Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Independents, Chains, and Drive-By Signings

Last week, I did a formal signing at a midwestern independent with two other authors. Afterward, I received a thought-provoking email from the son of the store’s owner, who is also a lawyer and the stores’s corporate counsel. The email raises two questions: first, is it okay for an author who does a formal signing at an independent to also do stock signings at chain stores in the same town? Second, even if it is okay to do stock signings, is it rude for an author to acknowledge these signings to the independent?

I asked the sender twice if he would object to my publishing our exchange on my blog, and twice he didn’t respond. Although his omission probably means he doesn’t object, I thought it would be polite to refer to him only as “G” in the following exchange. I’ve similarly changed other names, but otherwise publish our exchange verbatim.

What do you think? Are extracurricular stock signings okay? And even if they are, should we conceal them from independents? G, if you're out there, I continue to welcome your thoughts. Read on…

From: G
Subject: Feedback
Date: June 15, 2006 8:01:21 AM PDT

Dear Barry,

It was a great event, our customers were pleased, and the sales reflected their experience. We do enjoy selling your books, Barry. Your work is atmospheric, with carefully thought out characters and plotting. Your books definitely show the effort you put into them.

A bit of information that you may want to consider as you move forward: Your book had a street date of June 1st. This is a hard on-sale date, adherence to this is demanded by the publishers for many reasons. The most obvious is that first week sales of a repeat author are particularly important for hitting the New York Times Bestseller list, a “label” that helps sell the book in perpetuity. Another other is that it gives all of the outlets for your book a level playing field in terms of being able to market the book to their clientele. Breaching an on-sale date is supposed to raise alarms, and result in the suspension of future shipments of restricted titles.

As your sales department can confirm, two area Borders and two Barnes & Noble stores (including the one you were in last night) placed your book on sale on Friday May 26th. This happens often with restricted titles. The response from Penguin when we reported it? Nothing. We were angry about the breach, the response, and the fact that we hadn’t even received our shipment yet, but we held back and waited for your books to arrive in our shipment the following Tuesday. They didn’t. In fact, your new book never arrived until the following Monday, the 5th. At that point, we had missed ten days worth of sales and more importantly the same number of customer impressions. We feature Event books prominently on the front counter.

So despite all of that negativity, we pushed on and had what we call a successful event.

You will recall our discussion about business cards and the Japanese. My family considers authors to be guests in our city, and at our event. Our goal is to make the event a comfortable, enjoyable experience for everyone. I hope that you agree that we made an effort to be professional and courteous to you, [co-signing author], and [co-signing author], as well as to our patrons.

We did background on all of you, and used that to market awareness of your books on radio (V’s weekly radio show), on TV (her weekly TV show) in print, and at all of our events and in the store. We know that we cannot sell every book in our city, but we can raise public awareness through our events. We try to make our event the pinnacle of the PR push for the book. There is a city-wide recognition that authors we host are important people. We choose who to host, not the other way around. Many people in New York City click on our web site each day because we are a reliable barometer of what sells, but more importantly we are on the cutting edge of the industry on how we sell it.

I want to clarify a few things we talked about last night. Signing stock at chain stores signals to the people who did take the time to come to your [our independent bookstore] event and support you that their effort was not necessary. More importantly, calling attention to that fact that you need to leave to do such a thing is insulting to your hosts. If that was something you felt compelled to do, you probably should have done so without drawing attention to yourself. I chalk it up to you not understanding the dynamics of the situation. Other booksellers may not be very forgiving. Some in particular that we know would simply stop carrying your books without comment.

Put another way, bookselling is a very small club. Independents talk to one another regularly. We love to make people stars, it’s why we do what we do. The chains are always late to the party, the wholesale outlets even later. Independents may not do the volume, but we definitely pick the people when we want to. Conversely, much like John Rain, when we want to kill an author we can always make it look like natural causes. There’s always a different book to push.

This is not to suggest that I did not enjoy our conversation, nor do I not look forward to continue selling your books. On the contrary, as I said you didn’t have all of the information.

To drive my point home: the full page New York Times ad for The Da Vinci Code book release quoted just one bookseller. She paid for your dinner last night. You might want to consider that when you talk about how B&N is really driving sales in this country, particularly in the presence of an independent bookseller.

Or as your agency training would put it, know who you’re talking to. Fortunately, we’re in the Midwest so we can laugh it off. If we were in Japan, I’d have killed you to avenge the family honor.

Really, truly.

Keep the faith,

From: Barry Eisler []
Subject: RE: Feedback
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2006 11:49 AM
To: G

G -- glad the event went well from your perspective; we certainly seemed to have a good crowd and good atmosphere and I enjoyed it a lot.

Thanks for the info about the laydown dates. This isn't something I know much about, but I will forward your email to the relevant folks at Putnam.

As for your other points... you must have misunderstood me when we were talking about B&N. I didn't say, nor do I believe, that B&N is "driving sales in this country." If anything, for books like mine, I would ascribe such a role precisely to independents like [yours]. I did say that the chains are important distributors of mine because they sell my books in volume. I don't think that's a controversial point.

So I can't apologize for signing stock at chains, my friend. They're important distributors in my business, and I can't make a living selling through independents alone (nor would I have been able to build my business as I have without the backing of independents). If I insulted you by doing I see as best for my business, I regret it, and am somewhat surprised, as it's not a reaction I've run into before.

If you'd like to have me back for another event, I would be delighted, as you, along with other key independents, have done a tremendous amount to get me where I am, and where I hope to go. You also run a first rate signing and seem like good people. But whether I do a signing with you or not, you should know that I'll also sign stock at as many chains in town as I can. This is a business decision for me, not at all personal, and you shouldn't feel insulted by it. I assure you I wouldn't feel insulted by any business decision you were to make about my books, whether pushing them, carrying them, or "killing" them, as you put it. I would similarly understand if, knowing that I will be doing stock signings at chains while I'm in town, you were to decide not to invite me back to present with [your bookstore]. I will always expect you to do what's best for your business, and will respect your decisions even if I don't agree with them. I hope you'll be able to extend me the same understanding.

As you may know, I write a blog at . Mostly it's on politics and language, but occasionally I post something on the biz. If you like, I could publish our exchange, which I think would lead to a good amount of illuminating commentary. Just let me know.

Best wishes,


From: G
RE: Feedback
Date: June 15, 2006 11:30:10 AM PDT

Dear Barry,

Levity apparently requires clarity. Penguin wants to push you to “the next level.” This is an exact quote from one of your publicists. This was repeated by our rep who sells your imprint. I spent the time to give you some feedback because I respect their request, and I respect your work enough to give you some constructive criticism. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do, given the expectations of your publisher. I don’t have to do anything other than sell your book. Really, truly.

What I’m trying to communicate to you is that independents are independent thinkers. We don’t make decisions that are purely corporate. We sell a lot based on emotion, gut instinct, the desire to offer our customers something special. Many independents have been hurt by B&N, Borders, Amazon. Like I said, we talk with one another. It’s a small club.

Like many of the key independents, we’re in the business of selling books and we also produce author events. In order to drive the publicity for an event, particularly for genre fiction, there has to be a unique quality to the experience we’re offering. Part of that uniqueness is the opportunity to meet the author and purchase a signed book. If someone can go anywhere in town and purchase a signed book, then that unique aspect of the event marketing is lost. Your publisher expects us to sell books when you come to town. They expect us to generate media. They expect us to build your audience. This requires a degree of cooperation.

It makes complete business sense for you to make as many personal contacts with booksellers as you can, chain or independent. These are the people who will actually sell your book. This aspect of your zeal to self-promote I respect. My instinct tells me that you’re doing whatever you can to achieve success. That’s the first rule of business growth, determination.

