1. A couple years back, I agitated for -- and then organized -- a romance-focused session at Winter Institute. An RWA staffer and a couple booksellers from member stores that offered decent romance sections told booksellers what romance readers expect, and why they should care.
I’m a fan of romance without actually being a big reader of it. The
truth is, I’m kind of a prude. Also, I’m a bitter single lady. We offer
full disclosure here at Archimedes Forgets!
3. There have been versions of this post
written every few months, with the same sort of arguments hashed out in
the comments. And to be fair, I’m probably not saying anything new here
Don’t even get me started on the difficulty of trying to apply any sort
of absolute to the independent bookstore sector. Which is not to say I
haven’t done it before, because it’s human nature to look for the
defining characteristics of a group.
What I feel reasonably confident in saying about indie booksellers as a
class is that they don’t like being told what to do. I think that, even
more than platitudes we throw around like “a passion for books,” is why
people are willing to make sacrifices to run or work for small retail
When I talk about independent bookstores, I mean the ones that sell
entirely or primarily new books. I know next to nothing about the used
Romance readers have, in general, been poorly served by many
independent bookstores over the past decade. (Quite probably before
that, too.) I’m not arguing with that premise. I’m not saying that
romance readers should feel any sense of obligation to stores that don’t
meet their needs.
We -- readers -- don’t make coldly practical economic decisions when it
comes to books. If I’m talking about a clothing store that carries
dresses outside my price range or below my size, I can be fairly
dispassionate about it, but if a bookstore doesn’t carry the authors and
genres I like -- especially if there’s an indication that they actively
disdain them -- there’s more of a sense of judgment. Psychology people,
have at it.
Booksellers are used to hearing complaints about their selection. Last
week a customer told my coworker that he hated our store because we
don’t carry computer books. A couple months back, a customer told me
that she had stopped shopping with us because we carry too many new
bestsellers and commercial fiction writers. It’s easy to accept that you
can’t please everyone, but there are days when it feels like you can’t
Shelf space is always a problem. Even stores that want to increase
their romance (or whatever) inventory have trouble finding a place to
stock it. Part of the problem is that bookcases are large pieces of
furniture with fixed dimensions. It doesn’t help your picture book
overflow if you’re able to free up half a shelf in memoir and one shelf
11. I don’t know what fraction of the book-browsing population notices, but cheap paper does not age well.
The groundwood used in pretty much all mass-markets (along with an
increasing number of trade paperbacks) turns yellow very quickly. If
something’s been sitting on the shelves for a while, it shows.
There’s often a significant overlap between a store’s customers and its
employees -- many booksellers started out as customers. So a store that
isn’t drawing romance-reading customers is unlikely to acquire
romance-reading employees unless they look elsewhere. (Thanks to Ann Kingman for pointing this out in the comments to a Booksquare post, ages and ages ago.)
Romance readers are well-served by e-books. Independent bookstores are
not. This gap in interests may prove to be unbridgeable.
No store can be right for everybody. If you’re looking for an
inexpensive book to read once and get rid of, a used bookstore is
probably the best fit. This isn’t the “fault” of the independent
bookstore selling new books at their cover price, it’s just another gap
There are, without question, a non-trivial number of book snobs working
in independent bookstores. (And probably chain stores as well.) Some of
these people have no compunctions about sharing their snobbery with the
objects of it. Which sucks, because it’s very easy for a bad experience
in a single store to color a customer’s feelings about independent
bookstores in general. (Which brings us back to #5.)
For the record, I’m far from perfect, but I do try really hard not to
display any judgment on people’s reading choices. (I wanted to say “not
to pass judgment,” but who am I kidding? I judge based on footwear,
hairstyle, and whether you understand the proper use of “literally.” I
just try not to show it.) I’m no fan of Fifty Shades of Grey
(see prudery reference above), but I’m not going to mock you for asking
for it. Even if you’re the one saying derogatory things about it.
I don’t see any grand solution to the romance reader-independent
bookstore divide. I’m not sure there is one. I think there are stores
that could benefit from making themselves more amenable to the wants of
romance fans, and I think there are stores for which it would be more
trouble than it’s worth. And I know I can’t tell any store what to do
with its inventory. But I can add my own whinging to the mix when I hear
the same complaints again and again.
(Post format shamelessly cribbed from Chasing Ray. When La Colleen starts numbering her paragraphs, watch out.)