Occupy Parnassus!

As I’ve tried to market and publicize my recently published novella “Rip,” a modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” I’ve had to deal with this reality: It was published by an independent literary press, not by one of the mega-publishers, and that means bookstores and libraries and even some readers may look askance at my witty, clever, entertaining and perfect-for-someone-to buy-the-movie-rights book.

Happily, most of the people I’ve encountered — including bookstore owners and library directors — have been very good about treating me like I’m a real author of a real book, enthusiastically inviting me to read and to sign copies of books I sell, and (in the case of independent bookstores) taking a fair and reasonable share of the proceeds from book sales.

Nevertheless, and despite the sea changes in the world of traditional publishing, there are still the resisters and opponents and non-cooperators — using shorthand, let’s use the more familiar term “jerks” — whose futures are made cloudy and uncertain, at best, by the mega-publishers and mega-websites and mega-bookstore chains but who still cop an attitude toward small-press and independent books.

A representative of several independent bookstores in northeastern Massachusetts had expressed interest — even apparent enthusiasm — about “Rip” and the notion of having me do readings and book-signings at two of his stores. But then he sent me his guidelines and requirements, which included a fee of $50 to stock my book on his shelves and a fee of $250 for staging a reading at one of his stores.

Take heart, take heart, my fellow scriveners, and read the reply I sent in response to his kind offer. ————————————–
Dear X:

I’m writing in response to your letter outlining your policy for selling books and hosting readings by independent-press authors at your stores in XXXX and XXXX.

I find myself thinking about the “Occupy” movement and its rallying cry: that it represents the 99 percent of Americans who are being controlled, manipulated and often trampled by the 1 percent who control the vast majority of the nation’s wealth and, thus, wield most of the power, mostly using that power to safeguard their own interests.

I doubt that an “Occupy XXXX” or “Occupy XXXX” protest would accomplish much. But I like the idea of “Occupy Parnassus.” I’m hoping that you, besides making money from the sale of books and their authors, also read books. If you do, perhaps you’ll appreciate the Parnassus reference (from Greek mythology) to the mountain that was home to the Muses, and so is the symbolic home of the arts and literature.

I find myself thinking that stores like yours, which face the real prospect of extinction as you stand in the path of the unstoppable forces of online outlets like Amazon and big chains like Barnes and Noble, would think of their position as being very much akin to authors who find themselves caught in the chokehold of merchandising and money and megadeals that now rule mainstream publishing.

If you run an independent bookstore fighting against the impersonal and homogenized book-sale conglomerates, you’re part of the 99 percent. But your policy makes it sound like your true sentiments reside with the 1 percent.

At a cover price of $12.95, my profit margin on “Rip” is $7.70. To pay you 50% of the cover price would leave me with about $1.20 per book while you would collect five times that amount. What’s more, you want me to pay $50 for you to sell my book at your store. Tell me how that is fair and equitable. I’d have to sell about 40 books to break even.

For $250, you tell me you’ll stock the book and schedule me to read at your store. To make back that $250, I’d have to sell about 200 books at your store. Are you able to guarantee that level of success at your store? Are you that solvent and secure in this Age of Kindle?

I can only assume that your policy is very consciously intended to discourage independent authors who are pursuing other paths to the peak of Parnassus. If you’re in the business of selling books because books, to you, are simply a commodity, then I guess your policy makes sense. If you purport to love books, or think it’s important to put books in the hands of people, or to encourage creative pursuits, then your policy reveals a sad hypocrisy.

I have readings and signings for “Rip” scheduled at bookstores in New York, New Jersey and in Massachusetts venues over the next months. I’ve already made two appearances at bookstores. Neither suggested that I pay them $250 for the privilege of selling my books at their stores and sharing my talents with their customers by reading from and talking about my work. They took a 20 percent commission on books sold at those events and, in a gesture of support for independent authors, bought — bought, not took on consignment — books at 80 percent of the cover price to sell at their stores.

So, if you’d like me to be a guest author at your store, here are my terms:

– no fee to read/sign
– no fee to stock “Rip”
– bookstore to buy books at 80% of cover price for their stock
– 20% (of cover price) to the store for each book sold at the reading/signing
– the bookstore to advertise as is their standard for a reading/signing
– the bookstore to provide refreshments as is their standard for a reading/signing

In exchange for agreeing to those conditions, I will read selections from my novella “Rip,” answer audience questions, sign copies of books sold, talk about Washington Irving’s original and how it compares to my parody, and perhaps — if we schedule an appearance for the holidays — read from one of Irving’s delightful essays about Christmas in Olde England.

Best wishes,

Nicholas DiGiovanni

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One thought on “Occupy Parnassus!

  1. Nice letter, Nicholas, but somehow I doubt Mr. X will understand your very clearly stated logic.

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