Do I feel insulted because you signed at B&N? Of course not. Many authors do when we host them. Did I think you asking directions to B&N was an odd request? It’s the new number one. Did we laugh about it afterward? You bet. Would other independents have been offended and done something about it? You better believe it. And that’s the lesson you need to learn, friend.

Michael Barson can confirm that there are not a big number of people who buy books in this country. I’m referring to the group of people who decide what goes on the shelves, not the readers. I’m suggesting that you may alienate some of these people with your approach. Amazon doesn’t like B&N. Wal-Mart doesn’t like Borders. And the leading independents don’t like anybody who doesn’t read what they sell. We walk the walk. We know who you are.

Again, I’m spending my time writing to you today because I’d also like to see you go to “the next level.”

Travel safe on your way there.


From: Barry Eisler []
Subject: RE: Feedback
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2006 5:09 PM
To: G

G, I do appreciate your efforts to explain the independent world view. I'm not sure I understand your point, though -- it's okay for an author to sign at a chain, but he shouldn't admit to an independent that he's doing it?

I suppose it's an issue of sensibilities, like the Victorians and sex -- "of course it occurs, but it shouldn't be discussed." And sensibilities, even when they aren't apparently logical, are an important part of culture. So if I offended you -- even if you managed to laugh it off -- with my inquiry about the whereabouts of B&N (as opposed to with the signing itself), please accept my apology.

I think what's made me overlook this sensibility issue is two things. First, many independents have proactively steered me to the chains in their towns after I've finished a formal signing, and (mistakenly, it seems) I assumed that all independents would be equally comfortable with acknowledgment of such stock signings.

Second, I tend to be comfortable with such acknowledgment myself. For example, I certainly don't have a problem with you pushing and selling the works of other authors, and I don't expect you to try to conceal it from me. Why would I? You couldn't make a living selling only my books any more than I can make a living working only with independents. That's why I recommended other writers to you at dinner last night; that's why I was happy to do an event with other authors at your store.

Anyway, thanks for your understanding about the importance to an author of stock signings at chains. The sensibility issue aside, signing stock at chains helps me move more books -- as I'm sure you understand, given that you yourself bought two of the copies I signed at B&N last night.

I recognize this is a private exchange and won't publish it if you don't want me to, but I do think this would make excellent blog material because there are a lot of other authors who could benefit from knowing what you've tried to explain to me. What do you think?

Best wishes,


From: G
Subject: RE: Feedback
Date: June 16, 2006 7:21:48 AM PDT

Dear Barry

V and R read our exchanges yesterday and said laughingly “it’s obvious you guys are lawyers.” I thought that was pretty funny. I’m not getting $250 an hour to keep this up so I’ll just stick to selling books.

Travel safe and keep writing great books.


Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think G is being overly-sensitive. But I'm not surprised. I was once publicly bitched out at my local independent for using an Amazon Visa at the cash register. I'm sure I'm not the only customer that buys books at both the independent and on, but when faced with it (even though I was spending a lot of money at his store) he went nuts.

Anonymous said...


This is an interesting exchange. I think the most surprising thing about it is the faintly hostile tone that "G" uses. There seems to be some implied threat here that does seem a bit out of place. I am an independent bookseller and as much as I wish that the chains did not exist I do understand that they are an extremely important part of the business. I do appreciate it however, when an author does not talk about his stock signings at other stores, chains or not. That to me is very simply good manners. Booksignings should feel like a special event.
The subject of laydown dates is another matter entirely. There is nothing more aggravating as feeling like you are the only one that is playing by the rules of the laydown. I grind my teeth everytime someones comes in my store and asks me why I don't have a certain book because they saw it at another store. And I do believe that independents are much more likely to be punished for that infraction than the chains are, which is why they flaunt the laydown dates so openly.
I think "G" makes several good points. The publishers tell us that there is a level playing field between independents and chains and we know that is not true. We often feel like we do all the heavy lifting in promoting new authors and the chains reap the benefits.
You, as the author are stuck in the middle. My advice to you is to be polite, like your mother told you to be, continue to do formal signings at the independents that support you and when speaking to those independent owners and their customers don't talk about your wealthy mistress, the chains.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2 gives excellent advice. Well said.

G seems to have a chip on his shoulder, but maybe he just had a bad week. (I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. It's a weakness of mine.) Or maybe he was envious of Barry's hair!

Both the chain stores and the independents play vital roles in the bookselling process. It's a shame that there is sometimes such rancor between the two camps, but business is war, right?

James said...

Pardon my ignorance but what is the difference between a stock signing and a formal signing?

As for acknowledging the signing at the chain I am of two minds about this matter. G makes some good points and my gut reaction was that it was rude however after thinking about things a bit I came to the decision that it depends on what is meant by "acknowledging" the signing at the chain. Was the acknowledgement of the stock signing in the form of, "Hey guys, I'm also signing books over at such-and-such tomorrow?" If so then it might have been a little rude, however if the only acknowledgement of it was when you asked for directions or in response to an audience question then I think G-diddy is being a bit sensitive about things.

My gut feeling on this is that by raising the profile of your books at the chains you are actually doing the independents a service. In my case I had to buy your first two books at chains (Hastings and Barnes & Noble) since we did not have a good independent bookseller where I was living when Matt first recommended Rain Fall. Then I found out about, and subsequently began attending, your signings at Murder by the Book in Houston. I would have never sought out this bookstore if not for your signings.

So how does this apply? Even if you start doing signings in chain stores in Houston I will continue to attend the Murder by the Book event. In my experience the events at independent booksellers tend to be more relaxed and personal than events at chains, therefore as more fans are cultivated through the chains there will be a larger pool of people looking for these more personal events. Thus the independent will gain traffic it had little or no opportunity to see.

JA Konrath said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JA Konrath said...

James--a stock signing means you pop into the store unannounced and sign whatever copies they have on hand. A formal signing involves coop money (paid to the bookstore by the publisher) used for store placement, advertising, and publicity, and the author usually does a talk and stays for an hour or more.

A signed book has a better chance of selling than an unsigned book, and meeting the people who sell your books (in whatever venue they work) is a good business strategy.

But here's the thing--authors signing books at more than one store in a given demographic is not what is hurting indie bookstores.

Discounting is what is hurting indie bookstores.

Not only through the chains, who get more than a 40% discount for bestsellers, but the big box stores who sell books at (or even below) cost as a loss lead.

I love indie bookstores, and am a big supporter of them (if you want signed copies of my books, check your local indie!) Many of then would cream the chains if discounting didn't play a part.

That said, I have some great relationships with chain store employees, and they suffer mightily when a Costco or Sam's Club moves nearby.

Crappy as it sounds, that's capitalism. Discounting when a customer buys in bulk is pervasive, and isn't going to change.

I want everyone to make money from selling my books. And I'll do my best to help them. For example, I don't have links on my homepage to my novels, because that doesn't seem fair to other booksellers.

But if I'm in a town, it's in my best interest to meet as many booksellers as possible, and sign as many books as possible.

I try to love all of my children equally, regardless of how much they do for me or love me back. That doesn't make me ungrateful. It makes me fair.

Hopefully, my kids will understand that.

Anonymous said...

I'm an author and a reader (and sorry for the anonymous comment, but gee, I'll never get invited to that bookstore if he knows my name!) As a reader, I say there's a huge difference between meeting the author in person to get a book signed and buying a book that's pre-signed with no author to meet and hear speak. G is off base there. Given a choice between attending a signing for a favorite author and heading to B&N and finding a signed copy, that's a no-brainer, I'm heading for the signing. The presence of signed stock doesn't make me walk into any bookstore with my checkbook at the ready. For one thing, how would I know you've been there to sign stock? Answer: I don't. There's no advertising for signed stock. G should not be stressing about that. It's silly of him.

