Indies and Inspiration

The announcement that Borders is going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy saddens me, even though it was not a surprise. The company has had financial problems and a revolving door leadership for years. To the employees of the 200 stores that are closing, I am so sorry. I’ve been in your shoes and it’s awful. To the customers who are losing what may the only bookstore in their area, I am sorry too. I noticed a post about it at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and read it, cause they’re awesome. Then I started reading through the comments, cause those of us who read SBTB are smart too, right? Right!

Despite speculation that the Borders closures will give independent neighborhood booksellers a chance to break into new markets that the Evil Big Box Store choked off, Borders’ 200 store closings and bankruptcy are not good news. I sympathize with indies and want to support them, but the nearest one that sells brand-spanking new books requires a 45-minute round trip.

And forgive my bluntness, but a large number of comments following that article on SBTB mentioned that a lot of indies have lousy romance selections — that is, when they have them at all. Every Borders, Barnes & Noble or Books A Million I’ve visited had romance sections, while some indies consider themselves above selling such an ‘inferior’ genre. I have personally run into this attitude, despite the fact that romance sales have increased every year, remaining unaffected by hard economic times.

Granted, independent booksellers don’t have the buying power of a large chain, and thus cannot get bulk discounts on my mass market paperbacks. And since my books are at the lower end of the print market price scale, an indie store won’t make as much money on my books as they do on hardcover and trade paperbacks that have a longer shelf life. I get that. Paying bills and having something left at the end of the month is important to me too.

This makes me appreciate all the more those indies who do buy a large percentage of romance, who host romance reading clubs, who handsell their favorite romance authors. I know you’re out there and each and every one of you rocks!

Then there’s the bookstore representative who told me on the phone “Oh, our owner doesn’t stock romance”, in a tone that suggested that romance lovers sully the atmosphere of any establishment we enter.

Lighten up, Mr. Owner! Yeah, I write popular fiction that requires a happy ending as part of its definition. Maybe it is a little Disney-esque in some people’s eyes, but on the other hand, I’m not shooting Bambi’s mom.  And nobody dies of cancer. In my books, the mother can BE the heroine. Or if I wrote medical romance, the heroine could be an oncologist. Romance writers these days give heroines guts and a backbone and a brain and a gorgeous man who thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips. Sadly, this is still considered escapism instead of what strong, smart women deserve. Of course, I could give one of my characters cancer, but there are already people fighting that disease in real life. Maybe they’d like to read something where both halves of the couple are still alive at the end.  As a reader, a good romance leaves me with a little glow inside that brightens my day. As a writer, I can only hope to do that for others.

What would you like to see replace those 200 Borders stores that are closing? Other chain bookstores? Independent booksellers? What kind of amenities or services would you like to have in a neighborhood bookstore, whatever the size?


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