Welcome to the opioid crisis

Welcome to the opioid crisis

I spent 30 years with the CIA. My official resume says things like “distinguished record of solutions-driven leadership across multiple mission areas,” and “led program responsible for collection, translation, and analysis of breaking events,” and “oversaw work of employees in multiple locations across Western Hemisphere.”

Hidden in those phrases are the risks, relationships, and experiences that I have funneled into the Detective Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco. Every day, Emilia faces down violent cartels and official corruption stemming from drug money.

But for all my work, and the work of thousands of others in the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the drug war rages on.

Right in my back yard.

Hello, I’m Marnie and I’m here to introduce you to the opioid crisis

She was our waitress at a national burger restaurant. My daughter and I were exploring our new neighborhood in Tennessee and had stopped there for lunch.

Marnie was a slender brunette in her early twenties in jeans and a tee shirt and plenty of restaurant-provided flair. She bounced over to our booth, tray in hand, and without preamble began telling us how busy she’d been that morning and hoped we didn’t mind the rain and the sweet potato fries were her favorite and did we want some sweet tea and was there anything else she could get for us.

As she spoke, she lowered herself until her elbows were on our table, putting her head on the same level as my shoulder, so that she had to look up at us. With her butt in the air, she hooked one foot around the other ankle, bent her knees, and jiggled up and down as she finally took our order.

I thought at first that she was nervous, then that she had to pee.

Marnie brought our meal in fits and starts, forgot the sweet potato fries, but refilled our tea, once again adopting her curious jiggling bent-over pose.

When she smiled, I saw that her teeth had eroded into small brown stalagmites.

The distinctive rot of a habitual user.

More like Marnie

In contrast to other places I’ve lived, the drug crisis is very much in evidence here. Every day, I see people with the same tell-tale look: twitchy, vaguely confused, thin to the point of skeletal.

There’s both a sadness and an unpredictability about them that is unsettling.

According to the World Economic Forum, “A sharp increase in prescribed opioid-based painkillers and the rise of illegal fentanyl – which is up to 50 times stronger than heroin – has unleashed the worst public health crisis in American history . . . In 2017, there were over 11 million “opioid misusers” in the United States. To put that number in perspective, that’s equivalent to the entire population of Ohio.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/the-numbers-behind-america-s-opioid-epidemic

Closer to home, the governor’s office of Tennessee has this to say: “Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose, which is more than the number of daily traffic fatalities.” The electronic billboard over Route 40 told me yesterday that 832 had died so far in traffic accidents in the state. https://www.tn.gov/governor/2018-legislative-priorities/tn-together.html

The state’s opioid website gave these statistics for 2017:

  • Overdose deaths: 1772
  • Nonfatal overdose outpatient visits: 15,001
  • Painkiller prescriptions: 6,879,698

The population of the state is 6.17 million.

Do the math. More painkiller prescriptions than people.

Elections and the opioid crisis

The Tennessee matchup between Marsha Blackburn and Phil Bredesen is one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races. Marsha is a popular member of Congress. Phil is a popular former governor.

Control of the Senate is at stake, with all that implies. But as the saying goes, all politics are local. And for Tennessee, that means the opioid crisis.

We’ve been treated to a barrage of radio and television ads blaming both candidates for the opioid crisis.

If Phil is to be believed, Marsha singlehandedly prevented the DEA from cracking down on opioid exports into the US and is a paid creature of Big Pharma.

If Marsha is to be believed, Phil is heavily invested in Big Pharma and as governor did nothing to prevent opioids from ruining Tennessee lives.

State Senator Ferrell Haile, a Blackburn supporter, nonetheless hit the nail on the head when he recently wrote in The Tennessean: “Finger pointing and name calling will not solve the opioid epidemic, and every minute spent politicizing it is a minute wasted.” https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2018/09/29/marsha-blackburn-helping-fight-opioid-epidemic/1440487002/


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

7 Life-changing books to read right now

7 Life-changing books to read right now

Fall is here. Our New Year’s resolutions petered out long ago and the holidays, with overspending and family drama, loom on the horizon.

In this season between what-might-have-been and what-will-overwhelm-us-soon, dive into one of these life-changing books. You’ll get a dose of creativity, a box of life tools, and a new mantra.

Let’s face it. We all need a new mantra.


Carmen's must-read books



Twyla Tharp is one of America’s best known choreographers, lauded for her collaborations with Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Joffrey Ballet, and ballet theaters across the world. She offers up essays and exercises designed to sharpen and apply your creativity. Tharp uses dance to illustrate her points in an amazingly effective way. I plan to re-read this book at least yearly

Takeaway: Keep honing your expertise, don’t let it get stale. Keep scratching at a concept until it is ready for production. Any creative endeavor has to have a central “spine”—the thing that keeps it from being ad hoc bundle of ideas.



If you are not a fan of country music you might not know that Bobby Bones—whose real name is Bobby Estell– is host of a hugely popular syndicated morning radio show in the US. From a difficult childhood in rural Arkansas, Bobby rose to become one of the most powerful people in radio broadcasting. The book is organized around his mantra of “Fight. Grind. Repeat.” He is definitely compulsive about many aspects of his life and driven by an unrelenting fear of poverty, but his perspective on achievement felt like a wake-up call.


Takeaway: Are you fighting for big goals? Are you grinding it out day to day? There’s no time to sulk over failure. There’s no need to waste time. Don’t stop. Just Fight. Grind. Repeat.


THE 10x RULE by Grant Cardone

Grant Cardone is a salesman and he coaches salesmen, but this book is for everybody. If Bobby Bones gives us the mantra, Cardone teaches about level of effort. Basically, the “fight” is probably going to take 10x the effort that you estimated. According to Cardone, most people don’t fail, they simply give up too soon. The book is occasionally pithy, but that’s okay; Cardone is in coach mode and there are a ton of ideas and worksheets. Also, there is a chapter entitled “There is No Shortage of Success” that is like a Super Bowl pep talk.


Takeaway: This is how you hustle, this is why you hustle, this is how you outhustle whatever you need to outhustle. Get a paperback and highlight the heck out of it.


SUBMERGENCY by Scott Kimbro

This slim volume by Scott Kimbro, a finance executive and network marketing professional, identifies three types of urgencies in our lives: the obvious, the optional, and the hidden. If you go through life only addressing the urgent, then you are basically living in reaction mode with someone else in the driver’s seat. Optional urgencies are opportunities we can choose to take or not, while submerged or hidden urgencies (hence the title) are the opportunities we should seek out in order to live and die without regret. Kimbro illustrates his message in a conversational manner with song lyrics, personal anecdotes, and meaningful quotes.


Takeaway: There is a very personal Christian dedication, but the book’s main message is universal. Wake up, smell the coffee, and seek out opportunities to live fully.


TOOLS OF TITANS by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has a hugely popular interview podcast. This 705-page book (get a hardcopy, please) offers the best bits from these interviews, grouping them into 3 categories–Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. You can read the morning routine of Jocko Willink, former SEAL unit commander, then skip to director Robert Rodriguez’s thoughts on failure (“not durable”) and then learn what quote changed the life of professor Brené Brown. It is all absolutely fascinating stuff, punctuated with self-help tips like how to sleep better, soundtracks for success, and other golden nuggets culled from the minds of high achievers.


Takeaway: This is THE bible to grab whenever you need motivation or new ideas. The back of the book says  “Fitness, money, and wisdom—here are the tools.” Yep.



Manson, a NYC-based blogger, has written the ultimate guide to being a mature adult. His clarity of thought and expression allows him to delve deep without being either preachy or academic. The basic theme is that resilience, happiness, and freedom come from knowing what you value, while unhappiness and denial come from taking action based on what you really don’t. But that is just the starting point; this book is loaded with pivotal insights, using Manson’s own experiences, social science findings, and historical research. If you only read 7 non-fiction books this year, let this be one of them. Note–be prepared for lots of the f-word.


Takeaway: Social media and hyper-commercialism has led to unrealistic expectations of a trouble-free, entitled, and exceptional life. Real happiness comes from solving problems.


LIFE CODE by Dr. Phil McGraw

This book is last on the list for a reason. We’ve learned how to be habitually creative, fight and grind to achieve goals, hustle for success, grab opportunities, understand our values, and use the tools of high achievers. Now Dr. Phil gives us the key to identifying the people who stand in our way and are willing to trip us up AND what to do about it. This book really resonated with me because of an experience I had several years ago; I was far too slow to recognize such a person and the damage they were doing to me and the others around us.