As an author (and a reader, actually) I'm offended by G's email to you. He threatened your career. As a writer of genre novels, I know that the sales velocity and numbers that get you onto the bestseller lists (excluding NYT) don't come from the independents. It's CostCo and WalMart and Sam's Club (if your books aren't there, chances are you're not making a list) then the bookstore chains, then some of the independents (but not all, since not all report their sales figures). Amazon sales are trivial even if your Amazon sales rank is double or single digits. What if you were to suggest to G that he stop stocking horror novels since they might compete with yours? It's absurd, of course. Just as it's absurd for him to suggest you not sign stock at chains.

James said...

JA - Thank you. I was operating under the assumption that it would be something along those lines although I have to admit that it never even occurred to me that the chains might have stock of signed books.

Richard Cooper said...

This exchange and discussion is MUCH too informative to not spread around, so I'm going to point to it from my blog at if that's okay! I have to agree with JA Konrath--that's capitalism, folks!

lady t said...

I use to work at an independant bookstore and unfortunately,I've seen this attitude before. G is correct about the probelm with on-sale dates but that's something he should be addressing to your publisher-it's not the author's fault that this happens.

I don't think you ment to be rude in asking directions to the B&N(especially if you asked someone privately,after the signing)and for G to get upset about you signging copies elsewhere is ridiculous. Book tour stops for authors is readily available and it's common practice for an author to hit both the indies and the chains in the same city. Since the indie event was a three-author signing instead of a stock signing,there was plenty of incentive for folks to show up and met the writers in person.

Also,the whole Sopranos vibe G was putting out"We all speak to each other" is very insulting. I remember Frank McCourt talking once about some flak he got from some independant bookpeople about doing a B&N credit card ad. He asked what was their probelm and they said"Well,we made you." He replied"No,my mother and father made me." I understand G's frustrations but taking them out on an author(whose books are still on your shelves and who you might want to invite back for his next book!) is flat out wrong.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he may have been sensitive due to the lack of response to the laydown problem (and, if the description is acurate, rightly so). What would have passed as normal, rubbed salt in a still open wound. Looks like he realizes its not you that he is really mad at.

Anonymous said...

Cheers for sharing that Barry,

This post has a UK Dimension

The email exchange was fascinating, the tension like when two people keep the veneer of civilisation in check, but there is the metallic whiff of ozone that you get before a real storm.

I thought you were very civil, when confronted by an unpleasant threat. I have friends who are indy-book owners, in fact I almost bought a London Mystery Store about three years back from the liquidator, but when my accountant looked at the books [and my wife knew it was a vanity purchase as she was worried I was trying be Otto Penzler], I backed out.

It's hard being an indy bookseller today, and I can understand the frustrations 'G' has, so perhaps I'll be a little easier on 'G'.

I do think that he 'over-eggs' himself about how an indy bookseller can 'make' a writer.

Sure booksellers in the indy section help tremendously [so does the editor, the reviewer, and hey, being able able to write helps a lot].

I often buy from indy guys like David and Dan at Goldsboro Books [London], or Maxim J at Murderone, but some chains such as Blackwells who own HEFFERS in Cambridge have a very indy-feel as do some UK branches of Ottakars and even some Borders Branches, who have done a great deal for making people read.

Even the supermarkets, who mostwriters berate - actual tap into a market for people who are busy and wouldn't normally buy books - OK the discounting and the lack of choice does make me wince.

Anyway, thanks for sharing this fascinating email exchange - I liked the calm and collected manner of your response.

'G' like someone said earlier probably had a bad day, and I know how tough it is in his chosen vocation, but bugger me mate, life is tough all over if you want to get things done. It's tough sitting at the blank screen, or running a business, bringing up kids.

Hey - competition is a requirement to incentivise people, being human is tough - being rude is easier than being civil.

I like this blog as it is 'off-beat', see you in Pheonix Barry, we'll drink some malt and talk more.


Oh, and in case you wanted know which thrillers I have most enjoyed in the last couple of months :-

And THE LAST ASSASSIN was excellent, took Rain in a provacative direction - Barry, the next one should be entitled THE EXISTENTIAL ASSASSIN

Thanks for the ride

Anonymous said...

Fascinating exchange, Barry.

I agree with you about most of this, and agree wtih G on one point.

I do think it was rude of you to ask directions to another booksstore (whether a chain or an indie) from any employee of the store which had just hosted you.

It's like walking into McDonald's, eating a free meal and then asking the manager for directions to the nearest Burger King.

I think G was probably pissed off that the chains had violated the laydown date, needed somebody to blame for that, you walked through the door, and then what should have been a very minor aggravation turned into a lengthy and thought-provoking e-mail exchange.

Anonymous said...

This blog was my lead story at my blog today too.

As for my opinion, I think after spending all those hours with the indy asking where the chain was to sign stock was fine - but even if someone thought it was rude - the tone and threats of the bookseller's responses were way out of line.

Maryelizabeth said...


A couple very very quick thoughts, as I'm in the middle of ThreillerFest madness, as I am sure you can imagine... :)

From my interpretation of the email exchange, it seems like the heart of the matter is the bookseller's distress over the violation of the on-sale date, their lost sales because of the compounding factor of the late shipment of your books for their event, and then what probably felt like rewarding the chains for their bad bahavior with your stock signing. I think this is an atypical situation and response in some ways.
FYI, one of the reason indie booksellers hate chains violating street dates without consequences is the chains were the ones who talked the publishers into street dates in the first place. Books in a box shipped from a publishing warehouse direct to an indie bookstore used to have a better chance of hitting the shelves in a timely fashion than those sent to a warehouse distribution center and then redistributed to various chain stores, IIRC.
Anyway, most stores (indie, chain, supermarket, gas stations, warehouse stores, etc.) don't have issues with authors doing stock signings at other venues, or generally view them as a conflict to an in-person event, in my experience.
Lots more I could address, but I'm outta time...

Anonymous said...

The most recent Anonymous poster's comparison of a book signing to a "free meal" is off-base, I think. Author appearances at bookstores are mutually beneficial. The bookstore isn't doing the author a favor; they're helping each other out.

Bookstores get co-op money from the publishers as a result of the appearances, as well as increased sales of their books. On the other hand, they don't cost the bookstore anything. (Perhaps a small amount for advertising; but more likely not.)

It's a relationship that benefits both parties. If it didn't, one of the parties would back out.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a growing dog fight that we are seeing. Chains are the new monarch and Indeoendents probably have to work twice as hard (with half the resources) just to keep their head above water.

Walmart, Target, B&N etc all have exclusive suppliers and I think that independents would (secretly) like to have the same. ie a hot manufacturer, author. director, ______, to fight back.

G is wishing for this although they understand its business, we need the large distribution.

Barry Eisler said...

A lot of great thinking here, everyone, and all civil, too! Many thanks. Fair point, G might have been having a bad day for reasons that had nothing to do with me... maybe he will stop by and clarify?

I wish I had time to respond to all the comments, but just a few thoughts:

Richard and Mark, blog away, and thank you.

Ali, thanks for the kind words about The Last Assassin. I love The Existential Assassin and if I use it for the next one, you get all the credit.

For the record, I only brought up the nearby B&N because I'd joined G and the other store employees for dinner after the event, after which they offered to take me to the hotel. I thanked them but said there was a nearby B&N whose stock I wanted to sign; right around here, isn't it? I confess it didn't occur to me that the question, with no one else around, would be insulting, and that's one of the things I hope to bring up by posting my exchange with G: should authors mention such things?

I don't think doing stock signings in the same town lessens the value of the formal signing. When I do a formal, I typically spend an hour and a half to two hours in the store. I greet every customer individually (or at least as many as I can, if it's a really big signing); I talk with everyone until the questions start to die down; I personalize copies for anyone who wants one; I pose with anyone who wants a photo. I could be wrong, but I think all this offers a lot more value than does a brief stock signing with no customer contact and no advertising. Otherwise, why would a store want a formal in the first place?

