young adult book reviews & more

When books cannot be found in store

Every once in a while, something disastrous happens in the world of books. No, I’m not being melodramatic, at least, not really. It might not be completely disastrous, but there is no doubt that it can be very devastating and certainly disappointing.

Every once in a while, books are not stocked in bookstores.

I know I’m not the only reader out there who finds it upsetting to walk into a bookstore and not be able to find a favorite book. It means that other readers may not be able to access a story that I really cared about. It means that potential readers are less likely to stumble upon this book purely by accident. Ultimately, it means that this book may not be getting into the hands of some people who will love this story.

As I feel that this is not a topic that many readers know much about, I will do my best in my post to address how this sort of situation arises, how this affects authors and readers, and what we as book lovers can do to change things or at least make them better.

Why Books Are Not Stocked in Store
It is quite obvious that bookstores, even the smaller ones, carry a large quantity and variety of books. Yet, at the same time, no bookstore can carry every book; that would be economically unrealistic and physically impossible. So, how do bookstores figure out which books to stock out of the multitudes of books that are published each year?

The key is that every bookstore has a buyer whose job is to select which books to stock in the store. Now, what are the criteria for selecting books? Obviously, this varies by store, but here are a few of the factors that booksellers may consider:

1. Packaging of the book (including title and cover artwork)
2. Publishing trends
3. Potential audience

What’s important to remember is that selling books is a business. Booksellers may not find it worth investing time, money, and space in stocking a book if they think it won’t sell in their store. For example, someone strolling through a bookstore is unlikely to pick up a book with an aesthetically unpleasant cover because people do judge books by their covers. Likewise, this person is not very likely to pick up a book with a strange title. Booksellers may stock more books because of the popularity of a specific trend (think vampires and other paranormal creatures in YA) because these books are likely to sell well. Basically, if a bookstore thinks lots of people are going to buy a certain book, they are much more likely to stock it.

However, there is another side to this equation. Since so many books are published each year, it seems unlikely that a buyer has time to sort through all of these to determine which books are the best fit for which bookstore. This is where the sales and marketing people of the publishing houses come in. It’s their job to convince the buyer that he or she should stock their new titles. The success of the sales and marketing reps hinges upon the following:

1. The rep’s familiarity with the title
2. The quantity of titles produced by this title’s publishing house

Some publishing houses are so large that they produce hundreds of books every year. How are sales and marketing reps supposed to familiarize themselves enough with each of these books in order to convince buyers to stock them? The answer is a little ugly, because oftentimes, they can’t. And to be honest, it’s unrealistic to expect them to intimately know each and every one of the books they’re trying to sell.

There isn’t a specific party to blame in these situations, but these causes lead to the unfortunate effect where certain books are not stocked in bookstores.

How This Affects Authors
Not having books stocked in bookstores can have profound repercussions for authors. Perhaps the more obvious effect is on a psychological level. It can’t be easy for any author, especially debut authors, to find out that a bookstore, especially one as large as Barnes & Noble, will not be carrying their book. When you take into account the amount of work, love, and dedication that each author pours into his or her books, this situation is upsetting to say the least.

What makes this even worse is that many authors whose books are not carried by Barnes & Noble, in particular, never find out the reason why. They are left wondering which party in this chain didn’t have faith in their book or what little detail made someone think that readers would be less likely to pick up this book in stores.

Another way to look at this situation is from an economic standpoint. It’s pretty obvious that when books are not carried in stores, people cannot buy those books in those stores. This directly affects the sales of the books, which reflect, of course, back on the author. And when an author’s books sell poorly, they are less likely to have more books published. So, on top of the psychological disappointment and stress of not having one’s book stocked in bookstores, authors have to deal with the economic fallout.

Why We Should Care
Well, this is all good and well, but why should we as readers care? Why does it matter whether so-and-so’s book is stocked in our local Barnes & Noble or not?

A good starting place to answer these questions is probably our love for books. We like reading books. We like knowing that there will be more books that we will like. We like being able to walk through a bookstore, browse the shelves, and pick a book to read.

What we probably don’t normally take into account is what it takes for us to access these books. If we’re picking books out at a bookstore, we are limited by the selection of books that have been laid out for us. What if there’s another book that we might like better? Or, maybe we may have a favorite author. Maybe this person’s books weren’t stocked and didn’t sell well, and as a result, we won’t get that sequel we desperately wanted. And these are only the selfish reasons.

We should care because we care about books period, and we care about other readers getting to love the same books that we did.

What We Can Do
So what can we, as mere individual readers, do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Buy books from a local independent bookstore. The people who open up and work at these stores are people who truly care about supporting books and authors, probably because they started out as book readers and lovers.
2. Spread the word. If you learn that a particular book will not be stocked in Barnes & Noble, for example, let other people know, especially if this is a book your enjoyed and hope others will read. This way, other readers will know where to go to find this book.
3. Ask your library to order the book. Many librarians also truly care about supporting books and authors, and if your library has a copy, it means anyone with a library card now has access to this book.
4. Request the bookstore to order this book. Perhaps they will only order a single copy, because you asked for it, but there’s always a chance that they will order more (especially if you hint that you know other people who will buy it).

This list is by no means exhaustive or even proven to be effective. I am neither suggesting nor condoning making a huge fuss in order to sell a few books. Instead, I’m hoping that these options will provide a few alternatives to not buying a book merely because it can’t be found in Barnes & Noble.

Most of all, I greatly hope that this post has been informative and hopefully has enlightened a few more readers on an unfamiliar topic. Though I had help as I researched this topic, I take full responsibility for any and all of the information in this post that is in any way misleading or incorrect.

I want to give a big hug and many thanks to A.S. King, who was kind enough to share her story of when her second and Printz honor book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, was not stocked by Barnes & Noble when it first released. I want to give a shout out to Kirsten Hubbard who was brave enough to blog about her experience when her debut novel, Like Mandarin, also wasn’t stocked in Barnes & Noble; though I have yet to read her first book, her second, Wanderlove, is a thing of utmost beauty. Lastly, I want to thank an author and friend for inspiring me to write this post in the first place (I owe you a cupcake).

For those authors out there who are unfortunately familiar with this situation: we care.

3 munch(es) :

Leigh Purtill said...

Great post, Rachael! I have been where Miss Hubbard was - my second novel was not stocked at B&N - and it was a real slap in the face. As she notes in her post, you don't want to seem ungrateful but when you don't ever get a reason why it wasn't picked up, it's frustrating. You feel like you have to question everything about your work. You are spot on with all of this backstory - and right that most people have no idea about any of it. Thanks for shining the light on this!

Debbie's World of Books said...

Funny you happen to post this now. I was just complaining that I hit one of our local indies and called two others and couldn't find any of the four children's books on the wish list for the little girl we got for our book exchange party. I was sad I had to resort to ordering from Amazon instead.

Heather Zundel said...

This is a fantastic introduction to a very important topic. And even better that you give option of what we can do to improve the situation.

Post a Comment

Let the munching begin.