Takeaway: Gutsy, honest, and probably the most helpful book when it comes to dealing with people on a day-to-day basis, especially when you are putting forth 10x effort. Be savvy and memorize the danger signs of destructive people.


What books are on YOUR life-changing list?

What is Happening to Priests in Mexico?

What is Happening to Priests in Mexico?


Priests in Mexico appear to be wearing targets as well as their vestments.

Father Richard was the first

My pastor in Mexico City was an Oblate missionary, Father Ricard Junius, who was murdered in 2007. I wrote about his death in this blog post and his unsolved murder was the impetus for the Detective Emilia Cruz shot story, “The Angler,” which is part of the #free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library.

Not to rehash Father Richard’s passing again, but the events surrounding his death were very suspicious and the reporting of it contradictory. Some called it death by misadventure–he was tied up and porn magazines found in his room in the rectory–but as far as I know, his death was murder.

The Daily Beast reported in October 2016 on the killings of three priests. I was struck by a certain sentence in the report that applies to Father Richard as well: “As happens often in Mexico, local authorities sowed confusion about the circumstances of the murder.” 80 percent of crimes against the clergy are never solved, according to InSightCrime.org.

Ten Years Later

Earlier this month, Father Luis Lopez Villa, aged 71, was killed in his church in the municipality of Reyes La Paz on the outskirts of Mexico City. Like Father Richard, he was tied up in his own room in the rectory. He was stabbed to death.

Last year was the most deadly year on record for the Catholic Church in Mexico, probably since the Cristero War of the 1920’s. In fact, in 2016, Mexico was cited as the most dangerous country in the world for the clergy for the 8th time in a row!

Related: The Mexican martyr who inspired a mystery

Mexico’s Centro Catolico Multimedia documented crimes against clergy over the past 4 years:

  • 520 robberies
  • 17 murders
  • 25 survived attacks
  • 2 disappearances
  • 2 kidnappings

Sympton of Rising Crime or Something Else?

I’m not sure what percentage of the Mexican population is Catholic clergy, but it stands to reason that as violent crime rises in Mexico, it increasingtly affects all segments of the population. But priests are also in a uniquely tight spot, as I saw in the case of Father Richard.

Priests hold visible and respected positions in their communities. They may espouse unpopular stances to defend their parishoners and promote human rights. In Father Richard’s case, he spoke out against underage drinking at a specific neighborhood bar right before he was murdered and parisoners widely believed the timing was not a coincidence.

There’s another troubling issue: narco alms, or narcolimosnas. This is basically cartel drug money funneled to build churches, schools, clinics and other assets for Mexican communities. These projects allow drug kingpins to build support where civil infrastructure is shaky. Remember, the poor never turned Robin Hood over to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

If priests don’t cooperate or speak out against drug-related murders or help victims’ famiies find justice, retribution can be fierce and deadly.

It’s a no-win situation for Mexican priests. Either take the community asset built with the blood of cartel victims, or refuse and be marked for death.

Detective Emilia Cruz Investigates

In the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, Padre Ricardo (a tribute to Father Richard Junius) is Emilia’s sounding board. In PACIFIC REAPER, she takes refuge in the church after a series of events destroy her entire personal history.

But if anything should ever happen to him, like the robbery and murder of the priest in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, another true event taken from my experiences in Mexico City, Emilia will be on hand to investigate.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Playing Big as an Author

Playing Big as an Author

I was on Facebook recently (who among us can’t start a sentence that way?) and someone in a writers group asked what was our biggest concern. My answer was “Playing small.”

Does anybody else feel like this?

Although I’ve been a published author for 5 years, I can’t shake the notion that I’m playing small. My dream is to rank alongside authors like Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, and Louise Penny. Yet my day-to-day goals are pretty tame. I’m pushing the boulder up the mountain but with teeny steps, not long strides.

I’m not sure why. I mean, I do alot. Enough to sound convincing on Anne R. Allen’s blog with a recent guest post entitled “What’s Your Author Strategy? 3 Mini-Strategies To Jumpstart Your Career.”

Am I lazy? Have a hidden fear of rejection? Afraid of taking risks? Hello, Dr. Freud?

Related: 5 Lessons after 5 years as an Indie Author

These thoughts have been plaguing me since that Facebook a-ha moment. So imagine my surprise when I found  PLAYING BIG by Tara Mohr. She’s a professional coach and her book is all about why women play small and how they can start playing big.

Her research and advice crosses all occupations and interests. While her target audience is female, I think her ideas are for everybody.

The main themes in PLAYING BIG are about believing in yourself, shutting out negative self-criticism, forming action plans, and advancing a purposeful agenda. Mohr offers a ton of actionable ideas, peppered with case studies and her own experiences.

For example

One of her chapters is about “unhooking” from praise and criticism, a seesaw many new authors ride. Mohr writes “One of the most important mental shifts a woman can make to support her playing big is to stop thinking of criticism as a signal of a problem and to start thinking of criticism as part and parcel of doing important work.”

Mohr goes on to urge readers to check out reviews of favorite authors. Read all the praise, then all the criticism. “The polarization and diametrically opposed opinions . . . become almost humorous. Reading a handful of reviews, it becomes obvious that any substantive work draws a wide range of reactions.”

Playing bigger

I’m still mulling over PLAYING BIG and thinking what I can do to lengthen my stride. I’ve started a list.

First entry: Spend less time on Facebook.

But seriously. What does playing big mean to you?


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

5 Presidential Election Thrillers Better Than #Election2016

5 Presidential Election Thrillers Better Than #Election2016

Exhausted by the run-up to the US presidential elections on 8 November 2016?

Exchange those robo calls and campaign ads for some election thrills of the literary variety with 5 presidential election thrillers

These novels are a definite improvement over the real thing.

The Manchurian Candidate

  1. The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

War hero Sergeant Raymond Shaw was brainwashed by North Korean captors into becoming a sleeper assassin. Given the right signal, he’ll kill without question or mercy. Back in the US, his programming will cause him to carry out a hit on a candidate for president. Shaw’s former commanding officer, Major Bennett Marco, is the only one who knows but he’ll encounter a deadly conspiracy spread like a spider’s web throughout the government. Two movies, but the book is still the best way to experience this gripping story.

The hidden Light of Mexico City

  1. The Hidden Light of Mexico City by Carmen Amato

In this compelling and romantic 2012 thriller, Mexico’s First Lady wants to succeed her husband. Her lover, the country’s Minister for Public Security, makes a deal with an El Chapo-esque drug kingpin to fund her campaign in exchange for territory. Attorney and ex-cop Eduardo Cortez Castillo uncovers the deal, triggering a deadly pursuit as the cartel attempts to destroy him, starting with his Cinderella-story relationship with a housemaid. The First Lady and money-for-influence themes harken to #Election2016 but the political slogans and sex scenes are much, much better.


  1. Vanished by Fletcher Knebel

In this 1986 political thriller, a prominent DC attorney and close friend of the president simply vanishes after a round of golf at Burning Tree Country Club. As presidential elections loom, the White House press secretary Gene Cullen becomes the unwilling linchpin in a secret investigation that touches national security agencies as well as the president’ re-election campaign. The book’s pace is swift, Cullen is an appealing anti-hero, and the Watergate scandal hovers between the lines like Knebel’s ghostwriter. Another Knebel presidential politics classic is the equally famous 7 Days in May, both books sadly only available in hardcopy.

A Very British Coup

  1. A Very British Coup by Chris Mullins

In 1982, the thought of an ultra left-wing government in Britain was a real possibility and the novel captures such a rise—and the backlash—with brilliance and humor. Steel worker Harry Perkins wins the prime minister’s seat, vowing to remove American bases, bring banks under government rule, and dismantle the media. British Establishment fights back, in a series of moves that years later were revealed to be uncomfortably truthful, according to the author in a 2006 interview in The Guardian. The book became a much-awarded television series starring Ray McAnally as Perkins.

The Better Angels

  1. The Better Angels by Charles McCarry

The novel has terrorists who use passenger jets as weapons and hacked voting machines that rig a presidential election, all of which appeared far-fetched when it was first published 30 years ago. Set in the 1990’s, the setting is bleak as socialist policies in both the US and the UK have led to unemployment and squalor. The uber-liberal US president facing reelection orders the murder of an Islamic terrorist about to use nukes against Israel, but it’s a decision that could lose him the election. His opponent is a former president who wants to serve a non-consecutive term but has his own issues to cover up. Complicated characters, complex plot. Part dystopia and part prophecy.