So what G seems to be asking for, from my perspective, is not just the value he gets from the formal signing, but also some additional, incremental value that he would accrue by virtue of having the only signed books in town. That doesn't seem equitable to me, and it certainly doesn't make business sense for the author. A two-hour formal at an indy and a bunch of stock signings elsewhere seems like a good compromise for everyone, at least from my author's perspective.

Thanks again for the great comments everyone.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Barry.

I'm an oddball musician/writer/filmmaker whose heroes are detectives. So I support indies as a default, but I also don't like being threatened.

Sometimes indies make it very hard for an author to be behind them, because they seem to think anything but exclusivity is traitorous.

I err on the side of indies whenever I can. But come on, guys: If you want me to take the Amazon link down, get your act together and don't require a zip code at Booksense before you'll show users a book. Booksense may be bookseller-friendly, but it's user- and author-hostile.

Anonymous said...

Having been on the receiving end of the hospitality offered by the good folks at Rainy Day Books, I think G had every right to complain. He wasn't telling you not to sign chain stock. He's just saying the manner in which you handled it was rude. I agree. It's akin to having a host make you an elegant meal, only for you to dismiss yourself early from the table so you can join your good friends at the local bar.
G's letter doesn't seem like whining to me. He seems like someone who really cares about you and your future as an author.
Shame on you for taking that for granted, too.
I think you owe the folks at Rainy Day an apology. A sincere one. And you might start by sending V a bunch of calla lillies.

Anonymous said...

Hey Barry,

I was a bookseller for years, and now I'm author. G is dead wrong. I can't imagine another bookseller on earth who would have taken offence at your simple question. For him to even mention the embargo date issue to you, let alone imply that it's somehow your concern, is insane. He should have called his rep and if he didn't get a satisfactory response, worked his way up the chain (rep's supervisor, their supervisor, etc.). And he crossed a line by implying he could kill your sales. Not only is it cruel, it isn't true. He could not, becasue no one store has that much power, and he would not, because he wants and needs the money to be gained from selling your books.

Here's wishing you better luck on the rest of your tour.

Maryelizabeth said...

Keith mentioned the difficulty of the front portal entry to booksellers, which is based on the fact that not every indie affiliated with sells their books at the same price (one of the struggles of trying to be many things to many indie booksellers, and no doubt much like herding cats for the programming folks... :: grin ::), so the user must declare which bookstore s/he is interested in shopping from to get the book info.

OTOH, every author on the planet could just install direct links (as well as links to whatever other on-line sites -- I don't think it benefits authors to only offer affiliate links to one on-line site -- probably doesn't make B&N any happier than an indie to have just SPAMAZON links, right?) to Mysterious Galaxy as a solution. Hey, it works for me! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Maryelizabeth!

If price variation is the issue, the solution would seem to be to withhold the price until a zip code is entered, not withhold the entire book. Amazon lets me link to my book. That's what an author needs.

Despite this, I provide links to both Amazon and Booksense. But one makes it easy for readers and authors to do what they need, and the other makes it possible for booksellers not to have to agree on a price.

I think we're all behind indies. I certainly am. I go out of my way to avoid chains whenever that's a reasonable option. But indies need to listen as much as they talk--and sometimes it seems they really don't.

I. Michael Koontz said...

Very provocative stuff which interests me because I'm having a book-signing for my new novel at both a chain (Borders) and small independent in my hometown, made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that I personally know the manager of the Borders and the owner of the independent!

What to do? Hey, it's what Mom always said: Honesty is the best policy. I told the Borders person I was signing at the Independent and vice-versa, assured each that I would be marketing each signing thoroughly to as many different crowds as I run with so each signing had a good audience, thanked each person for their understanding with this situation, and everything was--and remains--hunky-dory.

"G", I think, was having a bad day and you were a conventient target, though it might have been better to have gotten your B and N directions from a gas station politically-speaking. Nevertheless, his taking offense at that shows a lower-than-normal sensitivity level because I would have probably not been overly offended, especially AFTER you had signed with success in my store!

No worries, Barry--you're not a jerk!

Elizabeth Krecker said...

Fascinating post, fascinating bird's eye view on the bookselling world, and fascinating comments!

Barry, I think your point here says it all: 'For example, I certainly don't have a problem with you pushing and selling the works of other authors, and I don't expect you to try to conceal it from me. Why would I? You couldn't make a living selling only my books any more than I can make a living working only with independents."

For many years I had a small business and cannot, to this day, comprehend the parochialism of many of my business counterparts. Why? Even in the very tiny world of graphic design and copywriting in this lil' ol' cowtown called Phoenix, Arizona, there's plenty of business for all of us. It seems logical to me that in the much larger world of bookselling, that there would be plenty of business for any smart bookseller, indie or not.

Anonymous said...

"I can't think there are many authors out there who include 'eliminating other authors' as part of their business plan."

You do realize whose blog you're commenting on, don't you? The man specializes in the natural causes hit, for God's sake!

Do you really think it's a coincidence that Trevanian died last year?

Anonymous said...


Not identifying myself, but we love your books at our store!


Concerning Amazon links: While it's certainly a no-brainer that an author's gotta sell books, several indies resent sending customers to an author's website, only to have us potentially lose sales when the customer is directed not to a great indie to buy books, but to the faceless entity of It's not worth it to us. You gotta eat, but so do we. A solution: Find a wonderful independent near you or across the country that supports and hand-sells your work, and provide links to their site to buy books. If you find the right place (or places) and they're like us, when someone calls or e-mails an order, they're not just buying a book, they're forming a relationship with a store that loves YOUR books.

Anonymous said...

Find a wonderful independent near you or across the country that supports and hand-sells your work, and provide links to their site to buy books.

I thought of that, but it would cut out all the other wonderful independents who've also supported me--and it's not as though there are no mutual resentments within the indie world. Linking to just one means I've chosen that bookseller over all others. I don't want to. I want to support indies, not cut 99% of them out of my website.

I think Booksense is a fantastic idea. I just need to be able to do a very simple thing: Link to my book.

As I said, I link to Booksense anyway. I'm anti-chain by nature. But Amazon does this one important thing much better.

Anonymous said...


The exchange certainly sounds like two lawyers! Precise, but not to the heart of the matter.

Someone got their feeling hurt, so sentence after sentence, the two lawyers dance around the issue. Pretending it's about something else.

Sometimes your strength is also your weakness, and sometimes EI trumps IQ

Book Nerd said...

Hi Barry,

I'm an independent bookseller too, but I found your post through one of my favorite book blogs,, which is run by a great bookseller who happens to work at a chain.

My first reaction was embarassment that one of our own (G) acted in such a ridiculous manner. You made a great choice by choosing to have your formal signing at an independent bookstore rather than at a chain, which shows you have a high regard for independents. Your decision to sign stock at the chain is also a reasonable one, and in no way diminishes the value of the formal signing -- as many have pointed out, meeting an author for a scheduled event is 100% more of a draw than accidentally coming across a signed copy in a store.

That said, some independent booksellers have had their nerves frayed a bit by the tense competition with chains and Amazon, and by the ignorance of many authors and book buyers about what their book buying choices mean. As many have mentioned, bulk discounts and the pure clout of the big guys are stacked against independents, and though surely B&N and Amazon have a right to exist, every book sold makes a difference to the bottom line of an independent store. I've had an author tell his audience at a signing to buy his book on Amazon -- when I, the independent, was sitting at the back of the room with a stack of books for sale. G's response was extreme and unproductive, but it takes a good deal of self-control to keep your emotions in check when it seems that there is so much at stake.

