Earlier this year I read this post [about the dearth of Romance in independent bookstores] on one of my favorite book-community websites. And then I read the comments and–I am not being hyperbolic here–it brought tears to my eyes, because I hear things like this all the time and from both sides of the equation. But, here’s the thing: We can’t change the reactions of consumers until we, as booksellers, change our attitudes and thinking towards Romance fiction. I know a lot of booksellers who love the genre as much as I do, but it does them no good if the owners and buyers aren’t supporting that love with books to sell.
I know. I know. I can hear you saying that you’ve tried and it just doesn’t sell. But, let me ask you something (and please answer honestly): Do you feature Romance, or do you relegate it to a single shelf in a low-traffic area? If the Romance novels you have aren’t selling, do you do research–among your customers, on blogs, with local librarians–to find out what would sell in your community? Do you look beyond the covers (and as a fan of the genre I can acknowledge how bad and/or embarrassing a lot of them are) to what’s between the covers? Or are you leaving money on the table because Romance is a genre that you don’t read, don’t understand, don’t respect?
I’m really not here to try to shame anyone, but maybe a little shame isn’t a bad thing if it means that more independent booksellers will embrace Romance and its readers. After all, Romance accounts for 13% of Adult Fiction sales or $1.08 billion in 2013, according to the Romance Writers of America. And, yes, 39% of that is e-books, but that still leaves $658.8 million in sales that you could have a piece of. Is a lack of knowledge or personal interest any reason to not grab at a piece of that? You don’t even have to read the genre yourself in order to educate yourself and/or your staff enough to have a kick-ass Romance section.
An RWA Affiliate Membership is only $10 and there’s an entire page on the RWA website dedicated to information and resources for Booksellers and Librarians. Trust me, they want to work with us and they make it as easy as possible. (Also, their annual convention is one of the most fun conventions I’ve ever attended and I would recommend it to anyone with even the smallest interest in the genre.)
And there are blogs–tons and tons of blogs–just dedicated to Romance and its readers. And Twitter users. And Facebook pages. People are talking about this stuff and all we have to do is listen in to find out which books they’re talking about; what they’re loving and what they’re not. USA Today’s Happy Ever After regularly features Romance authors and others involved in the genre writing about trends and compiling reading lists. Barnes and Noble also has a Romance blog full of solid recommendations. (I know. I know. But, you’re not buying from them, just taking advantage of their larger resource pool for your own ends, so what’s the downside?) Even NPR did a list last summer of 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances, which is a great list to use if you’re wanting to start or build a Romance section. RT Book Reviews offers a treasure trove of reviews and resources on their website and for a $9.99 annual membership, you’ll have access to all of it. (Though a lot of current content is available without the membership.)
Oooooh…And librarians. With Romance being such a popular genre with readers, there are scads of librarians who know tons about Romance novels and can probably tell you what their patrons are checking out, which will give you a really clear picture of what titles and authors and sub-genres are popular in your area.
But, your greatest resource may be your fellow independent booksellers. There are a lot of us who read and enjoy Romance fiction, we just don’t talk about it much. Well, we do with each other, but we’re kind of like the theatre kids of the indie bookstore world–we’re not part of the “in crowd”, but we find and support each other and we’re always happy to make converts among the popular Lit Fic crowd. Find us. Talk to us. Ask us about what we’re reading and loving. Just like we are with any book we love, we’ll tell you in detail why we love it and why your customers will love it. Find us at the bar at the Fall Show and you may even be able to talk us into writing shelf talkers or reviews for you.
Find a way to get your share of that $658.8 million. You can do it. I believe in you. (I also believe in fairies and unicorns, so make of that what you will.)
P.S. to any Romance readers who stumble across this: Talk to your independent bookseller, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your area, and let them know how much you appreciate finding Romance on their shelves. Tell them about the books and authors you love. Build the groundwork so that they know they’ll have buyers for Romance novels.
P.P.S. to any Romance authors who stumble across this: You, too. Talk to your local independent bookseller. Introduce yourself. Ask about the possibility of doing an event with the bookstore. (But, if they decline, don’t push it.) And, I can’t emphasize this enough, if there is an independent bookstore in your area and you’d like to see your books on their shelves become a regular customer. We love to support local authors, but we also love to have local authors support us. If you really want to support your local store, link to their website or to IndieBound. (And, for bonus points, put that link first, rather than the link to that giant internet retailer who shall not be named.)
Billie Bloebaum is a bookseller at Third Street Books in charming McMinnville, OR. She agrees with Nora Roberts who told the New Yorker: “I do not feel obliged in my reading. I read to be entertained and to relax, and to go into another world, not because it’s good for me.”