More presidential election thrillers?

Got a book to suggest? Leave a comment.

Don’t forget to share this post. Your friends need to know there’s more to life besides Election2016, too.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Are bookstores facing a “survival of the fittest” era? If so, what can make a bookstore “fit?”

In the case study letter below, the key is creativity and willing to do something wholly different.

Last week I wrapped up my Bookstores of the Future project, in which I asked 800+ people to give me their thoughts on how bookstores could survive and prosper in the era of ebooks and ecommerce. Dick McLeester had responded to me as a store owner but I did not use his comment because I could not tell if his was an online or bricks-and-mortar store and the series was about the latter.

Bookseller as retail innovator

When I let him know, Dick responded with this insightful letter, which he agreed to let me post here. For anyone thinking of going into the book business, Dick’s views are a must-read. Dick doesn’t yet have a blog to share his experiences, but you can check out his website: www.changingworld.com to see how he combines online and pop-up sales, as well as the line of products he sells to augment book sales.


Thanks for writing. Your articles were interesting.

I realize that people call them “brick & mortar” stores to distinguish them from online booksellers, but I think there is a danger in that term, which is to define the Successful Bookseller of the Future just too narrowly.

In 1976, I launched a bookstore called Food For Thought Books with a total investment of $25.00. I was the founder and co-manager there for 10 years, before leaving to start my current business. (You can check, Food For Thought Books is in Amherst, Massachusetts, now a proud brick & mortar bookstore. But struggling to find their way to a  successful future. And probably because they are struggling to find their way, they would probably not be able to speak with much clarity to your questions.)

I was able to start Food For Thought with little capital because of a strong vision of the possibilities and because we were able to bring  books to people who were hungry for them. For the first two years we paid no rent or salary, and grew very fast. We became experts at  setting up instant bookstores at event, conferences, festivals and meetings. We did this in a way that very few booksellers today know how to do, because they start with a retail shop where they need to pay rent and get people to come there.

When I left Food For Thought to start VisionWorks, it was because I had a larger vision of what was needed for booksellers to be successful into the future. I realized that today, ideas and information are carried not just in books, but often on other vehicles, such as postcards, bumperstickers, calendars, magnets or buttons. In most bookstores these are seen as valuable sidelines or gift items, but someone who runs a shop usually cannot devote much energy to having a really good selection because it is such alot of  work to order from all these little companies, including overseas suppliers. So VisionWorks is set up as a wholesale distributor, making it easy for any retailer (bookseller or otherwise) to get a great selection from hundreds of suppliers by placing one order. For us, we sell way more cards, stickers and calendars than we do books.  But books are still really important to us, and we sell large quantities of some books.

How? We sell at select Conferences, where we bring the books to people who are looking for certain ideas & information. 4 events per  year. We get huge book sales in a short time. We sell more books retail at those events than we do in our brick & mortar store. More than we sell wholesale. More than we sell online. At these events,  it is primarily books that sell, and the cards, stickers and calendars are an important, high-margin sideline. But it is really the Cards, Stickers & Calendars that we sell wholesale to retailers across the country that keeps us in business, that makes it all work. And now we also publish postcards, so we have a hand in making sure our selection is really educational, informative and connected to the ideas in books we offer.

My point is that anyone who wants to have a successful bookstore into the future, needs to be flexible and creative. They need to look at whatever will work for them, and then work that angle, even if it looks very different than how a traditional bookstore has looked. If this means taking the books to the events where hungry minds gather, they need to get really good at that. If they think that cards and stickers are something that can really work for them, they need to really work it, to be the best. And if that means those things become  75% off their sales and books only 20%, then go with that. What used  to be thought of as a sideline, may become the main thing. But we  need to pay attention to that.

I think there will always be an important role for good booksellers, but right now they need to be creative, flexible and willing to take risks, to think differently. That’s my perspective. One day soon, I  think I need to get working on a blog and put some of this out that way. I am especially curious to see how others will respond, esp.  those who are running some of the more traditional bookshops, indie shops, brick & mortar.

Thanks for starting the conversations. Best, Dick “I am a bookseller, really” McLeester 

VisionWorks website:  www.changingworld.com

Thank you, Dick, for agreeing to share your views and showing us that book retailers who think outside the cover will succeed!

Read all of the Bookstores of the Future posts in the #noticed category

Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Will bookstores survive? Must they innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Simply out of curiosity, I began posing this question to authors, book bloggers, publishers, and store owners.

This led to a series of articles on this blog, including 25 Influential Authors Weigh In, 12 Influential Bloggers Debate, and 13 Divergent Views from Publishing Insiders. The series included some memorable virtual encounters such as with veteran thriller writer Dale Brown, blogger and author extraordinaire C. M. Mayo, Lebanon-based publisher Carole Corm, and #LitChat host Carolyn Burns Bass.

The result is some personal conclusions, which likely run counter to traditional publishing’s preferences. I make no excuses; these conclusions are based only on my experience asking questions. I’m a mystery author and claim no expertise or management experience in the publishing field. Which might be a good thing. But I digress.

After 7 months and over 800 emails, here are my conclusions.


1. Bookstore owners can no longer stay in business simply because they love books

Surprisingly, bookstore owners were the least responsive out of all the groups I queried,  with whopping a 5% response rate. This compares to authors (60%) and book bloggers (72%). Those who did respond, however, had something smart to say:

Emily Stavrou, Schuler Books & Music,  Michigan, www.SchulerBooks.com Schuler Books & Music, Michigan-based, large-format, independent bookstore (established in 1982), has credited its continued success with the ability to evolve quickly as the market changes.  Over the years, Schuler has diversified the bookstores’ inventory to include unique gift merchandise, games and puzzles, home accessories, and more.  Schuler Books has developed a strong Used Books & Media section in each of the stores that continues to be successful.   Over the years, Schuler has added and expanded each location to include a full-service gourmet cafe, and has integrated Chapbook Press,  a publishing arm of the company,  with their recent purchase of the innovative Espresso Book Machine for print-on-demand book publishing. These are just a few ways Schuler Books has continued to remain a vibrant part of an ever-changing market. 

Not to be overlooked, technology has become an ally in innovation for Schuler Books. Utilizing social media to connect and collaborate with community groups & non-profit organizations locally has proven to be a wonderful way to bring business to the bookstore.  Schuler offers a conference room space for hosting monthly meetings, and brings in authors for events pertaining to the organization’s focus.  They also offer fundraising opportunities through many community service efforts.  These partnerships have had a positive effect on business in many ways.  The cafes see additional business through catering revenue; marketing efforts get a broad audience through the benefiting organization’s supporters, and the bookstore is able connect with their community in a meaningful way. 

Karin van Eck, The American Book Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands, http://www.abc.nl/index.php

ABC offers local authors a chance to print and publish and sell their book at ABC. The EBM, or like ABC’s owner Lynn Kaplanian Buller likes to call it: fab lab for books, is situated in both stores. ABC also offers local ( and self published) authors a chance to present their book at Meet My Book events or pitch their book (idea) to a professional publisher once a month. 

The Espresso Book Machine® (EBM), which Time Magazine named an “Invention of the Year,” provides a revolutionary direct-to-consumer distribution model for books. Put simply, the EBM is an automated book-making machine. The operator selects a title to print, and within a few minutes a book emerges: bound and trimmed with a full-color cover.

Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA http://www.greenapplebooks.com/CBD-at-green-apple-books

Green Apple spearheaded the effort to create California Bookstore Day–a statewide celebration of books, authors, and indy bookstores. We took the lead, from convincing the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to back the idea to getting publishers and authors on board, from launching an IndieGoGo campaign to get it off the ground to finding the perfect candidate to produce the event. Now, thirteen unique books and art pieces will be featured and sold at 93 indy bookstores in CA on one day only–May 3, 2014.

Ed Gillis, Ed’s Books & More, Sydney, Nova Scotia, https://www.facebook.com/edsbooksandmore

To stay competitive, I added more than books to the store. To succeed and remain relevant, I knew that I needed more than readers to enter the store; I needed to reach people who had other interests.

Besides a huge stock of books, we also carry DVDs, CDs, albums, jewelry, and collectables. Due to the variety, we have more opportunity to reach new customers; and once in the door, they discover a world of books.


