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At the Back Fence Issue #138

May 1, 2002 

A Trip Down the Aisle

We lost power at our house on Sunday for six hours. After about the second hour, my husband noticed our daughter getting antsy. At the half-way point he saw my panic setting in over a refrigerator and freezer full of newly bought food on a 93 degree day and asked the one question he knew that was guaranteed to calm me down: “Want to go to the bookstore?” My husband – what a guy!

In my world, libraries are like museums and bookstores are like candy stores. I will often get the urge to visit one or the other, although even a trip to the local drug or grocery store can sometimes fulfill my urge if they’ve got a halfway decent book aisle, and our local ones do. If we’re out of town, we’ll build in a trip to a bookstore as though it’s as important a stop as the Golden Gate Bridge, Paul Revere’s house, or the Tower of London. Somehow visiting a bookstore while out of town helps me get my bearings.

Most often, though, I am drawn to a particular bookstore, whether it’s the new/used romance-friendly bookstore that’s 20 minutes out of my way (I like supporting independent bookstores, and the fact that it’s the only bookstore in its suburban city is also incentive, even though it costs me more to shop there) or the local super-chain a mere five minutes from my house. Either way, if you spy a woman carrying an AAR Bookbag and stalking the romance aisles, handing out bookmarks, giving unsolicited advice, and/or putting books in (or taking them out of) the hands of an unsuspecting browser, that’s probably me you’re seeing.

Unlike some other readers, though, if I don’t find what I think I’m looking for, I’m not compelled to “buy something anyway.” Last month I wandered through a Virgin MegaStore for a good hour and came out empty-handed. Frustrated, yes, but not enough that I bought a book, CD, or video just to buy something. Of course, it probably helped that there was a Books-a-Million at the same mall where I was later able to “advise” a fellow romance reader, but I was proud that I didn’t buy something just to buy. It probably helped that I had two books in my purse at the time, but that’s another story. For other readers I know, walking out of those two bookstores without something would have been impossible.

And then, of course, are the times when I browse at or Hard to Find Books. After A&E replayed Pride and Prejudice, I went on a major “Amazon bender” that ultimately ended up in my creating a mini-Jane Austen store here at AAR for books, videos, and DVD’s of her amazing body of work. Now that I’m on a mini-Kasey Michaels glom (her traditional regencies only, if you please), I’ll be looking up Hard to Find Books to flesh out her backlist that I couldn’t find locally.

The focus of this At the Back Fence is bookstores and the buying of books. I know that for me, most of my book buying occurs twice a month, at that bookstore that’s out of my way. Here’s how it goes. At the start of the month I prepare a list of the new books I’m interested in and email it to the owner – I buy new whenever I can in order to support authors. A couple of weeks later I swing by the store to pick up the books on my list from my cubbie, trade in some books I didn’t care for, and then prowl around the store looking for used books. Last time it was to find some of Sally Tyler Hayes’ backlist, who knows what it’ll be next time?

I try to build one of these semi-monthly sessions around my allergy shots because my allergist is near her store, but there’s at least one Saturday a month when my husband, daughter, and I will all trek out to the store. My husband found some cool bookends for his father’s birthday last time, and my daughter likes to play with the store’s cat, Nora (named for, you guessed it, Nora Roberts).

The owner always asks me what’s new at the site, we trade gossip on books and authors, and if there’s a customer (or two) in the store, I always manage to put some books in their hands (or to remove some!) based on our reviews and what I’ve been hearing online. The last time I was there I asked her a question on behalf of Anne Marble, who used part of her answer in researching her segment for this column. Delores has a long memory and good taste in books, even if she’s somewhat more conventional in her tastes than I’d sometimes like her to be.

In addition to these two organized book-buying sessions, there are many other bookstore visits to other stores in a month. There are times when I prefer to wander the entire bookstore before honing in for the kill; at other times I’ll immediately go to a certain section and browse, browse, browse. Sometimes when I go to a “super” bookstore, I’ll purposely stay away from the romance aisles because it’s too much like “work.” Regardless, these impromptu browsing sessions can result in some great buys – or disasters – depending on how you look at buying many books you hadn’t budgeted for and don’t know how well you’ll like. But hey – I like to walk on the wild side.

For me, every trip to the bookstore is a potential adventure to a different time, place, and subject. The same goes for library trips, where it’s even easier to try something new because it’s free. I cherish my library trips with my daughter, who likes to check out eight or ten books at a shot. Like me, she generally has more than one book working at a time. The only library rule we enforce in our house is that all library books must be kept in one location so that, at the end of three weeks, we can return them without tearing the house apart looking for them.

Throughout the remainder of this column you’ll be reading more about bookstores and issues involving the buying of books. Editor Ellen Micheletti talks about how books are shelved in her bookstore. ATBF columnist Anne Marble looks into the whole “used book” controversy that is periodically raised, with some recent wrinkles. New AAR Reviewer Sandy Coleman shares a recent book-signing experience. Then, before we set forth our questions for your discussion, you can participate in a mini-poll about your book-buying habits.

— Laurie Likes Books

How Book Stores Shelve Fiction, or
Why Can’t I Ever Find What I’m Looking For? (Ellen Micheletti)

You say you are confused by how bookstores shelve their fiction? Well so am I, and I have worked in one for four years. I’d like to be able to say there is a method, but sometimes I think shelving choices are madness. Unfortunately for the customers, there is no set-in-stone list of authors and their genres for us to follow. There are some authors who write in a couple of genres, like William Johnstone who writes westerns and military/adventure fiction. The Grand Old Man of the Western, Louis L’Amour wrote a couple of mysteries. Sandra Brown’s current books are romantic suspense (accent on the suspense) but her older romances are being reprinted too, so do we keep all her books together, or separate them? Karen Robards writes suspense, and historical romances, do we keep all her books together or what?

There are some mystery writers, like James Patterson, John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline who really ought to be in that section, but for marketing purposes, they are shelved in fiction. Mary Higgins Clark is shelved in fiction, but Carol Higgins Clark is shelved in mystery. Is H.G. Wells literature now, or does he still go in science fiction? Oh, by the way, just when is a book considered literature? Do we put Gone With The Wind in fiction, or literature? How about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series? It’s science fiction, it’s romance, it’s adventure, it’s epic! When things get too confusing, there are times I think, “Thank God for poetry!” At least that is easy to classify.

As you walk into the store where I work, almost all the fiction is on the left hand side, with the exception of erotic fiction. That is shelved in the relationship section. That section is close to the cashwrap and we want to discourage shoplifters. A total non-reader might wonder why stores don’t simply shelve all the fiction together. Well, if we did that, we would make a lot of people unhappy especially the fans of sci-fi and romance. Fans of those genres are some of our most devoted browsers and like having all their favorites together. So shelving all the fiction books in one place is not going to happen.

There really is no better source for finding a book than a knowledgeable bookseller since they know which authors go in what section. Every Christmas season, we get three or four part-time workers and a lot of them are not familiar with writers, so they are prone to make mistakes. They often think they can judge a book by its cover – BEM (Bug-Eyed Monster) equates with science fiction, clinch covers go in romance, and plain covers go in fiction. Last Christmas we had a temporary worker who was totally unfamiliar with romance and put all the romances with non-clinch covers in fiction until the manager explained things to her. But bookseller who have been working for years sometimes have problems deciding. The worst problem are those romance writers who have “jumped the ship” to romantic suspense.

When we look up a book on the computer in the store it gives us the primary location where the book should be shelved. In the store where I work, we have Tami Hoag’s current books in fiction. We don’t have any of her romance backlist and most of her current readers don’t even know of her romance roots; one of the booksellers I work with was very surprised when I told him about them. The same holds true for Lisa Gardner, and Tess Gerritson.

Iris Johanson is shelved in mystery – the computer gives that as primary shelving spot. We do have a few of her older romances (complete with clinch covers) and we shelve them in romance. That leads to a some questions from browsers who only know her for her mystery/suspense books.

Sandra Brown’s latest books are primarily mystery/suspense. But her backlist is still extensively in print and many of her older romance books are being reissued in hardcover. Because she has such a devoted romance reader fan-base, she is shelved in romance.

Catherine Coulter has a foot in each camp. Her backlist is still in print, she has rewritten some of her older romances but she also publishes in the mystery/suspense genre. All her books are in romance.

