The Daughter Unit and I spent most of Saturday morning in the lovely little town of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley is situated on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, in the hills to the west of San Marcos. It’s closer to Austin than to San Antonio and seems to have become even more of a weekend tourist draw, since we first visited it in the late 1990ies. Then there were just a handful of little shops catering to tourists, and one restaurant with had memorable hamburgers and an outside deck which overlooked the riverbank, all grown with cypress trees, great and green. There were a fair number of hippie artisan types; potters, glass-blowers, metal-fabricators and the like, plus the usual number of antique shops, which tended more towards the ‘quaint old country junk’ side of the scale. On the first Saturday of the month, Wimberley stages a mammoth open-air market – something we’ve been to a number of times. It’s supposed to be the oldest and biggest one in Texas.
And for four years running, Alan Bourgeois of the Texas Association of Authors has tried to fire up a local book festival, in the community center. I’ve had a go at participating in it every time, but it has never really taken off, so the TAA is not going to try it for a fifth time. The community center is just too far away from the established track of the shoppers on foot around the town center. The Daughter Unit supposes that the energy in Wimberley for community events is pretty much taken up by staging the monthly open-air market anyway.
There are community-sponsored book festivals which are worth participating in, though. I’ve participated in some of them since I began doing the direct marketing of my own books: generally, they are at more than a single day in duration and involve the hands-on participation by a good few local personalities and establishments. The Giddings Word Wrangler is one of those: held over three days, involving authors visiting schools, an evening small-scale gala, groups of schoolkids making a fieldtrip of it, a community-sponsored fish-fry. That one is a keeper, as is the West Texas Book Festival in Abilene. There is a lovely evening event to support the local library in Lockhart – I was invited to participate once and enjoyed it very much. Miss Ruby’s Book Corral in Goliad, which is part of Goliad’s Christmas on the Square celebration is another keeper, although it is only a single-day event. Community support of more than the perfunctory sort – as in, “here’s a venue, we’ll put up some posters and notify the local media” is absolutely necessary, it would appear from this experience.
Alas, other market events which once were worth participating in, aren’t any more. Either the cost to participate became too great in relation to sales – either direct sales or a bump-up afterwards because of information about books handed to potential readers, or as in the case of the New Braunfels Weinachtsmarket, the management decided not to offer the venue to authors at a half-day-rate for a fairly reasonable donation. This and other potential good markets were the topic of discussion among authors on Saturday, and at other events of this sort. The other authors that I talked to pretty much agreed that the marketing situation has to change; especially given the news that Alan emailed to the membership late last week that the Barnes and Noble chain (long rumored to be circling the drain) has been bought by a hedge fund organization – which Alan believes will mean the closing of non-profitable stores in the near future. Generally, indy authors have found the B&N organization inhospitable to work with, and this insight comes over a number of years of experience – both my own, and that of other indy and small-press authors. There are local managers who bucked that corporate trend and did good work in bringing in local indy authors to their outlets. A handful of early contributors to the defunct Independent Author Association found that to be the case in their own endeavors, but in the main, most of the rest of us found nothing but indifference. In the main, as Alan discovered when he actually had a face-to-face meet with the then- B&N CEO – B&N preferred as a matter of policy to do business with the existing Big Establishment Publishing houses; not go through all the trouble of dealing with a litter of small independent or individual publishers.
BTW, the local Borders outlets in San Antonio were wonderful in staging events for local authors – but they, alas, are now gone with the wind. The same for the Hastings chain. Independent bookstores – where they do exist, against the odds – are a variable lot. Sometimes they are supportive of local indy authors, but the bald fact that they often require books from indy and small press authors to be on consignment (rather than from a distributor) at the authors’ expense, and often are careless about the bookkeeping on consignment sales … this might have changed in recent years what with computer-based bookkeeping and all, but I and others had pretty bruising experiences with consignees who were not particularly scrupulous in the pen and paper days. Most of us indy and local authors are trying to treat this as a business, and make a profit from the exercise, and it does not help when local vendors treat us as careless dilettantes who can afford considerable of an economic hit just for the jollity of seeing our print books on the shelf, locally.
So where is all this going, as regards retail sales in the local market for indy authors? More to follow…