2. The debate over print vs ebook is both emotional and distracting

Asking questions about how bookstores might look in the future, instead of leading to discussions about shared retail space, community partnerships, or clever promotions, in almost every case led to a debate about print vs ebooks. Although publishing insider Doris Heilmann of  SavvyBookWriters.com/blog and author Jane Rosenthal had some actionable ideas, many respondents were less ready to talk about practical solutions than were willing to discuss the impact of ebooks. This view was brought home to me again during a recent #LitChat session on Twitter sponsored by Carolyn Burns Bass’s Litchat.com website. While the moderator’s questions were designed to spark a debate on bookstore innovation, most of the chat was another print vs ebook discussion, with firm views on both sides.


3. The elephant in the room is quite comfortable, thank you

Bookstores are being squeezed on two sides, in my view. The first is from the chokehold on distribution by the traditional publishing industry. Major publishers control the distribution funnel with a limited number of select books, store displays, and may even dictate book placement.

The second squeeze is from the growing number of independent author or small press titles that aren’t in the distribution funnel, yet are increasingly popular with readers who find them through book blogs, Amazon, and other online outlets. Authors and small presses bemoan the fact that they cannot get their print books into bookstores, with a few exceptions for local connections. There is no systematic small press or indie author distribution network to stores. Plus, there is no return policy as with traditionally published books, given that most small publishers and independent authors operate on a just-in-time inventory basis.

Author Bob Mayer, who also has his own Cool Gus publishing imprint, commented that “The bottom line is that authors will totally support bookstores when that support is extended the other way.”

The traditional publishers’ return policy is often mentioned as the stopper. After selling the store a chunky quota of books, publishers accept returns of the unsold. As long as enough large stores survive for this model to continue to work, there is little incentive for publishers to shift or take on distribution of books they don’t publish.

Can this dynamic last much longer? Either bookstores will be able to innovate enough to stay ahead of the dual squeeze, or enough will fail to significantly erode the traditional distribution model. But here’s the catch–publishers can make up the difference in print returns with ebooks, leaving bookstores that rely on print in the cold.


4. The power of the backlist

I was most surprised to receive comments from established–no, let’s be frank, they are famous– authors acknowledging the power of ebooks. Dale Brown and Bernard Cornwell were among them, with Brown saying “It’s so easy and convenient to get a book these days, and with the Internet you don’t need to browse through a bookstore’s shelves to find a new release from a favorite author–Facebook, Twitter, a Web site, or the blogosphere will inform you.” 

Brown, Cornwell, and Mayer are all prolific authors with extensive backlists. They typify the authors who have the most to gain from ebooks, which are always for sale and never out of print. In contrast, bookstores generally don’t have the space to carry all the print titles by very prolific authors. The more titles an author has, it would seem, the less incentive to align with the traditional publishing distribution model.


5. The reality of books as part of the highly competitive entertainment industry

Most people associated with books and publishing regard books as something separate from other entertainment options such as music, television, or (gasp) online gaming. But for much of the book world, especially for fiction, that isn’t true. Many entertainment options are available to take up the consumer’s time and books are one of those choices. My own teenagers have shown me that.

Countering the entertainment option, many respondents said the bookstores of the future should be quiet places to browse, with a coffee bar. Basically, a library with a Starbucks attached. That model won’t pay the bills.

What will pay the bills, however, is using bookstore space to create a broader retail experience. Whether it is linking books with food and drink, or a service or an activity like hotel accommodations, an approach that generates more income streams will let bookstores survive. Are there still music stores? Yes, but they sell more than just CD’s or LPs or are part of a larger retail concept. Ernest Tubbs’ in Nashville might be the exception, but heck, they don’t call it Music City for nothing.

I wrote about a few innovating bookstore examples early in the series. Stores in Europe, for example, with the grand new Foyle’s in London, are taking the broad view and building around it.


Parting words

Overall, this series was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to justify the resolute business-as-usual attitude of traditional publishers–and reading sneery literary agent Donald Maass’s recent comments about “freight class” authors–didn’t help. Neither did the near-deafening silence from store owners, whose lack of participation was underscored by some truly terrible store websites.

Yet I’m optimistic. Many print books don’t translate well to current ebook technology and are best served up in print. There is a dedicated cadre of print devotees who will spend the extra dollar for a print book and drive the extra distance to find the store. Stores that find the sweet spot between service, community, and creating a retail experience will survive and thrive.

I’ve been asked what would my perfect bookstore look like. I’d call it The Book Bar. The walls would be lined with books to browse, specialty drinks would be named after memorable titles and authors (the Detective Emilia Cruz Hot Pepper Mojito, for example), and it would be an awesome venue for author chats, book clubs, speed dating, and singles nights. Not all at once, of course.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity

Publishing Insiders Dispute the Future of Bookstores


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Can publishing insiders predict the future of bookstores? What will stores look like in 10 years as they face competition from ebooks and ecommerce?

Over the past 6 months I’ve asked more than 800 people this question, including fellow authors, as well as book bloggers, marketers, and store owners. I’ve also followed the online debate fostered by many who have a large stake in the issue, notably those in the traditional publishing industry. 

The result of my curiosity has been a series of articles. The first article, with 25 author comments, including those from thriller author Dale Brown and Guy Kawasaki, author of ENCHANTMENT, was a real eye-opener and my most widely shared blog post (I’ve stopped counting).  Book bloggers presented more enlightening views, while the series has also explored book retailing innovation and potential partnerships.

This article, with widely divergent views from publishing insiders, raises the most questions out of all of the articles in the series so far. Many bash Amazon.com, without acknowledging that traditional publishing may be a “declining value proposition,” as economist Adam Gomolin ably put it.  Others believe that the indie bookstore, with a couple of baristas and roots in the community, offers the best hope for continued bricks-and-mortar stores even while acknowledging that owners must become more savvy retailers. The age of owning a successful bookstore just because you love books is over.

Questions I thought would be hot topics for the publishing industry really weren’t in evidence: 1. How to change book distribution to improve cost structures for bookstores, and 2. How to get the growing number of independently published titles into physical bookstores?  

Maybe the lack of big discussion is answer enough.

Note: comments listed in alphabetical order by commentator last name

Carolyn Burns Bass

founder and moderator of LitChat, a website devoted to reading and writing and #litchat Twitter discussions, email to author, 3 December 2013

www.carolynburnsbass.com and http://litchat.com

The writing is on the wall and the wall is electronic. As much as we love the smell of books, the turning of pages and beautifully designed typography, ebooks are the literary delivery devices of the future. Despite the convenience of ebooks, there remains, and will for a good many years, a devoted clientele for collector’s edition books and first editions. Publishers understand this and are even now responding with special designs such as wrap around covers for trade paperbacks, more deckle-edges and stunning interior designs. The bookstore of the future will feature these books, as well as kiosks such as the Expresso Book Machine for printing books on the spot. The bookstore of the future will have an agreement with publishers to get discount codes on ebooks their customers buy while logged into a bookstore’s wi-fi or from a local bookstore’s website. Successful bookstores of the future will cater to their patrons as a neighborhood deli serves its customers. They may not have every variety of salami, but they always have what their customers like best.

To survive against online book sales, bookstores can create alliances with other local businesses, such as a coffee/tea, juice or even a wine cart brought in during author visits. Bookstores of the future can be hubs of learning and culture, where people gather to buy books and talk about them. Of course, a bookstore is a logical place to host writing as well as reading groups, mini-TED-type talks, open mic readings by authors/poets, and other public discourse.

If this is not the bookstore of the future, then it’s my dream bookstore.

Carole Corm

publisher, Darya Press, 28 Jan 2014, email to author, www.daryapress.com

I don’t think I am the only person who misses their local bookshop. For the future, I am rather optimistic. I think bookshops could experience a renaissance.

Many people have remarked that the publishing industry is changing: beautiful, niche books continue to be published while the rest is delivered in the e-book format. In fact, there is already a market trend for well made books — whether cheap or high end. These volumes need a fitting space to be looked at – and bought.  In a way, the whole Internet adventure is going to help bookshop owners up their game, offering only the best books, in an improved setting and with the kind of service and perks the Internet cannot compete with.