Karen Robards also has a foot in each camp. Her backlist includes historical romances, and contemporary ones, while her latest books are suspenseful. I was able to ask her about shelving recently, and she told me that she most often finds her books either in romance or fiction. She also said that when they are shelved in mystery, they don’t sell as well, and they sell best in romance since romance readers are dedicated browsers and very loyal to their favorite authors.

That still leaves us with some confusion – confusion that is not going to be cleared up anytime soon. Where I work, we solve the problem this way: authors who have jumped to mystery/suspense exclusively and who do not have their backlist in print are shelved either in fiction or mystery (Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritson); those who currently write mystery/suspense but whose romance back list is still in print are shelved in romance (Sandra Brown, Karen Robards).

But as I said, there is no hard and fast rule about shelving. So you will run into stores where J.D. Robb is SF, Suzanne Brockmann is fiction and Catherine Coulter is mystery. Each store is different and some booksellers are not familiar with the authors. The best advice I have to give is ask someone. And if you get one of those bookseller types who act snotty toward romance readers, find the manager and complain!

Used Books, Authors, Readers, and Amazon (Anne Marble)

Used book stores have been a part of the lives of romance readers since the early days of Romantic Times, and they’ve been a source of contention for some in the community ever since. Not long ago there were some threads on the Potpourri Message Board that revived the discussion. One thread, begun by UK reader Maili, began:

“I had an interesting debate with a friend who visited my house and saw all those books I had on the shelf. (When I explained they came from the UBS), she blew her fuse and gave a lengthy lecture on ethics of buying used books. She basically said that if it is out of print, don’t buy it [used book]. She insisted on writing to the author’s publisher and demand a reissue. Her comments certainly had me thinking, particularly when I think of those times I whined about the state of romantic fiction.”

Romance fans came to the rescue and defended the buying of used books. Robin Uncapher, my ATBF co-columnist, asked, “Does your friend have a problem with going to the library? She shouldn’t. People who get old books out of a library or UBS often learn about authors they might not have known and start buying them at book stores.”

Other fans echoed her sentiments. Vanwoo explained “As a reader, I have a really hard time spending my money on a hardcover by an author I have never read before or even on a new paperback. I cannot remember ever doing so. But I love to go to a UBS and look for books by authors I have not tried. It’s like a treasure hunt. And almost always, if I like the book, I will go to a chain store and buy everything I can find by the same author.”

Author Karen Hawkins defended the UBS. “I’ve also noticed that if I find an author at the UBS, I’m very likely to run to a regular bookstore and see what other/newer things they have out. So sales from one, spur sales from the other.” Karen added, “As an author, I really don’t care where you get my book. I just want you to get your mitts on it, read it, and (hopefully) enjoy it. I’m a new author (first book came out in 2000) and the only way to grow a readership is to get as many people as you can to read your book whether they got it new, used, or as a gift.”

Kathleen pointed out the importance of used book stores. “Until the advent of the Internet, if one wanted something different from the bestseller list, a used book store was sometimes the only way it was available. Unless it was brand new and still on the shelves, most book stores would not even special order. I’ve spent years checking out the best used book stores when traveling for business or for vacation because it was the only way I could find things.”

Another topic on UBS’s hit the Potpourri message board again. Lisa brought the board’s attention to the Invisible Ribbon campaign (this is a “jump” link and will open a new window in your browser). This site was started by romance author Sally Painter and is supported in a link on Rebecca Brandewyne’s page (more on that later). The Invisible Ribbon campaign site pointed out to readers that used book store purchases did not count toward an author’s royalties. This campaign encourages readers to buy books new rather than used whenever possible. To be fair, the Invisible Ribbon campaign is actually saner than many of the viewpoints from authors who are up in arms about used book sales. However, it still has enough in it to annoy readers.

This campaign has had a mixed reception. Most readers agreed that they will buy their favorite authors’ books new as long as they are in print. However, a common thread was that readers hated the guilt trip they felt was being forced upon them. Lisa, for example, commented, “I really resent anyone trying to make me feel guilty for buying used books. It’s not like romances aren’t selling like hotcakes. Write something good, and I’ll even buy in hardcover (don’t regret my Bitten purchase at all). Write trite (or maybe it should be tripe!) and I’ll continue to test the waters with used books.”

