I'm not famous, but I'm not un-famous either. (Nor infamous.) I'm not popular, but I'm not unpopular. And, in Oklahoma City, I'm somewhere between favorite son and prodigal. I knew I was gonna sell a ton of books there.
From my youth, I recalled Full Circle Bookstore as a cozy yet spacious and even somewhat hip independent book store in a well trafficked office building, and, indeed, that is still true for the most part. It's moved a few dozen feet locations-wise in the last decade, but it remains the state's biggest indie book store. After the success of the 30 Bars in 30 Days tour, I thought I'd give a few more "traditional" signing events a go, and Full Circle seemed like a great place to start.
Within the first 12 hours of my arrival in Oklahoma City, I'd already canvased the local media from TV to radio to print. Plus, with many friends still living in town and my dad being a shameless networker, I was certain my events would be packed. So, color me confused when I arrived at Full Circle to find...nothing.
No signs advertising an "AUTHOR!" was going to be in the building, no workers there to greet me and show me to my seat, no books even. Nope, just a small table in front of a fire place (what did I say about cozy?) with a small printout sign on it. My manager and I had to set up the rest of the table ourselves and it's a damn good thing I'm arrogant enough to carry around an autograph pen with me at all times because damn if they had a single Sharpie ready for me.
The purchasing system Full Circle had set up to buy books was even worse. Me, I'd probably have put a table beside me with a big ol' stack of books for people to buy one second before they met me and asked for a signature, but Full Circle thought it better to keep the book at the register, some thirty feet away from my table through a hedge-maze of bookshelves. Suffice to say, it wasn't exactly a streamlined, nor un-embarrassing, system for a person to arrive, shake my hand, go "Great to meet you, I'd love for you to sign a book...uh...where do I get one?" And me have to tell them, "Just walk your ass through those bookshelves til you see an opening. I'll see you back here in 20 minutes once you've finally made a purchase."
Around 7:30, admittedly around the time I was supposed to leave, yet at a time where a good 50 people were still milling about for my attention, an employee told me I needed to quickly pack up and leave. Some live elevator music needed to be performed.
Fair enough, I moved my caravan of merrymakers upstairs to a bar in the same building, Belle Isle Brewery, where I eventually sold about FIVE TIMES the amount of books with a much greater ease.
One person showed up looking for me around 8:00:
"I went to Full Circle first, but you weren't there. It was just some old guy playing elevator music to literally no one."
I don't lodge these complaints because I'm a diva, or because I'm ungrateful, I lodge them because, well, Full Circle got 30% of the book's $15 sale price for this "red carpet treatment." Meanwhile, Belle Isle Brewery got 0%, I took all the take.
There are plenty of industries that love to bitch about how the current technological revolution has punched them in the face. Newspapers, magazines, and bookstores are the obvious ones. And it's easy to feel sorry for them, to not want to aid in their demise...until you realize they're doing more bitching than acting.
Now I'm not John Grisham, or even Tucker Max, but under the right circumstances I do sell a lot of books and I can generate a lot of money. But what exactly does a Full Circle do to boost my sales and to deserve 30% of my earnings? (Which is admittedly a lot less than the take BN or Borders would snag.) Nothing, I would say. My connections, my media appearances, my own online networking was responsible for just about 100% of the sales. Thus, I might as well sell books in bars where I get all the take, where I can drink beers and listen to non-elevator music while I sell, at a place where people that come out to meet me would much rather be spending their Friday nights, and where I can even help a bar generate a few thousand dollars of income from food and drink sales during the evening. Just like I did Friday night. Shit, maybe bars should be paying me a little taste?
Indie bookstore owners, I seriously ask you: what can you do for me to justify your take? I'm willing to show up, if you're willing to tell me what that 30% gets me. This is a two-way relationship. In 1980 I might have had no choice, but now, I don't need you unless you're doing your fair share to generate interest as well. So, tell me, what are you doing? What are you offering?
Having said all that, I had a truly great time in Oklahoma City. It's really boomed in the last few years since I've been there. I dined at several great restaurants (notably the new Ludivine), discovered a few great new bars (notably RePUBlic), and fell in love with the local COOP AleWorks, a truly worldclass beermaker. Oh, and I sold a lot of books no matter where I was stationed.
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
--"You Can't Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe