Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Mexico Book Tour


Well, I've come home and crashed out for a couple of days and I'm about half way done with dealing with the storm damage, but I realized I haven't really talked about the New Mexico trip, even though I've thought about it quite a bit as I hack and slash through downed tree branches.

The itinerary was roughly a loop. Starting from Amarillo and heading west on I-40, I used by iPhone as a guide, doing a search for 'Bookstore' at each town I passed through. When "Readmore Books" popped up in Tucumcari, I nervously got off the interstate and found the place. But I was too early in the day so I left a flyer in the door and headed on. Santa Rosa said there was a bookstore at an RV campground, but I knew that place from previous trips and again, I was there at the wrong time of day. Things to note: When doing a book tour like this, with no pre-arrangements and drop in visits, business hours were valuable. Considering how many miles I was traveling through the state, awareness of when the stores would open became more important. And as the case of the RV place, not everything Google flagged as a bookstore was likely to be interested in young adult science fiction.

But my original goal had been Las Vegas, and that was coming up. The novel Roswell or Bust, which came out in April, has many chapters taking place in Las Vegas, so I really wanted to let the people of that town, particularly the high school population, know that the book existed. I arrived in town noonish and visited the tourist information places and donated a copy at the library. The big bookstore, "Tome on the Range" was a nice place, and I talked to some of the workers, but my lack of preparation left me with no sales and just a phone number to call back in June. Hey, I tried to contact them early, but as I mentioned in the earlier blog, things just didn't work out. So, with contacts made and flyers left, I called Mary Ann for encouragement and moved on. I knew I should visit Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and of course Roswell, but beyond that, I was just winging it.

Cimmaron, a little town next to the canyon of the same name and the gateway to the famous Philmont Boy Scout camp gave me a much needed boost. I didn't see any bookstores on Google, but there was a "Variety Store" there and on a whim, I stopped and walked in with my little accordion file that contained flyers and each of the books. The manager lady was friendly when I asked if variety included books. It seems that it did, at least a wire rack worth. In fact, when I asked, she took six of the Roswell's.

Bubbly with enthusiasm, I headed on into the Moreno Valley, hoping for a bookstore in the Angelfire ski area. No luck. Maybe there would be in season, but the only Google hit was closed and gone. Oh, well, Taos would have book stores. Over the pass, and with the windshield splattered with frozen rain or snow, I came down into the town just a little too late for business hours. I found a place to eat and sleep and was up finding a parking place in the heart of the tourist area, ready to visit "Moby Dickens" bookstore in the morning. Another nice visit and more flyers left. Even with few sales, I was pleased with this kind of store visit. The store was a place that I could like to spend some time, if I were local, and there was always the chance that they would order something in the future.

Taos had other bookstores as well, but the travel book store would never stock fiction and the used book store owner was friendly, but...mine weren't used. So, on down the road. Espanola had a gift shoppe that took a flyer. Santa Fe and Albuquerque were big cities and that meant that the chains had taken most of the market.

I had already found out that Barnes and Noble had it's rule book and I'd have little chance of placing a book there. I visited a couple of Borders and found the same problems. The larger the chain, the less local control the manager has. Until my books had "Ingram, 40%, returnable", they really didn't want to talk to me. I have Ingram distribution via Lightning Source, but I don't have my books flagged returnable. I understand a bookstore's position, but as a very small, undercapitalized publisher, returns could put me out of business. When I was doing my research prior to becoming a publisher, that was the story I heard from several voices. Large booksellers could drive you into bankruptcy by churning inventory, returning books at the very same time they are ordering more, with the small publisher paying the postage both ways. I know I'm losing sales, but I can't afford unlimited shipping costs that are totally out of my control. So until I get bigger, or something in the industry changes, I'll have to limit my returns to booksellers I meet face to face.

I spent the night at Los Lunas, south of Albuquerque, and found out about the storms the next morning. Mary Ann told me to stay in New Mexico and finish my tour, while she headed home.

Socorro has a little one-man bookstore, the Raven's Quill. I stopped and chatted. He took a copy of Roswell and I turned eastward on highway 380. I'd asked about bookstores when I filled up at Carrizozo, but when I reached Lincoln, I couldn't find it. I was feeling the time, knowing I had to get home soon, so I pushed on to Roswell, skipping Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. Maybe some other trip.

Roswell was surprisingly disinterested in a Roswell-titled book. The surrounding parts of New Mexico were more enthusiastic about it. I visited a couple of stores and moved on. This is part of the Hastings area, and when I arrived in Carlsbad the next morning, I placed ten copies, five of each title, there on consignment. And then when I made it up to Clovis, I did the same there at that Hastings. I have to call each month to check on inventory and I don't get any cash until after the sales, but having the books on the shelf where people can discover them is my primary goal of making these bookstore visits.

After Clovis, I raced back to see if I could visit Tucumcari one more time before heading back to Amarillo. I made it, visiting with the lady there and a little girl. The girl was interested in how I made the books. I wish I had more time to answer her properly, but it was time to move on. Back to Amarillo before sunset to visit my mother again.

In all, I was pleased by the trip. I certainly didn't cover my costs, especially at today's gas prices, but there are now a number of people and bookstores that are aware of my books that hadn't a clue of their existence before. And I have a clearer idea of how bookstores work, and what their concerns are. I think I'll be doing a lot more bookstore visits around home base, and maybe with a little more preparation, I'll put more books in more reader's hands.

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