Susan K. pointed out that used book sales often lead to sales of new books in the future. “For example, I discovered Carla Kelly and Mary Balogh via used books, and they then became autobuys for their new books.

The debate about used books has been going on for years. Some readers may remember when Rebecca Brandewyne made some controversial statements about used book stores in a long-ago issue of RT. The result? Not only angry fans, but angry booksellers as well. The magazine published some of those angry letters and Brandewyne attempted to clarify her remarks.

During this period, I was a frequent customer at a used bookstore in Timonium, Maryland. Although Brandewyne’s comments about UBS’s were only a small part of a larger article, they had the greatest impact. I can recall the store’s owner saying that since the article had been published, some readers would no longer buy her books. I thought the controversy was ironic, and short-sighted on the author’s part. Before the interview, I had discovered her writing, but not through the purchase of new books. No, I’d bought some of her books used, enjoyed them, and started pre-ordering all her new titles from this UBS – straight from the Ingram’s catalog. (Many writers will tell you that although sales are important, preorders make up one of the most important sales statistics, so by preordering those books, I might have helped to position Rebecca Brandewyne on best-seller lists.) Though I disagreed with her thoughts about used book stores, I kept buying her books new for some time. But you know something? I’m not as tolerant today.

When I hear about an author criticizing people for buying used books, my first thought is…What are they thinking? Don’t these authors realize that buyers of used books in most cases have also spent large amounts of money on new books? In most cases, they are voracious readers who frequently break their book budget. I want to reach out to these authors and point out, “These readers are not your enemies.” On top of that, I wish I could tell them about the number of authors I have discovered at the UBS. Whenever possible, I then go on to buy their books new, sometimes even in hardback or e-book format. These authors include Mary Jo Putney, Nora Roberts, and Catherine Coulter, as well as SF/F authors such as M. J. Engh and Fritz Leiber.

Some authors blame the UBS for the death of the midlist, dearth in variety in the romance genre, and most likely, global warming. Yet what really hurts writers the most? What about bad cover art, lousy distribution, and lame cover copy? The most important factor of all is the ones these authors don’t dare acknowledge – the quality of some of these books themselves. If a reader picks up a book and browses through it and finds something she doesn’t like, she won’t be buying that book, whether it’s new or used. If she buys that book and hates it, she’s unlikely to try that author again, either new or used.

Most readers know that authors don’t get royalties from used book sales, so when they read yet another author statement or article about this, they feel lectured to. By the way, Ford doesn’t get money when the guy down the street sells his Escort to a neighbor. Like the author, however, they did get paid the first time that car was sold. Legal experts agree that when you buy a book, you have the right to trade it in, sell it, lend it, give it away, or even (horrors) throw it out. This is part of the Fair Use doctrine. Surely when they think about it in this way, most authors would agree that any of the first four options are far better than the last option. At least that way the book might find a new owner who will fall in love with that author.

As librarian Beth pointed out on AARlist, “Someone bought that book new and the royalty was paid. Say I sell a personal copy of a book I bought new to a friend. The used book store is the same but on a larger scale. The owner of a book has the right to do whatever she wants with the book. If she wants to sell it, give it away or throw it in the trash, that is her right and the AAP (Association of American Publishers) has nothing to say about it, but they think they do.”

Used book stores have been very important to the romance community. Does anybody here remember the “Book Stores That Care” feature in Romantic Times? They used to highlight book stores that catered to the romance community. Many, if not most of them, were primarily UBS’s In some ways, these stores are the independent book stores of the romance community. They help authors by introducing readers to authors they might like, hand-selling books just like the staff of the best independent book stores are said to do.

Other authors besides Rebecca Brandewyne have made comments critical of used book sales. For example, on her web site, mystery author Carol Nelson Douglas includes a strong reminder that neither author nor publisher get royalties from used book sales.

However, for each author who tries to steer authors away from used books, there are many more authors who support used book stores. For example, on her web site, romance author Jennifer Crusie generally supports used book stores; her only concern are UBS’s that sell books too soon after the book is released. Her FAQ offers a compromise for used book stores, and she touches upon a similar compromise for the Amazon and used book sales controversy (which will be touched upon later).