Asking for directions to B&N might have been a little gauche, but a good bookseller ought to grit their teeth and give you the directions, understanding that all of us are part of the book community, and that we all have a much better chance of surviving through cooperation and purposeful amicability than through bitterness and threats. G's problem with the publisher's preferential treatment of B&N had zero to do with you, and it's unfortunate that his frustration with an imperfect system got taken out on you in this awkward way. I hope you won't hold it against all of us. Thanks for bringing this difficult issue of etiquette and underlying causes into the light -- here's hoping it's illuminating for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this fascinating exchange. I agree with "clg" above: "I'm offended by G's email to you. He threatened your career." He certainly did. And his Sopranos "We all talk blah blah blah" was unseemly. It's hard to believe the guy is a lawyer.

The lengthiness of his letter and his replies reveal that it was not just a bad day. Well, he is the owner's son. To quote Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack, "That's why tigers eat their young."


Barry Eisler said...

Karen, I have to respectfully disagree. To me, a host making an elegant meal is a personal matter, done primarily for the benefit of the guest. A book signing is a business matter, where the parties can be expected to do what's in their own business interests. Regardless, I don't think I "dismissed myself early" -- I stayed at the signing until after the last customer had left, then joined G and the other booksellers for dinner. And G certainly was telling me not to do stock signings, although in his second email he backed away from that position.

Several people have pointed out that G might have been having a bad day or been dealing with separate frustrations that he took out on me. I think G can address this better than I can.

Peppopgoz, I think you're getting close to the heart of the matter here. The more I read the responses to my post, and a lot of private email, too, the more I realize that there are two related things going on here.

The first is a problem of differing world views, perhaps epitomized by Karen's post. I distinguish clearly between a business relationship and a personal one. I'm getting the sense that many indies, who need to make a living of course but also do what they do out of love, don't draw as sharp a distinction. So what feels like an obvious, "nothing personal" business call to me can feel like a personal slap to an indie.

The second, related problem is one of etiquette. It's related because even if an indie accepts that authors have to work with other distributors, the indie feels like, "Look, I've accepted that you're working with my competitors and I'm not complaining about it, but do you have to rub my face in it?"

Both points are valid, fair, and worth bearing in mind. I cut my business teeth at a Silicon Valley technology law firm, representing clients like Matsushita/Panasonic in deals with Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and others. The deals I worked on were about money, not love. That's the culture I come from, and it continues to inform my world view. But I shouldn't forget that there are other world views out there.

One thing I'd like to add. Once I have a relationship with a bookstore, it goes beyond business for me. High Crimes in Boulder; my hometown store Kepler's in Menlo Park; M is for Mystery in San Mateo; Murder By The Book in Houston; Mysterious Bookshop in NYC; Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego; Mystery Bookstore in LA; Mystery One in Milwaukee; Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis; Poisoned Pen in Phoenix; and a few others have been enormously good to me, and at this point I don't really apply economic metrics to those relationships. I would work with these stores even if it cost me money. But I've known these people for four years and they've done a lot for me -- my feeling is that, by comparison, G was presuming on a brand new relationship.

David, Trevanian wasn't me! I love that man's books... ;-)

Anonymous, thanks for the kind words about my books.

Anonymous (can't you all at least choose different anonymouses? Anonymous #1, anonymous #2), definitely there was some mutual irritation at work in this exchange, but I'm not sure that's the HOTM here. As I mentioned above, I think Peppopgoz came closest to that.

Book Nerd, fair points and thank you. I can't change my mind on what makes sense for me regarding stock signings, but I am beginning to recognize that in some indie cultures, my question about B&H would come across as gauche.

eihpos said...

I agree with others who said that G's comments were offensive. They weren't directed at me and I felt insulted!

That said, it's not surprising that the issue is such an emotional one with him. He might have been stewing over the on-sale date fiasco and when you asked for directions for B&N...kaboom. I can understand why he's so sensitive about these things, since indies have to struggle so hard against the big chains. But it's still rude, not to mention undiginified, to threaten someone, especially an author you've just hosted.

With regards to the whole question of "Should we do it and not say anything about it?". It makes sense to be discreet about stock signings but to deny it altogether is ridiculous. We have a name for that sort of behaviour these days. It's called hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

I take exception to the implication made above that consumers purchase books from Amazon or chain stores out of "ignorance."

I frequently make purchases from Amazon with the full knowledge that it is easy, convenient, reliable and offers me a significant savings.

I am not ignorant of the fact that this saves me a one-hour drive to the nearest independent bookstore, or a 90-minute drive to to the nearest mystery bookstore. (B&N, by the way, is only 5 minutes away. Borders is 15.)

This type of defensive and condescending attitude on the part of some booksellers is, I believe, a part of their problem.

I've never understood why I'm supposed to feel sorry for someone who can't make their business succeed. Nor do I understand why I should accept rude behavior on the part of a businessman just because he's having trouble making ends meet.

If you can't succeed at whatever endeavor you're attempting, find a new endeavor. Don't just sit around and whine about it. What is that going to accomplish?

Allison Brennan said...

Barry and others:

I think that G. sincerely liked you and your books. I think he was pleased with the event.

I also think that there's nothing wrong with doing stock signings at the chain stores while in town for an event at an indie store.

However, I'm well aware of the tension between indies and chain stores as I have done events at both. I have a friend who works part time at a chain store to feed her book habit--she hand sells me, loves your books Barry, and has been instrumental in pushing a lot of fabulous midlist authors. She came to my event at an indie store because of the other author I was with (I told her about the event because I knew she loved this author); she bought two books at the indie store for this author to sign even though she'd already read the books.

The indie staff were courteous (and I love them personally--they are great to me) but definitely reserved when they learned she worked at a chain store (very unlike they were to our other customers that day.)

Based on that and other incidents, I would never tell an indie store that I was going to a chain store in the area. It's really none of their business. As long as I'm fulfilling the obligation I made to the event store, my time is my own time. They simply don't have to know about it.

So, that's a long way of saying, I agree with everything you said about this being a business, but I learned working in politics that there are definitely times to keep your mouth shut :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a published author and am sitting here reading this with my mouth just hanging open - totally stunned.

I'm confused as to why the "he's having a bad day" excuse is even in play here - we're all adults.

Days are bad - we get through them - we don't send ridiculous emails about "killing" writing careers and being wronged in this bizarre Godfather-esque manner for something as pedestrian and known-throughout-the-universe as popping in for a stock signing at the local Barnes and Noble.

This is ridiculous from beginning to end and I'm horrifed that Barry had to put up with it - let alone be civil to someone so obviously off base.

Anonymous said...

Okay. That's a fair rebuttal. You didn't leave the dinner early.
But you're also right in your observation that I do come at this from a different world view.
Writing has never been about $$ for me. It's about passion. Or compulsion. Or, some days, pure obsession.
I wrote before anyone ever offered me any money for my work and I'll still be writing when this war in Iraq bankrupts our economy.
That said, this seems like a good opportunity for all of us in the biz to learn a lesson on social graces, if nothing else. (Law-dawg, take note, name-calling is offensive in every culture and thus, should be taboo in mannerly public discourse, another grace sadly lacking in this warmongering nation of ours).
Barry, I adhere to a basic life principle that has served me well over the years -- it doesn't matter if you meant to offend someone. If you know that you've offended them, apologize. I've found that ofttimes it is more important to be restored, than to be right.
Now Ann Coulter would tell you that's nothing but shoveled shit, but then what does Coulter really know, except how to sell books ... lots of books.

Barry Eisler said...