Doris Heilmann

publisher and blogger, email to author 22 Jan 2014, http://SavvyBookWriters.com/blog, http://www.111Publishing.com

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive? Just a couple of ideas that pop in mind : )

1. e-Book Order Feature
Since years I was wondering why bookstores did not offer their customers devices where they could order the e-book version if they liked what they found in print in the store. Or at least “bundle” print books with an e-book version. Amazon now tries to partner with bookstores (which might meet some resistance…) to offer exactly what I had envisioned.

2. Carrying Author-Published Books
Trade-published books do not automatically mean quality. There are so many wonderful books from independent authors out there – and it would be a smart move to offer them as well. Readers don’t care who publishes a book, they just want a good read.

3. Order Directly from Author-Publishers
This way, bookstores could circum-navigate the wholesalers and increase their profit quite a bit! As these connections are mostly with local authors, the bookstores could play the “local” aspect into their promotions to the communities around. Most people like to “know” the author who’s books they buy.

4. Offer Book-Layout, Cover-Image and Editing
Why not band together with professionals and offer authors these services to make sure the books’ content and layout gets a great start and is prepared for the Espresso Book Machine. Many authors would be happy to get technical help in the book production and publishing process.

5. Set up an Espresso Book Machine
Many authors (professional and hobbyists) struggle to create very small numbers of print books, e.g. for book signings, Goodreads Giveaways or as gifts. Bookstores would be the ideal place to offer this inventive book printing device. Motto: “Get your book printed while having your Java”, which brings me to the next suggestion:

6. COFFEE! Most chain stores, such as B&N or Chapters have a Starbucks in a designated area, but very few bookstores offer this pleasure. Independent bookstores need to give customers more reasons to come in!

7. More Space and PR for Author Readings
Supporting events such as readings and book signings should be a priority of bookstores – and organizing these professionally, including PR, should be a no-brainer. After all it is a promotion for the store as well.

8. Providing Space for Author Meetings
Charging a small fee (as libraries do) and renting meeting space for authors or even organize a writers conference could be profitable and at the same time a good PR for bookstores if they have the space.

Hugh Howey

author and self-publishing advocate,“Is Amazon Saving Indie Bookstores?” 18 April 2014, http://hughhowey.com

I posited this during my keynote speech at the inaugural PubSmart conference here in Charleston, SC. And nobody threw anything at me. A few people came up afterward and wondered if there might be some merit to the idea. My thinking is this: The true enemy of independent bookstores has been the large chains like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks, not online shoppingThere was even a movie about this. Since the rise of Amazon, we’ve seen some of these chains shutter and many of the B&N stores close. Meanwhile, independent bookstores are experiencing near double-digit growth for three years running.

Is it possible that Amazon more directly competes with the large chains, and the independent stores are rising to reclaim their role in reading communities? I think so. Shoppers looking for discounts, or who know exactly what they need ahead of time, are using mouse clicks rather than driving to the big chain.

It’s also possible that the “shop local” movement, which is partly a response to the rise of discounters like Amazon, vastly benefits independent bookshops more than large chains. I know this works for me. I pay full retail for hardbacks at a mom-and-pop place but balk at 20% discounts from chains. Are there more shoppers like me?

Major publishers lambast Amazon, because they think the large chains are their main hope for the survival of brick and mortar bookshops. Independent bookstores (like the one I used to work in) go right along with the stone-throwing, assuming what’s bad for B&N and Borders must be bad for them as well. And yeah, I saw people scanning UPC codes and taking pics of books to buy online later. I also saw our sales numbers improve every year, partly because of our reorganization of the shop and our focus on customer service, but more because of the shuttering of WaldenBooks.

Amazon is knocking out the big predators. The indie bookshops are filling up some of that space.

Andrew Leonard

staff writer, “The independent bookstore lives! Why Amazon’s conquest will never be complete,” 4 Apr 2014, salon.com 

Stop carving that gravestone. Brick-and-mortar bookstores aren’t dead, yet. On the contrary, independently owned bookstores are growing in number. According to the American Booksellers Association, since hitting a nadir in 2009, the number of indie bookstores in the U.S. has grown 19.3 percent, from 1,651 to 1,971. The current total is less than half the 1990s peak of around 4,000.  But it still serves as a rebuke to the conventional wisdom that equates Amazon’s relentless rise with the inevitable death of the physical bookstore.

What explains this renaissance? The collapse of Borders in 2011 is one big piece of the puzzle. (Removing a dominant carnivore from the savannah gives all the other animals a little more breathing room.) The end of the recession also contributed to a more nurturing economic environment.

But there’s more to the story. There is increasing evidence that the same digital transformation that has so dramatically reshaped the publishing industry, and driven millions of consumers online, also paradoxically rewards locally rooted authenticity. Our digital tools are steering us toward brick-and-mortar stores that promise a more satisfactory consumer experience than either chain stores or online emporiums can provide.

In a world increasingly influenced by our social media interactions, it’s turning out there may well be enough room for the little guy to survive — and perhaps even thrive.

 Michael Kozlowski

founder, GoodEReader.com, “The Future of the Traditional Bookstore in a Digital World,” 9 Sept 2013, goodereader.com

. . . Book discovery is central to bookstores and they invest significant time and money into aesthetics. Barnes and Noble, Indigo and WH Smith all have it down to a science on the art of product display and maximizing space to visually draw the eye. Your average best seller shelf is filled with vibrant colors and display stands hype up other notable authors or themes.

How will the modern bookstore change when by 2015 the amount of digital books sold will reach 50%? We have seen the collapse of Borders in the US, Whitcoulls in New Zealand and RedGroup in Australia. Thousands of small bookstores all over the world have also closed due to readers shifting to digital. How will bookstores transition from exclusively selling physical books to actively promoting eBooks?

The one worry many bookstores face is being a showroom for 3rd party eBook companies. This is evident in the relationship with bookstores that belong to the American Booksellers Association and sell books from Kobo. The indie bookstore makes very little commissions on each eBook and relies on selling physical books to stay in business. Barnes and Noble is the only one in the world with quite a large ecosystem of content and makes hefty digital returns.

Indigo, Chapters, WH Smith, Foyles and many other bookstores all sell tablets and e-readers in their stores. Over the course of the last few years, reading devices have been a boon to these stores and they are seeing modest returns. Indigo recently has been launching a series of Tech Zones, which significantly increases the size of their product display area. They now sell iPad, iPad Mini and an assorted array of new e-readers and tablets. When customers buy these devices, where do they go to buy books?

The bookstore of the future must develop their own eBook infrastructure in order to preserve their own identity and maximize profits. It is critically important that major chains develop their own digital bookstore and sell eBooks directly to their shoppers. It is simply not sustainable to encourage all of your patrons to buy the digital editions from Amazon or Apple There is always more money to be made by phasing out the middleman and reaching your audience directly . . .

In the end, bookstores need to develop their own bookstore and develop a series of apps for readers to use. These need to be loaded on any tablet or e-reader that their store carries. If the hardware vendor does not want to play ball, you ditch them. Bookstores sustain themselves from selling books, magazines and hardware. They need to unshackle themselves from a strict reliance on a 3rd party and bite the bullet and develop their own digital storefront.

Cat Lavoie

author and #ChickLitChat Twitter moderator, email to author, 22 Feb 2014, http://www.catlavoie.com/

Even though I’ve switched from reading paperbacks to (almost) exclusively reading ebooks, there’s nothing that compares to the joy of browsing in a bookstore. I think bookstores need to collaborate with indie authors and publishers in order to highlight local talent. Book signings and book club meetings could also be a good way to create buzz and introduce new authors to bookstore patrons. And readers who prefer their novels in digital form could download their copy directly from the store. In the end, I think that embracing the new technology and finding a way to bring authors and readers together is how bookstores will stay relevent for, hopefully, many years to come.

Judith Rosen

“The Check Is in the Mail: Patterson Sends Over $267,000 to Booksellers,” publishersweekly.com, 19 Feb 2014

Last September 2 in an interview in the Wall Street Journal followed by an appearance two weeks later onCBS This Morning, James Patterson announced his intention to give away $1 million to independent bookstores over the course of the next 12 months . . .

A little over five months later, Patterson has made good on his promise and mailed out the first installment of the funding this week, totaling more than $267,000, to 54 bookstores across the country plus the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association in support of California Bookstore Day . . .

In a phone conversation with PW earlier this week, Patterson stressed that this is only the first round . . . A doer by nature, Patterson describes himself as “the anti-Congress. We just do stuff.” For him, that “stuff” concerns not just the future of bookstores, libraries, and publishers, but of the next generation of readers. “The future of books in America is at risk,” he said. “Bookstore traffic is down. Kids aren’t reading as many books. I want to really shine a light and draw attention to the fact that this is a tricky time. The government will protect the automobile industry and the banking industry, but not books.”