On AARlist, romance author Robin Schone expressed similar ideas about used book stores. She pointed out the difference between Mom and Pop book stores and the “killer profit UBS.” She explained, “I have spent hours and hours at my local used book store (I especially love finding out of print books by my favorite authors), so believe me, as a reader I love/loved used book stores, but what writer, for example, wants to see (a chain bookstore) selling used books right along with new ones?” Robin Schone also hates the concept of used book stores that refuse to sell books that are more than two years old. I have to agree with her there! What’s the point of a UBS if it doesn’t sell old books?

A new dimension was added to the used book controversy when Amazon began the practice of selling used books on the same pages where new books are available to buy. The Authors Guild, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest society of published authors,” recently recommended that authors “delink” from Amazon from their web sites because of this practice. (Amazon affiliates such as AAR are none too happy about this either, since they receive no commission for a sale of a used book even if it’s an affiliates link that sold it). You can read the Guild’s position via this jump link.

Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley sees the Author’s Guild position on Amazon as “self-righteous poppycock (this link is a “jump” link). He points out that the assumptions at the base of their statement are wrong. Actually, the phrase “surpassingly dumb notion” pops up as well. Yardley points out that while authors deserve to be compensated for their work, they also want people to read their work. One way for this to happen is to keep it on sale through the used book market. He also emphasizes that no one has been able to prove that used book sales reduce the sales of new books. He adds that the used book market is as much a part of the market as new book sales, book clubs, and libraries.

In the writing community, there is no more agreement than there was in the music community over music file-sharing programs such as Napster and the Author’s Guild’s stance has become as controversial in some circles as Rebecca Brandewyne’s comments in Romantic Times lo those many years ago. That said, however, RWA has taken a stand against Amazon’s practice, as has Novelists, Inc.

At a recent booksigning attended by AAR Reviewer Sandy Coleman, several romance authors chimed in about their views about used book stores. All of these authors supported used book stores. Yet they opposed Amazon’s practice of selling used books on the same page as new books.

Suzanne Brockmann admits that used book stores made her career because they helped make her single title romances available for fans. However, like many other authors, she doesn’t like this Amazon practice and she wishes that more used book stores would hold back new single title releases before putting them up for sale. (Donna Kauffmann’s favorite UBS holds back new single title releases for three months and new category releases for a month. Other stores around the country follow similar practices.) Brockmann also mentioned that many fans don’t realize that “so many authors are just scraping by.” On a similar note, Carole Bellacera loves used book stores but points out that “people think every writer is like Stephen King.”

Teresa Medeiros likes the UBS because it can act as an “archive” of older books, but she does urge readers to buy new whenever possible. Catherine Asaro urges users to buy new if they can, but she adds, “but if it brings new readers to the genre, that’s great.”

In support of the UBS, Kathleen Gilles Seidel explains, “I’m writing for readers. If they read the book and love it and tell others, that’s all that matters.” However, she believes that Amazon’s practice of selling used books on the same pages as new books “makes it too easy.” First-time author Celeste O. Norfleet is glad that the UBS is “helping people read. They promote reading which is the bottom line.” However, she was disappointed to see her book go up on sale as a used book at Amazon shortly after its release.

On the other hand, not all romance authors agree. For example, Gena Hale says, “Amazon sells a lot of books, but many readers can’t afford to buy them new. I think Amazon’s alternative selections of used books insures those readers don’t get left out. That’s more important to me than being paid for books from which I’ve already earned my royalties.”

Many authors who support the Amazon practice have demonstrated that ordering used books through Amazon is more trouble than it’s worth for most books. (Mercedes Lackey points out the problems of shipping costs in this system below.) If the book is still in print, it’s often cheaper – or at least less trouble – to order it new. In addition, famous independent UBS Powell’s shows both used and new books in on-line book searches. (Despite having a link to used books on the same page as the new book, Amazon doesn’t do this.) Yet most writers support Powell’s and never criticize this practice.

Through the Baen Books web site, SF and fantasy author Eric Flint started a feature called the Baen Free Library (this is a “jump” link). Through the Free Library, fans can download books by popular Baen authors for free, in unencrypted formats – no strings attached.

