It’s Hip to Be Square: The Modern Merchant-Author

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tee_headshotI feel like I entered the publishing business at a tumultuous time; and if it was not tumultuous, it was definitely on the cusp of major change. In 2002, when I had my first novel published with a small Canadian press, I was regarded “not ready for prime time” and instructed to keep my mouth shut while the adults held court on the panels at conventions. (No, not everyone was like this; but it was implied. Often.) I was also growing accustomed to shouldering the responsibility of providing my own books at events, something that many authors turned a nose up at. Whether it is at conventions or special events, some authors expect their books to be there. I remember at one event paying a visit to the bookseller’s booth in the off-chance my books were there. (My publisher could be stocked by booksellers, an advantage Dragon Moon had over some other small presses.) Another author attending the event (who will remain nameless as this “professional” redefined “condescending” around me multiple times) asked me “Are you joining me for the signing?” only to add before I could answer “Oh, that’s right, you’re with a small press. They won’t have your books here.” (See what I mean?)

This was one of two watershed moments for me that year as I promised myself to make sure wherever I went, I would make arrangements for booksellers to stock my books on days of signings and events. For most events, I ran into few problems; but while traveling with my buddy Tony Ruggiero, we made a stop on a weekend tour we set-up. I had written confirmation that my books would be in the store; and when we arrived, the associate acknowledged that Tony would have his own stock (which he did). He then turned to me and asked “And where are your books, Mr Morris?”

Welcome to my second watershed moment of that year.

Since then, I insist — even after signing with New York publishers — to have books within reach. It   hollywoodnever hurts to have that backup “carry stock” just in case there is some sort of miscommunication between publishers, distributors, and booksellers. Sure, there will be those authors that may look down on such behavior; but I recall New York Times bestsellers at World Fantasy events sitting for hours at signings, sitting at a table without books because they assumed “people will have me in stock.” Moments like that take me back to that signing where I watched Tony sell a fistful of books.

There are advantages being your own bookseller.

By 2008, when my last Billibub Baddings mystery was released, there was a different message coming from the Old Guard who had once sneered at supplying my own books at events. Small presses were “the future” and authors were being called upon to market their own books. Now, we find ourselves in the age of the independent publisher. (Funny, that’s what I was in 2002, but suddenly self-publishers are traveling under this banner? Hey, there’s room. Nice to have you here.) The mantra some of the Old Guard followed with “Marketing is someone else’s job. Mine’s writing.” no longer is viable, or smart. Authors must not only be marketers, but merchants as well; and with smartphones and vendors like Square and PayPal, making debit and charge charge transactions all possible with an investment of less than a quarter per transaction, book sales can happen anywhere, whether through your online store (which Square will help you set up) or even from the trunk of your car.

I can honestly say I have made book sales walking in a parking lot to my car. Technology is truly made of awesome.

There are other advantages to working the Square into your carry stock. Square offers its vendors squareonline store options, opening opportunities for you to offer signed copies of your works and perhaps even related merchandise (in our case, Pip and I offer steampunk FATE dice for our upcoming RPG) to your books. Running your own business may seem like a daunting task; but from where I’ve been since 2002, this is one more step that can’t hurt in keeping my works in the eyes and in the hands of readers everywhere.

Do you need to do this as an author? No, you don’t; but when you’re at an event, watching potential readers walk away with the books of your fellow writers, and you have nothing to offer other than a smile and a handshake, it can have an effect on how you approach book events.  Being an author in the past decade is not only about the stories you tell, but about the options you offer in getting works out to the readers.

dawnsearlylightTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

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7 comments to It’s Hip to Be Square: The Modern Merchant-Author

  • bschillace

    Loved this post. I used to work in marketing for private equity–now I do a bit of that for the museum I work for. And marketing savvy is proving incredibly useful in the new guard! 🙂

  • Regarding the anonymous condescending author, it is well and good to protect the innocent, but the guilty should be identified as a warning to others; consider it a public service.

    (Clearly, this stance should be taken on matters of fact and not opinion.)

  • I haven’t attempted Square yet, but you’ve convinced me I should.

    Right now I’m attempting to get books at an upcoming con through BN and so far the various entities aren’t playing well together. I figure I’d better be prepared with my own books and an ability to accept cash, because I refuse to be there without my new book.

  • I’ve been tempted to get a Square myself, so that I don’t have to deal with cash-only at cons. Sometimes I’ve been able to share a sales table with a friend, whose table-minder took cards, and then divvy everything up later, but I hate to lean on friends too much.

    But I’m still not selling books out of my car, especially if I’m at my dance class at the time. 😉

  • Mikaela

    I went to WFC in Brighton and one thing that stuck with me was that none of the authors I saw at the signing had thought of bringing bookplates to the signing.It is much easier to put a stack in a suitcase, than shipping a box of books.

  • I just got the Paypal equivalent of the Square. I’ll be checking it out at cons this spring and summer. I feel like I’m finally part of the twenty-first century.

  • Good post. Definitely something to keep in mind when I’m going to Cons (probably next year). I’ll only be in ebook, but I’ve got a little bit of a plan to at least get myself out there the first year. And…an RPG with FATE rules? Color me intrigued. 😉