Mike Shatzkin

founder of The Shatzkin Files, “The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing,” idealog.com, 23 Jan 2014

It has been an unspoken article of faith that bookstores would not go the way of stores selling recorded music or renting and selling video, both of which are segments that have just about entirely disappeared. The physical book has uses and virtues that a CD, a vinyl record, a DVD, or a videotape don’t, not the least of which is that a physical book is its own “player”. But it also provides a qualitatively different reading experience, whereas the other “physical” formats don’t change the consumption mode at all. Of course, that only helps bookstores if the sales stay offline. People ordering books online are overwhelmingly likely to order them from Amazon. In other words, it is dangerous to use the book’s ability to endure as a proxy for the bookstores’ ability to sustain themselves. The two are not inextricably connected.

But the fate of almost all trade publishers is inextricably connected to the fate of bookstores. There are only two exceptions. Penguin Random House is one, because they are large enough to create bookstores on their own with just their books. The other is publishers who are vertical with audiences that open up the possibility of retail outlets other than bookstores. Children’s books and crafts books are obvious possibilities for that; there aren’t a ton of others.

The feeling I had at Digital Book World is that most people in the trade have either dismissed or are wilfully ignoring the possibility that there could be such serious further erosion of the trade over the next few years that it would threaten the core practices of the industry. With more than half the sales of many kinds of books — fiction in the trade area, of course, but also lots of specialized and professional and academic topics — already online, many seem to feel whatever “adjustment” is necessary has already been made . . .

All that is possible, and I have no data to refute the notion that we’ve reached some sort new era of bookstore stability, just a stubborn feeling in my gut that over the next few years it will turn out not to be true.

Oren Teicher

CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “A Year-End Letter From ABA CEO Oren Teicher” 12 Dec 2013, bookweb.org

. . . Nationally, the network of independent bookstores has seen and is continuing to see real, sustained growth. This vitality is the result of your hard work, innovation, and a commitment to selecting and showcasing titles that we passionately believe in and that we know will find readers in our communities.

A few years ago, I characterized this revitalization in conversations with our colleagues in the publishing community and in talks as a renaissance in indie bookselling. Today, that renaissance has become resurgence. When Publishers Weekly recently announced that it had selected me and the ABA Board as its person of the year, it was a wonderful acknowledgement of the collective achievement of all independent bookstores. As PW put it, “independent bookstores are once again seen as critical to the success of the book industry.”

. . . Believe me, I know you can’t pay your bills with press clips and that there will be many, many hectic hours before you make that last sale on December 24, but I hope that you can take a moment to appreciate that the public narrative about our industry has changed in a very critical way, as more consumers recognize the importance, vitality, and health of indie bookstores.

Kate Tilton

blogger and author assistant, 12 Feb 2014, via author website form, http://katetilton.com/

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: Bookstores have to compete in prices. If it is cheaper to buy a book of equal quality but for a fraction of the cost elsewhere bookstores are going to lose. As much as I love a nice bookstore the convenience of online shopping and money saved makes it very tough for bookstores to stay open. Author events are one of the only things I make the trek out to a bookstore but author events can happen in other places too (libraries, coffee shops, churches). In order for bookstores to innovate they need to find a way to win over readers once again.

 Michael Weinstein

“Reports of the Bookstore’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated,” bookbusinessmag.com, 13 May 2013

. . . Part of me wants to suggest that we take the emotional hot button of the “nobility” of the bookstore (particularly the local independent variety) out of the discussion and just talk cold/hard facts. But I don’t think we can. I think there are enough people out there that see (and feel) the value of the experience (as Sturdivant wrote), who want and NEED bookstores to exist, to contribute enough to keep them going.

But I also think that from a business sense, publishers see the value of bookstores. They may sell more books at Amazon, but publishers are smart enough (I hope) to recognize that independent stores can help “make” a book if they like it, that author readings and signings build loyalty . . .

Also, we need to continue to expand the definition of  “bookstore.” Obviously, most bookstores won’t be  “just” bookstores. In fact, books may not be the primary function of the store, but that won’t mean that they’re not bookstores. What each store offers other than books will depend on the owners — how smart are they? How in touch are they with what their local community needs? The physical store allows a community to be built around events and activities, and that is more potent than an online community. Sure, I’m in an online community of Wheaten Terrier owners, but talking online and sharing pictures with someone from Norway is just not the same as sitting in a room with your physical neighbors . . . .

Like everything else in our industry it will require ingenuity, flexibility and the ability to adapt on the go to succeed.

Tom Weldon

UK chief executive of Penguin Random House, as quoted by Jennifer Rankin in The Observer, 5 April 2014

Some commentators say the publishing industry is in enormous trouble today. They are completely wrong, and I don’t understand that view at all . . . Book publishers have managed the digital transition better than any other media or entertainment industry. I don’t understand the cultural cringe around books . . .

It is a sad fact of life that there are fewer physical bookshops than there were. [Traditional media is declining, including books pages. As the book world moves from] “a browse-and-display model to one of online search and recommendation, publishers must adapt to capture readers attention. The challenge isn’t digital: it is how do you tell people about the next great book.

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

The Friday Fiesta is stuff worth celebrating from the past week. This week it’s how to focus on a goal, the quest for discoverability, and a book sale in defiance of the trolls. The margaritas are on me.


What with one thing and another, I’m having some trouble finishing the last big scene in the next Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS. Stuff that is less hard keeps getting in the way, like designing the new Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel blog. (more on this in a few weeks) My writing buddy has been missing his deadlines as well, so it is easy to laugh it off.

But books don’t write themselves. This coming week I need to renew my focus and “git ‘er done,” as Larry the Cable Guy says. I found this list of 8 Daily Practices for improving focus from The Culture-ist and thought others might benefit from it as well. 


I’m not the expert in this field, but an online chat this morning with a Facebook friend led me to comment that too many authors neglect their Author page on Amazon, missing an important opportunity. Some don’t even link all their books to their page . But the Amazon author page is like a one-stop-shop for projecting your author image. So a couple of tips in case you are an author:



  1. Use the same picture for your author page as you do on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  2. Write a bio that gets up front the sort of books you write and who would enjoy them. Amazon lets you write a sizeable bio but only a certain portion shows when folks land on the page and most won’t click to see more.
  3. Make sure all your books are linked to your page. This isn’t automatic, you must add them via the Author Central interface.
  4. Link your blog, using the RSS feed address, via the Author Central interface. Ditto book trailers and related videos.

This week Amazon liked my review of IN THE WOODS by Tana French so much it shows up 3 times on my author page. Tech love.


Made in Acapulco_final_300pxI recently realized that a troll left a 1 star review for MADE IN ACAPULCO, complaining about a computer program. Obviously this has nothing to do with the book. For those who don’t know, trolls are people who surf Amazon and Goodreads, leaving damaging reviews at random. Often, the same review is given to multiple books.

In defiance of the troll activity, I’m offering MADE IN ACAPULCO for $0.99 this week. MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of 5 Emilia Cruz short stories. (Get the first story FREE here.)

MADE IN ACAPULCO takes place before the action in CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. They reveal Emilia’s first troubled first year as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Many of the stories are based on true events in Mexico, including poet Javier Sicilia’s rallies to raise awareness of the missing in Mexico.

Nothing to do with some computer program.

So in defiance of trolls, MADE IN ACAPULCO is $0.99 for Kindle this week. If you pick up a copy, please leave a very non-troll review. Thank you!

In Other News

Did you see the March update for water.org? The Writing for Water team has now provided 10 people with clean water for life  because of readers like you. Goal for the year is 25.

Have you gotten your copy of The 3 Minute Guide to Great Book Reviews? It’s free when you subscribe, along with a free copy of THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz Story, plus The Top 10 Most Riveting International Mystery Series.

Thank you! All the best, Carmen


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Friday Fiesta: Of Water, Web Design, and Writing

The Friday Fiesta is stuff worth celebrating from the past week. This week it’s water and web design. Plus a bonus courtesy of omnimystery.com.


In March, the Writing for Water Team was comprised of Jerry Last, Norm Hamilton, and Sharon Lee Johnson, plus, yours truly. What a great team! Norm really got the word out on Twitter, Sharon cornered Facebook, and Jerry found a new audience with dog lovers who have really embraced his latest mystery THE DEADLY DOG SHOW as well as his commitment to Water.org. Jerry is rocking on into April, as is Sharon, and he’s setting some pretty high goals.