One of the authors featured in the Baen Free Library is SF/F author Mercedes Lackey (who is also published by Daw). She said:

“I think the whole sturm-und-drang about used books on Amazon is a bunch of hooey. Here is why.”First, Amazon is not selling used books directly; they are essentially offering a electronic flea-market stall to third parties. You then have to trust the third party, pay the third party separately for the book, and pay the shipping and handling for each used book you buy, which, depending on which third-party you go to, can be double or triple the cover price of the book. This is not where a bargain-hunter is going to go.

“Second: suppose someone is offering a copy of one of my hardcovers that is still in print as a hardcover at half the Amazon price. If said person is desperate enough to go for the used version given all of the drawbacks above, I haven’t lost a sale, because they probably can’t afford the full price. If the book is no longer in HC, they’re buying it as a keeper, and they’ve probably got a PB reading copy.

“As for other used book venues, well, I still haven’t lost a sale, because anyone hunting used books can’t afford the new ones. And what kind of a lousy dog-in-the-manger would I be to deny them $2.50 worth of pleasure? That’s on the same order of mean-spiritedness as requiring little old ladies to prove they have a dog before they can buy dog food in the grocery store.

“It’s the same reason why I am having my books go up on the Free Library, and do you know what? A very interesting thing just happened during this royalty period. My first three books (not Baen, but DAW, by the way), which have generated a nice consistent $1k each per period for the last ten years, suddenly jumped to $3k each. And the only thing that changed in that royalty period was that the first of my books went up on the Free Library. This would correspond to a brand new set of people trying my stuff for the first time, liking it, and starting at the beginning of my backlist.

” I don’t know that there is going to be a backlash against the mean-spirited – but I do know that a little good will makes for a lot of sales in this business. Seems to me the paranoids in the Author’s Guild need to take a chill pill.

For Baen’s Free Library, Eric Flint writes a column called Prime Palaver. In Prime Palaver 7 (this is a “jump” link), Eric wrote about several topics: the effects of on-line piracy; the future of e-books; print-on-demand; used books, and the effect of the Free Library on the sales of David Drake and Mercedes Lackey.

Flint argues that the Author’s Guild policy is misguided and only works if both of these two conditions are met:

  • A used copy is bought in lieu of a new copy
  • That used copy leads to no further sales of an author’s work.

Flint argues that in most instances, these two conditions do not apply. Here’s how he makes his case: Buying used books on the Internet is not necessarily cheaper than buying them new, particularly since many of the used books online are no longer available in print (or in e-format). He writes:

“A new title, distributed through Amazon, is able to take advantage of all the benefits of mass scale production and distribution. Amazon has that title immediately available, and if you simply add it to other titles you purchased simultaneously, you can drastically reduce the shipping and handling cost. Which, for a single paperback, is a very hefty percentage of the total price. In the case of used books purchased online, more often than not, the shipping and handling charge is higher than the cost of the book itself.”What’s the advantage of buying a used copy for $3 instead of $7 – when you’re then going to have to pay $4 in shipping and handling costs? Sure, you have to pay S&H on new titles also. But, because they are new, you can use Amazon’s existing distribution network and, at least most of the time, cut the cost a great deal.

Flint points out that at Amazon, readers usually can’t buy used books from the same dealer – much as romance fans have to go from UBS to UBS to find all the books on their “to be bought” list. Just as the fan winds up spending lots of time (and money on gas) checking all those stores, the reader ordering through Amazon ends up paying more in shipping and handling charges for those used books. All that for a used book. Why do we do it? Because sometimes, we have no other choice. Most books are out of stock or even out of print.

But what about books available as both new and used books? Writers are most upset about readers who buy their books used while those books all still in print. Flint points out that readers aren’t necessarily buying it used because it’s cheaper but instead “because it’s cheap enough that they’re willing to pay the money – but would not pay the money needed to get that book in a new edition. He adds:

“Zero from zero…is zero. If someone would not have bought a new copy anyway, the author has lost nothing. In fact, the author is like to have gained – because if the buyers discover the book is to their liking, they are far more prone to buy a new copy of something else written by that same author.”Used books, like free library copies, are simply an investment in the future for authors. That’s all. They are not lost sales. They are really sales stored up for the future — and earning the equivalent of compound interest.”

Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey aren’t the only authors opposed to the Authors Guild’s stance on this issue. SF/F writer Holly Lisle has similar views, and like those authors, she is also represented at Baen’s Free Library. (A personal aside: I might be biased about Holly because I am one of the moderators of her Forward Motion writing site – {again, a “jump” link}.)

Lisle makes no bones of the fact that she approves of Amazon’s practice of selling used books alongside new books.

“Someone already paid for the copy once. I’d rather have five people read the same copy of one of my books and have four of them walk away wanting to find and read the rest than have one person read it, not like it, and just keep it. Beyond the first sale, everything else is free advertising.” In addition, she adds, “The availability of used books on is part of the reason I’ve stayed with them. Readers have at least a chance of finding some of my older titles there. And not everybody can afford new. Hell, sometimes I can’t afford new.”

— (Holly Lisle quotes copyright 2002, quoted from Forward Motion Community,, with express written permission of the author. All rights reserved.)

 Turn the Page (Sandy Coleman)

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s not that hard to convince me to blow off work on Friday afternoon. But when the sun is shining, the breeze is warm, and I’ve got the chance to meet Nora Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann, Teresa Medeiros, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Carol Bellecera, Donna Kauffman, Catherine Asaro and a host of other writers – well, I ask you, did I really have a choice?

So, with books-to-be-signed happily located in my official AAR Bookbag, my sister (also a big romance fan) and I set out from home base in Washington, D.C. for the just over a hour drive to the Boonesboro, Maryland home of Turn The Page, the bookstore owned by Nora’s husband Bruce Wilder. Clearly, it takes connections to get together such major league talent on the afternoon prior to their Washington Romance Writers retreat in nearby Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia – and, fortunately, for area romance readers, Bruce has them!

The signing itself took place in a newly purchased space next to the bookstore. Arriving guests were given tickets both for their chance to win a door prize and for timed admittance into the signing space itself. Both my sister and I thought this was a great system – guests don’t have to stand in line and, because Bruce admits about just about 15 people at a time into the signing area, it’s possible to meet and greet the authors without bumping into too many elbows.

As for the authors, well, what can I say? As someone who’s read and loved Nora Roberts books since the ‘80s, meeting her was a real thrill. She is unfailingly gracious to her readers and, throughout the course of the afternoon, I watched her sign hundreds of books and pose for dozens of pictures – including one with a clearly awestruck, visibly shaking 19-year-old who I’m quite certain will remember the moment for a very long time.

As for Suzanne (call her Suz) Brockmann, clearly, everyone in attendance loved her. She is open, warm, funny, friendly, obviously loves what she’s doing, and is married to one heck of a nice guy. And, as the official AAR, rep in attendance, I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk with her.

“I love hearing readers talk about my characters like they’re real people,” Suz told me at the end of a long afternoon spent meeting her readers. “I always wanted to create a world of characters that people could relate to and talk about like I talk with my friends about characters in The West Wing.” When asked about her biggest thrill, she doesn’t miss a beat. “The way people have embraced Sam and Alyssa. Alyssa is racially mixed and it’s great that people are so entertained by their story.”

Though I wasn’t able to worm out of her the name of the heroine of her next book, I did get the good news that Letters to Kelly, a never-published novel written in 1994, will finally appear as a Silhouette Intimate Moments in February of 2003. “It’s my mother’s favorite. Writing a book is almost like being pregnant, and I’ve been pregnant with this one for nine years.” Another never-published Brockmann (sorry, Suz, I didn’t write down the title) will appear next March as a Silhouette Desire and a third will appear at some point in the future as part the publisher’s re-issue program.

Other big news I picked up at the signing came from Catherine Asaro who reported that NAL is about to make publishing history by releasing the same anthology in two different formats for two entirely different markets. First to be released as a trade paperback near Valentine’s Day, the anthology, to be edited by Asaro, will include stories by Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Deb Stover, Jennifer Roberson, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Asaro herself. The same book will be re-packaged for the SF market and will make its mass market appearance in August.

