very strong opinions of my own about the Kindle and other forms of digital readers. My mind is set that there are plenty of us “book lovers” whom understand the absolute beauty of holding a real book in our hands, the sweet smell that lingers in air with every turn of a page, and the overwhelming emotions that surface when we realize the book has ended. It is priceless! I do not have that same connection with digital readers. It is saddening, our economy. Small businesses including but not limited to independent bookshops are feeling the greatest impact. Your experiences of being forced to pull your books and watch your friend suffer are unimaginable. For me, I am choosing to the support where I can. A majority is local! Your speech sounds very interesting! Unfortunately, I had another engagement that day. I encourage you to keep moving forward with your unique talent!

    • Diane, I hope you know that I agree with very nearly everything you say. I love books; always have and always will. But in a collapsing economy where discretionary income loses it’s value every day and where production costs continue to rise steadily, books are being priced right out of the market. This is not solely my opinion. I wish it were, and I wish that someone could prove me wrong.

      But that is not going to happen. There will always be books; but most people will not have the cash to buy them are readily as they used to. EBooks are a viable alternative, and they are a profitable format for authors. And they are a lot better than no market for authors at all.

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