If you haven’t already, check out Norm Hamilton’s novel of a dystopian Canada created by fracking, Sharon’s addictive zombie tales, and THE DEADLY DOG SHOW—murder goes to the dogs!

I’ll be doing the full Writing for Water Monthly Report next week but it’s looking like March brought another 5 people clean water for life.

If you are an author, please consider joining us with either a fixed pledge or a portion of sales. There is more information on joining the Writing for Water team here.

Oh, and here’s a great video from Water.org. When you see stories like this, you know your money is well spent.

Emilia dives in, too

I’m submitting a story to be included in OF WORDS AND WATER, an annual anthology of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. The purpose of the anthology is to raise awareness of the work done by the international charity WaterAid. It won’t be out until the end of 2014, but I’m excited to be part of the effort.

The story for the anthology is an Emilia Cruz story, but it is unlike anything I’ve done before. Subscribers to my monthly updates will get a free copy of it before the anthology goes to press. Working title: BROKEN MAIN.

Web Design

I spent three precious writing days reworking and updating this website. Over the 2.5 years I’ve had the site, it has experienced about 3 major upgrades. This week, I’ve come to some conclusions:

  1. Catchthemes.com has hands down the best and fastest customer service forum, plus tons of easy to follow instructions for their themes. No, I am not an affiliate, just a happy customer. I only wish they had more themes to choose from.
  2. Sliders take too long to load. I loved the look, but am just going with a large image on the home page for now. Until the next redesign.
  3. The site is like my living room. I’m inviting you in and want you to enjoy the time you spend here. Sure, I hope you sign up for my mailing list and get a free copy of THE BEAST, but I’m not going to put up acid green or sparkly orange forms. Mystery lovers pick apart clues all the time; they can find a tasteful form.

 The Next Great Thing

women and computerTogether with fellow authors John Scherber, Christopher Irvin, Guillermo Paxton, and Jane Rosenthal, I am part of The Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel. We are all authors who write mysteries set in Mexico. From crime fiction to romantic suspense, we cover the genre and make Mexico the ultimate mystery destination.

Our new blog will have posts from all authors and should be live next month. Get ready for mystery with a touch of salsa fresca!

Writing the Ultimate Mystery Setting

I was hosted on Omnimystery.com last week and wrote about how authors can set a mood by describing a mystery setting in a mere 3 sentences. The post used examples to take the reader to Havana, Venice, Riga, Cairo, and of course, Mexico City. Read the post here.

Free Story

If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, THE BEAST, the first story in the MADE IN ACAPULCO collection is available as a free download. If you haven’t met Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz yet, you should. As Jane Rosenthal claims, “Emilia says all the things you wish you could–she calls BS on everything.”

That’s it for this week! Have a great weekend, hopefully with a margarita and a mystery.

All the best, Carmen

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

Friday Fiesta: Blog Hop, Striking Gold, and Recommended Stories

I’m reviving my Friday Fiesta posts, in which I share the most interesting things that crossed my writing desk over the last week. This week it’s a blog hop invitation from author Jerry Last, striking gold with a great new marketing resource, and two new author friends with stories about Mexico.

Blog Hop

What am I working on?

The next full length Emilia Cruz novel, DIABLO NIGHTS, is slated for a late June 2014 release. This one draws inspiration from Mexico’s Cristero War of the late 1920’s during which the government tried to squeeze out the Catholic Church. It’s a mystery-within-a-mystery and Emilia has an unexpected link to the conflict.

I’m also collaborating with several other writers, including Jane Rosenthal, author of PALACE OF THE BLUE BUTTERFLY, and Christopher Irvin, author of FEDERALES, on a multi-author blog. We’re thinking of calling it the Mexico Mystery Writer Cartel. What do you think?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As far as I know, there is no one writing a series set in Mexico with a Mexican protagonist in the same international mystery and police procedural genre as Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, or Henning Mankell. Readers of those authors describe the Emilia Cruz series as a fresh take on the mystery protagonist. The mood of the Emilia Cruz books is the same but the setting and cultural elements are very different.

Why do I write what I do?

We lived in Mexico at a time when the drug wars were really beginning to heat up. One Christmas a junkie stumbled into midnight Mass. Father Richard was leading us in the Prayer of the Faithful when a man staggered up the center aisle, his limbs jerking as he alternately murmured and shouted incomprehensible words. We all shrank back as he made his way towards the altar, an unexpected and volatile presence.

As the congregation looked on in growing panic, the man accosted Father Richard. The priest didn’t move or stop the prayer, just dug through his robes for a pocket. He pulled out a few pesos and pressed them into the man’s hand.

By that time several of the male congregants had come onto the altar as well and they gently propelled the drug-addled man back down the altar steps and through the church to the rear door.

Christmas mass continued and the addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he stayed with all of us, evidence that Mexico’s own drug problem was growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the insatiable United States.

He reminded me of the drug war raging just outside our happy expatriate bubble. We were an American family in Mexico City, embracing a new culture, exploring a vibrant city, and meeting people who were to impact our lives for years to come. But we always knew that the bubble was fragile and as if to prove it, Mexico’s news grew worse in the new year: shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.

I’m continually surprised and saddened by how little people know about what is happening in Mexico. Only big arrests become mainstream news. Especially as the numbers of people missing in Mexico continue to climb, I’m hoping a mystery series can raise awareness of what’s going on in Mexico, with plot elements straight out of the headlines, an authentic dive into one of the most beautiful settings on earth, and a little salsa fresca from my own years living in Mexico and Central America.

How does my writing process work?

book outlineI’m rigorous about having an outline before writing, and my technique depends heavily on sticky notes. Often, because each novel has several storylines, I’ll use different colors to keep them straight and the action sprinkled evenly. I’ll arrange the stickies on a big posterboard that gets taped over my desk. About a third of the way through the outline will be overtaken by events and redone. Once the draft is finished, I edit and edit, both to add layers of detail and to polish the prose. In the picture, the weeks refer to the story timeline, not my writing schedule.

More Hopping

Be sure to check out Jerry Last’s hop. He’s the author of the Roger and Suzanne Mysteries, which also have an international flavor!

Striking Author Marketing Gold

I was very pleased to be a beta tester for Tim Grahl’s new Instant Bestseller online course. Tim is a marketing consultant and the author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES, a fantastic resource. The video-based course lays out a comprehensive strategy for successfully getting your books to the right audience and Tim gives the hard facts and figures to back up his approach. The Instant Bestseller name is a bit of a misnomer, however, as the course is all about building a system for sustained success. To find out more check out his company website.

Two Stories to Check Out

My reading list this weekend comes from the clever minds of Susannah Rigg and Chris Irvin. Susannah, who runs the Mexico Retold website, hosted me a few weeks ago and in an exchange of notes told me about her short story. Well, it’s out now and if her engaging blog style is an indication, it should be a very enjoyable read:  http://www.amazon.com/Life-Green-White-Susannah-Rigg-ebook/dp/B00IWH4MAW/

Chris is the author of FEDERALES, which also has a Mexican cop protagonist. But the Mexican federal cops have about the worst reputation imaginable so I’m interested to see what he does with it:  http://www.amazon.com/Federales-One-Eye-Press-Singles-ebook/dp/B00IRQQZVM/

A reminder about Writing for Water

glasses of waterNorm Hamilton, Sharon Lee Johnson and Jerry Last are all part of the Writing for Water team this month, helping me by donating a portion of their book sales to Water.org. Please consider getting one of their featured books from this list to read this weekend. You will make clean water possible for someone for life.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity

12 Influential Bloggers Debate the Future of Bookstores

What will be the future of bookstores? Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete in the era of ebooks and ecommerce. Yet bookstores are talked about in terms of being an “oasis,” a magical place of discovery, the place where we all want to spend hours sipping coffee and browsing.

But not necessarily buying.

The big question

So how can bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

Over the past few months, I’ve asked this question of authors, book bloggers, store owners, and publishers. The result is a series of articles featuring responses from each group. The first article, with 25 author comments, including those from thriller author Dale Brown and Guy Kawasaki, author of ENCHANTMENT, was a real eye-opener and my most widely shared blog post (I’ve stopped counting). Read it here.