Karen, I don't know what you mean when you say, "it is more important to be restored, than to be right," but the apology principle as you've laid it out seems overly broad. I'm not sure where Iraq and America as a "warmongering nation" fit into all this, but since you bring these subjects up, let's see if we can connect them. Imagine all the Islamofascists you offend by being an infidel. I wonder if you're prepared to apologize to them? After all, "it doesn't matter if you meant to offend someone. If you know that you've offended them, apologize."

For me, there has to be some objective reasonableness involved with the person's subjective sense of being offended. It's precisely this necessary nexus of objective reasonableness and subjective offense that makes it impossible for me to apologize to anyone for doing stock signings. I did, however, apologize to G in our exchange for offending him by asking directions to the B&N. Does that not count, or did you overlook it?

I agree with your point on name calling. But admonishing LD for the practice in the same post in which you accuse someone of "nothing but shoveled shit" suggests you are capable of more subtle distinctions than I am.

Anonymous said...


Great to meet you at the Saint Louis Borders. I enjoyed your discussion/Q&A as well as the few minutes of your obviously crammed schedule that I managed to steal.

Both your most recent post and the comments that follow it are an interesting peek into an aspect of the world of books that I suspected exists, but had never previously been able to confirm. On one level, I empathize with G’s obvious frustrations about his inequitable treatment at the hands of the large chains, but it’s hard to excuse the way he uses a thin veil of “levity” draped over what seem to be implied threats.

One of the things that I have enjoyed about our exchanges – and which was reinforced by what I saw of you in Saint Louis – is that you seem to maintain a healthy balance between passion for what you do and recognition that there are certainly realities that need to be addressed in both your career and in the world at large. My read on all of this is that, at worst, you MAY have been a little insensitive about asking for directions to Barnes & Noble, but that even that seems to have occurred as a result of inexperience rather than any element of malice.

Judging by the tone of G’s eMails, he appears to lack some of the balance I describe above. I think maybe you’ve learned about a potential pitfall in dealing with independents going forward, but that you should simply chalk it up as a lesson learned, and let it lie. G has vented and you obviously feel at least a little bad about about the perceptions with which he came away, but that’s the MOST any of this is; a question of perception.


Anonymous said...

Late to the discussion, but I'd like to add that after reading the German translation of "Rain Fall", I wanted to get the other books in the series as soon as possible, and the translations weren't (aren't) done yet. So I asked my independent bookstore to order it. He told me ordering the second book would be quite expensive and I'd be better off to order it at amazon. Which I did. Kind of the opposite end of this.

Book Nerd said...

Just to clarify things, I want to say again that I think Barry did absolutely nothing wrong. He may have said something awkward, but he committed no sin, and even apologized in advance for any possible offense.

G, on the other hand, behaved laughably and abominably. Rather than acting gracefully toward an author who chose to support his independent store, he tried to take out his problems with the whole system on that author (who is probably one of his best advocates). And he made himself look both silly and unpleasant.

One of the things I sometimes worry about it the tendency of independent booksellers to think they can get by on high-minded ideology alone. Because there are some ethical and cultural reasons to shop independents (knowledgable staff, support of local economy, less homogenization, etc.) some of us think we can rest on our elitist laurels and authors and readers should worship in our temple. That's silly, too.

More so than the chains, our livelihood depends on creating irresistable store experiences, and developing good relationships. We have to have something worth going out of the way for, and we'd better be people that others want to deal with. In the absence of corporate clout, our relationships are what we bank on. It's a shame G tried to use that as a bludgeon, and in a sense destroyed a relationship that he had, and gave himself a reputation that will likely hurt his store in the long run.

Anonymous said...

You're right. There is a subtlety to the "shoveled shit" remark that seems to have slipped right past you.
Lawdawg and others seems intent on rallying around you, like sixth-grade bullies at recess -- they've come to ensure you don't get picked on. I guess namecalling helps exalt their position. Or yours, I'm not real clear on that distinction.
I'm not saying that you should apologize for the sins of the world, or nail yourself to a cross or anything so dramatic. And I don't think G was looking for that sort of restoration either.
I'm just suggesting you've made this into a bigger deal that it really deserves.
Riddle me this, how come you felt the need to post G's letter?
Was it to humilate him?
Or to justify your own actions?
To prove what a good guy you are and what a jerk he is?
Or did you have some other lofty notion in mind?
I just don't think overall it's a very gracious way of doing business. If I were G I'd be more offended by your posting of exchanges than I would be by your initial request for directions to his competitor.
But then, again, what do I know? I've butted my nose into something that doesn't concern me. Just like all the other people who've posted a response to your exchange with G.
But then, again, you invited us to join you in this spat.

Anonymous said...

Very late to the party here, but a couple of things struck me:

I sympathize with G's frustration at the early on-sale date by the chains, and the late arrival of your book to his family's store. But, what the heck are you, the author, supposed to do about it? Once you turn in the book, the publishing machine controls most of what happens after that, including where and how you tour, and especially production logistics such as binding and shipping. For G to complain to you about shipping dates is a bit odd, or naive, or disingenuous, or something.

And, I agree with those who thought there were some thinly and ineptly veiled threats hiding under all the "I'd like to see you go to the next level" piffle. You're already at the next level, for crying out loud ;-)

Selling books is a business, and business begets competition, whether it’s friendly or unfriendly. The successful independent booksellers of my acquaintance acknowledge the chains and plan their marketing schemes around them. And they certainly don’t take out their frustrations on touring authors, who are every bit as much at the mercy of the publishers as are the booksellers. And the publishers are at the mercy of the shareholders, and the beat goes on........

JA Konrath said...

We all react differently to being threatened.

Some apologize, so it doesn't escalate. Some run. Some make excuses. Some try reason. Some hide. Some fight back.

But the fact remains: being threatened requires some sort of response.

I think all can agree that, in this exchange, Barry was threatened.

How he dealt with it was responding with common sense, and then posting the exchange in this forum.

You can call it a way to raise public awareness about this issue, or call it a way to return volley, but frankly Barry doesn't need any explanation other than: This is his response to being attacked.

If G had said, "When you asked for directions to B & N, it made me feel lousy" I have no doubt Barry would have apologized and left it at that.

But when G threatened Barry's livelihood, and mentioned he'd get other bookstores involved, Barry had every right to get his peers involved as well.

IMO, he did it in a civil way, that helped foster understanding of the issue.

The fact that he has friends who support him is an added bonus, because when you get threatened it's nice to know you have people watching your back.

JA Konrath said...

I also think it says something about Barry's character that he didn't make any threats in return.

Barry's a popular personality in the thriller community. If he said to me, "Don't every appear at this bookstore," I'd listen. So would about sixty other authors, all much bigger than me.

He didn't do that, because he didn't stoop to the same level.

Anonymous said...

JA- Pleeeasseee! What hogwash. I don't believe for one minute that Barry, no matter how likable a fellow he is, or how well he writes, has the power to sway 60 other thriller writers away from Rainy Day, or any other store, any more than I believe G has the power to make or break Barry's career. And, I bet Barry doesn't believe it either. He might have such an effect over offspring or spouses or maybe his first cousins or his frat brothers. But I feature that the bulk of folks posting, who are writers, would do back-flips if they thought it would win the favor of a bookseller, even one like G.
And lawdaw -- you said it, I didn't.
If being part of the majority voice makes something right, then Martin Luther King Jr. was a dang fool. No wonder he got shot.
I'm surprised no one has taken Jack Murtha out.
Or perhaps being a lone voice simply means I think for myself, and am not swayed by popular opinion. No matter how "reasoned" it may appear.

Barry Eisler said...

Okay, deep breath time...

LD, the "give 'em what they give you, plus ten percent interest" approach has served you well in law enforcement and counterterrorism, no doubt. But here, it'll just harden opinions, which isn't what HOTM is about. Not that I'm not sympathetic -- like you, I'm much less tolerant when I think someone has insulted or attacked a friend or family member than when the target is me -- but if you respond to vitriol with vitriol, we'll just have... more vitriol.