And since writers are always a good resource – and as someone who’s always trolling for a good book – I asked a few of the authors about their favorite romance reads of the last year or so. Teresa Medeiros named Connie Brockway’s The Bridal Season, Donna Kauffman picked Patricia Gaffney’s Circle of Three, Carole Bellacera chose Hope Tarr’s A Rogue’s Pleasure and Brockmann immediately selected Carla Kelly’s One Good Turn.

Many thanks to all the authors, Bruce Wilder, Nora Roberts, and everybody at Turn the Page for hosting such a fun afternoon. And, based on the smiling faces I saw all around that afternoon, DC-Baltimore-Western Maryland-and West Virginia readers would be well advised to watch the store’s Web site for news of upcoming signings.

As for me, I picked up some new books, got some old ones signed, and even got a promise from someone close to Suz Brockmann to let AAR get the first word on the name of her next heroine. And, Ed, I’m waiting.

Let’s Take a Mini-Poll (LLB)

For romance readers, going to the bookstore (or library) is as much a part of our lives as the weekly phone call to the parental units, going to religious services, or buying that once-a-week chocolate bar. For some, it’s an even-more-often experience while for others, it’s only an occasional experience. While I think it would be interesting to find out how often you feel the “call of the bookstore” and simply visit, it’s probably more important to get down to basics and find out how often you actually buy books. Once you take the mini-survey, you’ll be linked back to this page, directly below the survey itself where you’ll find the questions we hope you’ll respond to following the column. We’ll report on the results next time.

At the Back Fence Mini-Survey
How often do you buy books?
More than once a week
Once a week
Once every two weeks
Once every three weeks
Once a month
Less than once a month
Poll closed May 31st
Results can be found here.
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Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:

histbut Take a Walk Down the Aisle – How often do you feel the “call of the bookstore” (or library)? Do you find it possible to visit a bookstore without buying something (or visit the library without checking something out) or does some force impel you to buy something?

histbut What Kind of Shopper Are You? – What is your book-buying strategy? Do you go to the bookstore with a list in hand? Do you fulfill your list’s requirements, then browse, or vice versa? What do you feel is a “successful” book-shopping experience? Is it sticking to your list, adding to it, or pruning it? If you shop with a list, is your mind made up to buy each book on it or do you look through each book and possibly put some aside?

histbut Are you a Bargain Book Shopper? – Do you stop willy-nilly at thrift shops and garage sales whenever they present themselves, hoping you’ll come upon that book you’ve heard it’s so hard to find? Do you stalk used book stores or stand by the trade-in desk waiting to see if something “good” is coming in while you’re there? What makes a successful bargain book shopping experience for you? Do you ever fall into the quantity over quality trap while shopping at a used book store (either with cash or on trade)? How much is your credit at the local UBS?

histbut Why Can’t I Ever Find What I’m Looking For? – Do you find that personnel at the large chain bookstores are as knowledgeable about the books you love to read as personnel at independent bookstores? Do you go out of the way to a “romance-friendly” bookstore or do you do most of your book-buying wherever it’s convenient? Has any customer or store personnel ever been snooty to you because you read romance? If so, please share your experience. Are you easily able to find what you’re looking for when you go to a chain bookstore or do you sometimes wonder whether the “wee folk” have decided to have a little fun with you?

histbut Used Books – What is your personal policy about buying used books? Do you always try to buy used, always try to buy new, or do a little of both? In what instances do you buy new? In what instances do you buy used? Do you think that authors who decry used book sales are being short-sighted or reasonable in their concerns?

histbut Amazon’s New/Used Policy – There’s been a lot of discussion among authors (and readers) since Amazon started linking to used books on the same pages they sell new books. Has this affected your use of Amazon? Are you boycotting? Do you ignore those “used” links and buy new releases as “new” books? Or do you take those “used” links and buy new releases “used?” If you’ve considered buying some newer releases “used” at Amazon but didn’t, what stopped you?

histbut Boycott…or Not? – When you hear calls to boycott an author who has denounced used book stores or has engaged in some unfortunate online behavior, do you seriously consider joining? Put another way, is there any reason you would not buy an author’s books other than the quality of their writing?

histbut Hangin’ With Nora – Have you ever been to a booksigning or booksale where you can meet authors? Is this something you find enjoyable or do you prefer to keep the mystique of the author separate from the person? What is your best “meeting the author” story?

histbut Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

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