Come on, people, if we could stay civil through discussions of the end game in Iraq, surely we can do it here, too!

Paul, it was a pleasure meeting you, too. And definitely, my experience with G and the exchange here on HOTM has been illuminating.

Patrick, many thanks and I'm glad you enjoyed the German version of Rain Fall. Odd that your indie didn't want to order it for you; maybe because he doesn't have ready access to translations.

Book Nerd, where are you in SoHo? I'm in NYC now, signing at Partners and Crime Tuesday evening at 7:00. I'd love to stop by your store and sign your stock if you like. Shoot me an email at and let me know.

(Hmmm... does the "don't mention chain stock signings to your independent host" etiquette apply between independents, in a forum like this one? I hope not...)

Karen, you may not be aware of it, but you have a way of continuing to ask new questions of me without answering the ones I've put to you. I'll respond to your latest list, but after this if you want me to engage you, you have to do me the same courtesy -- answer the questions I ask in this post and the ones above that you've so far ignored. Fair enough?

"Lawdawg and others seems intent on rallying around you, like sixth-grade bullies at recess -- they've come to ensure you don't get picked on. I guess namecalling helps exalt their position. Or yours, I'm not real clear on that distinction."

First, can you help me understand how calling people who agree with me "sixth-grade bullies" squares with your advice that "Law-dawg, take note, name-calling is offensive in every culture and thus, should be taboo in mannerly public discourse?" "Sixth-grade bullies" isn't name-calling?

Second, is it possible that people who don't share your opinion hold their opinions as honestly as you hold yours, and not because "they've come to ensure [I] don't get picked on" or some other ulterior motive? If you find a way to accept that people whose opinions differ from yours might be no less honest than you are, you might find the distinction between my position and theirs that you say you're "not real clear on" in slightly sharper focus.

"I'm not saying that you should apologize for the sins of the world, or nail yourself to a cross or anything so dramatic."

I didn't think you were, nor did I suggest it. But what are you saying? Remember, you advised me, "it doesn't matter if you meant to offend someone. If you know that you've offended them, apologize." I responded with an example -- an Islamofascist is offended that you're an infidel; by the principle you've articulated, you should apologize; is that what you meant? And now you're talking about cross-nailings and the sins of the world... look, if you want to refine a principle that's overly broad as you stated it, let's do that, but can we stay on point? You said something that makes no sense as stated, I'm asking you if you want to restate it or otherwise clarify. Either restate your principle or accept that my example applies, but stop trying to have it both ways.

"And I don't think G was looking for that sort of restoration either."

So there are different levels of "restoration"...? This is the second time you've used this terminology, which I'm not familiar with in this context. Can you explain what you mean?

"I'm just suggesting you've made this into a bigger deal than it really deserves."

In what way?

"Riddle me this, how come you felt the need to post G's letter? Was it to humilate him?"

How could my posting G's own words humiliate him? You've praised his store for its hospitality. You've said, "I think G had every right to complain." You've said, "G's letter doesn't seem like whining to me. He seems like someone who really cares about you and your future as an author." Why would G not in fact be proud of all this? Do you mean to suggest that he doesn't stand by his words?

Moreover, I asked G twice if he would object to my posting the exchange. Twice he didn't respond. Nonetheless, I obscured his identity to make this exchange more substantive and less personal. So again, why do you now suggest that any of this could "humiliate" G?

"Or to justify your own actions?"

Why would I need to justify my actions? If I never posted my exchange with G, no one would have known of my actions in the first place.

"To prove what a good guy you are and what a jerk he is?"

You seem rather less than persuaded by this exchange that I'm a good guy, so I don't think it would be for that. As for proving what a jerk G is, again, how can my posting G's own words, which which you've said you sympathize, prove that he's a jerk?

"Or did you have some other lofty notion in mind?"

Karen, in the face of all the high-minded advice you've offered, don't you feel your sarcasm -- here and elsewhere -- is somewhat... unbecoming? You've told me, "Shame on you." Do you have a sense of shame yourself?

I did think that beneath the bombast G raised two substantive issues (should authors do stock signings at chains? If so, should etiquette suggest that they not draw indie attention to the practice?) and I wanted to hear from other indies, chains, and writers so we could all learn more. As indeed I think we have. I could have just raised the questions without more, but posting G's actual messages to me made it all much more compelling, don't you think? What else would have caused you to have "butted my nose into something that doesn't concern me"?

And yes, as many others here have noted, there's no doubt G threatened to try to harm my livelihood. Don't you agree that defusing a threat like that by publicizing its existence is more palatable than doing it by... oh, say the way Law Dawg would go about it... ;-)

"If I were G I'd be more offended by your posting of exchanges than I would be by your initial request for directions to his competitor."

How do you explain G's failure to object to my two queries, then?

If someone asks you twice if you'd mind if they'd do something, and you don't answer, and they go ahead and do what they asked about, how much do you have the right to be offended?

Don't feel obliged to respond to my questions, Karen, but again, please don't expect me to engage you any further if you don't. If you do respond, please feel free to quote my words directly, as I have repeatedly done for you. It will help keep the conversation on point.

LD and Karen, I actually don't think it matters that much whether someone's viewpoint is minority, majority, whatever. I'd rather if we could just focus on the substance of the arguments raised.

As for my ability to cause a thriller author boycott of any given store, I could no more do that than G could cause stores to boycott my books. But Karen, I didn't read Joe's comments to mean that I could; what he said was, if I advised people not to do appearances at a given store, based on my experience at that store and on my reputation, they would "listen." I take that to mean that my advice would be relevant to them, that they would give it some weight. I don't think that by "listen" Joe meant "obey." Hell, I try to get Joe to obey me all the time, and damn it, he just won't...


JA Konrath said...


Congrats on making the LA Times Bestseller List! Noce work, man!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, congrads on the LABS. Looks like those 35 signings that counted for one stop by your publisher are paying off.

My apologies for not addressing the questions you've raised & for getting law dawg off topic.

Having worked as a cop reporter for umpteen years, I should know better than to engage an officer in this manner. My apologies to lawdawg.

I'll attempt to answer your questions, albeit probably not in any linear order, since my mind never works that a'way.

Let's take the question of an apology. I think the above gives an example of what I meant to say. There are times in all of our lives where we have the opportunity to either ignore an offense or escalate it. Your example of "an Islamofascist is offended that you're an infidel; by the principle you've articulated, you should apologize; is that what you meant?"

Nope. That's not what I meant. It's likely that an apology isn't going to be of much use to you when Islamofascist is holding a switchblade to your throat, or threatening to.

But let's say your best girl lives out of town. She's come to town to surprise you. You've made plans to go deep-sea fishing with the buds, not realizing that she'd be there. If you cancel on the guys, they'll be pissed. If you don't stay with the girl, she'll be hurt. What's a fella to do?
Whatever choice you make you're going to end up offending someone -- even though you never meant to.
You can take the attitude with the girl that hey, it's her problem. She's the one who came to town unannounced, or you can blow off the fishing trip, in which case the guys will be mad with you and you'll be cranky with the girl. You got three choices:
- hang with the girl
- hang with the guys
- blow them all off
Whatever choice you make somebody, maybe more than one somebody, is going to be pouting. In that case, when you know they are pouting, do you say your sorry? Or do you tell them by gawd suck up and get over, you can't help it if you're the life of the party?

That's the kind of apology I meant. Once you make a choice, you can either escalate the situation or diffuse it.

Whether you go deep sea fishing or hang with the girl, it's none of my business and yes, on that level I am ashamed of myself for getting involved in this conversation to begin with. I ought to have minded my own bizness. I got no beef with you or the folks at Rainy Day. Or lawdawg for that matter.

But now it seems rude of me not to answer the questions you've posed. Or at the very least cowardly. So,

RE: First, can you help me understand how calling people who agree with me "sixth-grade bullies" squares with your advice that "Law-dawg, take note, name-calling is offensive in every culture and thus, should be taboo in mannerly public discourse?" "Sixth-grade bullies" isn't name-calling?

A: No. I don't think sixth-grade bullies is name calling. The noun bully is Webster says someone who "hurts, frightens, or tyrannizes those who are smaller or weaker." Or a "hired cutthroat." The latter really wouldn't apply to most sixth-graders.

There is nothing "slang" about the term bully. "petulant little bitch", however, is slang and, at least the bitch part is defined as "a malicious, bad-tempered, or aggressive woman." To which, I probably ought to be offended that Lawdawg applied a slang descriptive of G that is, in fact, an ugly sexist slap at females, more than a slam on G.
But since I don't want to escalate the situation, I'll take no offense, since I suspect, or rather hope, Lawdawg wasn't really trying to smite us women by tossing G over to our team.
I think the bully vs. bitch remark is a case of apples and onions.

RE: Is it possible that people who don't share your opinion hold their opinions as honestly as you hold yours, and not because "they've come to ensure [I] don't get picked on" or some other ulterior motive? If you find a way to accept that people whose opinions differ from yours might be no less honest than you are, you might find the distinction between my position and theirs that you say you're "not real clear on" in slightly sharper focus.

A: I'm not questioning anyone's honesty or credibility here. Not even G's. I'm sorry if anything I said came across as an attack on anyone's sincerity. I don't want to live in any world where we all think, look and act the same.

RE: How do you explain G's failure to object to my two queries, then?
If someone asks you twice if you'd mind if they'd do something, and you don't answer, and they go ahead and do what they asked about, how much do you have the right to be offended?

A: If I asked somebody twice if they minded if I posted something they sent me on my personal blog and they didn't respond, I wouldn't post it. I don't know G, but I'm guessing that he may have been reticent to answer you because the question is akin to asking that age-old "Do you still beat your wife?" He'd be damned if he did and damned if he didn't answer. Because bottom line is you can and do post whatever you choose to your blog, just as I do. I'm sure you wouldn't have done it, but do you suppose there are people who would have posted his remarks even if he asked them not to? Or maybe because he asked them not to? I'm not surprised he didn't respond.

But, yes, I agree with you. I think posting G's remarks was probably a much kinder treatment than he would've rec'd if Lawdawg were in charge.

Which I find sobering and convincing enough to keep me from posting on this subject matter henceforth.

Hope I've not muddled matters up for you further.

And re: the signing of chain stock. Any writer who refuses to do oblige their publisher's request to sign stock ought to get another job. But I still believe that you should've done so without discussing it with the good folks at Rainy Day.
It was bound to rankle G on some level, like kissing your pal's ex-girl. He might not be going out with her any more, but that doesn't mean he wants you making out with her. But for gawd's sake, if you're going to do it, have the common courtesy to not brag about it in his presence.

JD Rhoades said...

Let me suggest an analogy that might be closer to the ones above:

You may be able to get away with dating two women in the same night. They may even know about each other, even if they don't discuss it with you. The first lady may understand that this is just dinner and you'll be heading out after that.

But you don't ask the first lady for directions to the second one's house. Do it, and she's gonna get a little pissy.

JA Konrath said...

Two ladies in one night? Rock on, Dusty!

JD Rhoades said...

The glorious days of me misspent youth. And may God save me from a relapse.

Writer said...

Thanks for the post. As an debut author planning a book tour, I'm trying to find out all the nooks and cranies to make my tour as successful as possible. I'm a big supporter of independents, but I know I'll need to hit the big boys too. I guess the key is to tread lightly, and have a GPS, as JA Konrath suggests on his blog.

Anonymous said...

Wow...lots of good words here. I'll just keep this short. As a bookseller (work in a store, don't own one), we're told to be customer friendly, which also translates into author friendly. We have people ask us for directions all the time, to Borders, to the indie bookstore, to Taco Bell..and we give them. We even had an author drop in to meet two buddies BEFORE his scheduled signing at the local indie and ask us how to find the place. We did...and he graciously signed his books for us. G let his insecurity get the better of him.
Sounds like the tour is going gangbusters!

Anonymous said...

JD: You're a fiction writer, right?

Anonymous said...

You have an absolute right to increase the sales of your books as much as you can, including signing at any bookstore (or other event) that will allow you to. I don't think "G" would (or did) disagree with that.

It would have been nicer, however, to work out your travel route ahead of time rather than, in effect, telling your host that you have to leave his party to go to another one. Just a matter of good manners, the use of which is also important in increasing your book sales.

Deborah P

Barry Eisler said...

Karen, as always you've answered only a few of the many questions I and others have put to your regarding your own words. Your omissions are more telling than any of your statements.

JD, I understand where you're coming from. I think all the analogies I've seen on this thread and in private emails have been to personal matters -- being invited into someone's home, having a meal prepared for you by your host, now romance, and Deborah P's reference to a private party. As I've observed above, I think these different cultural expectations -- a relatively clear separation of business and personal, on the one hand; relative blurring of the two, on the other -- is the heart of the matter here.

Maryann, many thanks, so far, so good. And now off to Partners in Crime for my NYC signing...


Laurie Wood said...

Barry, whether you think you're right or wrong, the main issue I see here is that you've offended a friend who's done alot for you in the past and did alot for you at that book signing. You can't forget your friends on the way up to success. Be the bigger man and send him a sincere email of apology, and offer something in the way of dinner/drinks/sports tickets/whatever guys to for each other to make up.

It all boils down to common courtesy and hurting a friend's feelings - forget the side issues of "should an author get to do this that and the other thing?"

You seem like a mature guy, :) let us know what you do to mend fences with G.

Barry Eisler said...

Laurie, six questions for you:

1. As LD asks, why do you call G my friend? I met him the night I signed with his mother's store; before that, I'd never heard from him or even of him. I don't know about you, but my friendships take longer to form than one evening's business engagement. I'm struck again, BTW, by what to me seems an odd tendency in some of these comments to conflate business and friendship.

2. Can you elaborate on what G has done for me in the past and what he did for me at the signing? It sounds like you're privy to information I lack.

3. What do you want me to apologize to him for having done?

4. How are you defining "common courtesy?"

5. Why do you define as "side issues" of what an author should be able to do, and why do you suggest I forget them?

6. Why did you not address your advice to G? Is the friendship you (mistakenly, in my mind) presume not two-way?

Thanks for suggesting I'm mature (I like to think so, too) ;-). But I don't understand your comments.


Anonymous said...

What we've got here is... failure to communitate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it....well, he gets it. I don't like it any more then you men.

---- Captain Road Prison 36

JD Rhoades said...

JD: You're a fiction writer, right?

Heh. Yes.

Barry: In my experience, which includes representing small-business clients, the line between business and personal is not as bright line as you might think.

And who peed in jon marquis' cornflakes?

Hey, jon? It's called "research." Barry write thriller fiction. Have you been paying attention at all, or are you just looking to troll?

Jesus, where do these people come from?

Anonymous said...

captain road prison?

Quote from the film "Cool Hand Luke" Right?

Trish said...

This is interesting. The bookseller has been watching "The Seven Samurai" way too much. I thought there was going to be a duel when I read the first email.

I guess it's a question of degree, because Barry had to tell them he was leaving the signing (he can't go all clandestine on them, can he?) but he probably should have map quested the directions. The indy booksellers probably see the chains as their cryptonite, which I guess they are to a large extent.

I think it's a good/weird problem to have: too many people wanting to sell your book. :)