Book bloggers

Book bloggers occupy a unique position in the discussion, in that 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a book blogger. Theirs is a trade that has grown up with ebooks and ecommerce and is increasingly influential. Yet few would say that we no longer need bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Many say, however, that we need different bookstores than the ones we have today. Read on to see how the debate shapes up. Note: comments organized in alphabetical order by blogger last name.

Rebecca Rego Barry, http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/fine_books_blog/

In thinking about your questions, I kept returning to a set of ideas I put forth back in March on our blog. The post was called “Ten Reasons a Pessimist Can be Optimistic About the Future of the Book.” It was based on a talk I gave at a university library earlier in the year. Several of these points remain relevant. For example, craftsmanship — in general and in book publishing specifically — has made a comeback. To me, that bodes well for the future of new books. Yes, some books can and should go straight to digital, but for the ones that don’t, publishers will have to put more thought into art, design, and packaging; making the book an experience separate from a text to be read. Publishers like Siglio and McSweeneys are doing this. So I would predict that the new bookstore of the future will be smaller, but the books will be better — well-designed, even hand-made, illustrated, and/or innovative.

I almost exclusively cover used, rare, and antiquarian books, and there I see two things. One is the need for solid relationships between buyers and sellers. The Internet very nearly killed off the smaller antiquarian shops (some of whom then became Internet-only dealers), and so book fairs and catalogue sales largely fill in that gap. In some cases, booksellers have closed (appointment-only)  shops. All of this makes it more time-consuming for collectors to find the best material–and yet, even with those obstacles, the trade is strong and the base is committed. Quirky shops like the Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, stocking odd & unusual books and ephemera of various prices is a neat concept, and I’d love to see more of that in the future. And Two, the big, get-lost-in-the-stacks shops like the Strand and Powell’s will still be with us in 25 years for the simple reasons that the books are usually cheap and the thrill of discovery provides something akin to a contact high for many readers. (email to author, 8 December 2013)

Richard Bilkey, http://fictionetal.wordpress.com/

. . . The reality is that booksellers cannot wait for anyone else to come to their rescue. Publishers will put their marketing resources where they believe it will have the biggest impact and the long term trend is unmistakably towards online. You can see the attraction for publishers to the efficiencies of online retail, with enhanced metadata feeds that ensure entire lists of books are displayed on virtual shelves around the world without the costs of sales reps and merchandisers or having to ship physical copies into thousands of stores with a 25% return rate.

Bookshops are not only fighting a battle for relevance with customers, they are fighting for relevance with publishers too. Publishers would love to see bookshops remain profitable and regain the ground they’ve lost in recent years to store closure and digital migration but the initiative and ideas are going to have to come from booksellers themselves. And what better place to start looking for ideas than from the online competition themselves?

1: Use Bundled eBooks to fulfill an order immediately even when the physical book is not in stock . . .

2: Bookshop Subscription Services . . .

3: Reward customer reviews and use them everywhere . . .

4: Don’t just give self-published authors a break – create an “Independent Author Platform” . . .

5: Be aggressive about sourcing new customers . . .

Many booksellers I have known are too passive or simply overwhelmed when it comes to marketing and promoting their business, especially beyond their immediate community. The days of letting customers find their own way into your door are long gone however and the traditional seasonal catalogue, ads in local newspapers and an irregular email newsletter simply won’t cut it. To survive bookshops need to be a highly visible, talked about and valued destination. Booksellers need to therefore get out of their own stores and be seen, start the conversations and tell everyone what’s so special about their shop. There are any number of ways you can do this—engage in local communities, start a writer’s festival, run competitions, drive social media campaigns—as long as you are loud and persistent. (Blog post, “Is the post-bookstore world inevitable? 5 ways bookshops can fight back,” 24 January 2013)

Nigel Burwood, jot101.com, anyamountofbooks.com

I feel certain that a bookstore, if it can survive now, has a good future. In fact the mantra now is ‘to survive is to succeed.’

There has been a brutal culling of bookstores since the advent of the web, even the decade before. Whole parts of cities and large towns which had areas of bookstores, ‘Book Alleys,’ Book Co-Operatives etc., are down to one or two shops or none at all.

What is happening now is that bookshops are becoming desirable again — oases in a desert of bland, celebrity-based culture, and philistinism. In a rant from the 1940s John Cowper Powys stated (or overstated!): A bookshop–especially a second-hand bookshop–is an arsenal of explosives, an armoury of revolutions, an opium den of reactions. And just because books are the repository of all the redemptions and damnations, all the sanities and insanities, of the divine anarchy of the soul, they are still, as they have always been, an object of suspicion to every kind of ruling authority.

In a second-hand bookshop are the horns of the altar where all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can take refuge! Here, like desperate bandits, hide all the reckless progeny of our wild, dark, self-lacerating hearts. A bookshop is a powder-magazine, a dynamite-shed, a drug store of poisons, a bar of intoxicants, a den of opiates, an island of sirens.

I see bookstores co-existing with the web and ebooks etc. Our shop stays afloat by walk-in customers but also by listing collectable books on web collectives + we publicise ourself through an SEO savvy website and social media. We have no problem with the web — it is also a haven of scholarship, research and knowledge. Excellent stock is highly available in most towns now and you have to learn what to stock and what to avoid. If you have the right books at the right price people will buy them.

A shop can do things the web can’t — physical browsing, human company, human assistance, no postage, instant gratification! We are in the very early days of the internet — it is like the railways in the mid 19th century — people saw them as ushering in a tasteless, unlettered world but in terms of books, for example, it allowed for their fast and easy dissemination. People get tired of screens and isolation. The real problem is a seismic cultural shift away from books, scholarship and reading. In 50 years time these things will probably undergo a renaissance but it will be a rocky ride and good bookstores will have to be endlessly resourceful — but they always were! (email to author, 2 December 2013)

C. Hope Clark, fundsforwriters.com

Bookstores are going to have to get novel and creative in their brand. The world harps on authors to develop a brand and a platform to be different amongst the fray. Bookstores could do the same. Nothing wrong with them specializing and getting crazy with it. Mysteries, cozies, romance, YA, suspense, scifi, fantasy, horror, literary, etc. Instead of a bookstore trying to be a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, why not specialize? The biggest B&N cannot hold a respectable cross-section of the books out there, thus driving people online. Unless the book is from a top five NY publisher, a reader can’t be assured it’ll be in a bookstore. These stores would hold events – not signings, but events. Something worth taking a date to. Music, appearances, shows.

Specializing would also be conducive to partnerships. Just like you can see scaled down versions of Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, and Taco Bell in the same venue as other stores, sharing the same space and the same customers, bookstores need to partner with other entities. The obvious ones are theatres, museums, motels, coffee shops, restaurants, even libraries.

For instance, if the local theatre has a small bookstore, it would sell the books that the movies originated from as well as similar stories in the genre. If it’s a big theatre, then it would have a healthy supply of books. Why not capitalize on that spontaneous need to take that movie experience home in the form of the book?

Guess I’m saying that the stand-alone bookstore is a dinosaur. B&N’s days are numbered. But if I can go see a Jack Reacher movie, get excited about the story, then walk out of the theatre and use my ticket stub to get 25% off the price of a Jack Reacher novel, I’m going to do it. That concept can happen in so many other partner venues out there. And of course kiosks should be available to download ebooks, or order books that aren’t on hand. You have to learn how to tap that energy that’s been used for years by speakers selling books at the back of the room. Music’s done it for years as well. Heck, t-shirt vendors do it like crazy. Why not books?

I could go on and on. It’s just that a bookstore can no longer supply all of a reader’s needs. So it has to create a novel effect or develop a strong enough partnership with another vendor, to create an attraction. There has to be more to it than just buying a book, in other words. Because we can do that from any computer at home.

Oh, and it would be nice to see bookstores respect authors. In my travels, the author is too often overlooked by bookstore owners. Authors can make a difference to a bookstore – a fact very often overlooked by bookstores. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Diana Dilworth, Editor of http://galleycat.com

Community based book stores will thrive even in a world where Amazon is threatening same day book delivery via drone, but it will take a lot of work. Indie book stores that can cultivate community through well-curated reading lists are able to offer readers much more than any algorithm can. Hosting events such as author readings, book clubs and even art shows and live music will give people another reason to come into the store. They’ll have to sell coffee, food & cocktails to diversify their revenue stream.

While a good physical presence is key, being Internet savvy is also important. Indie book stores have got to get the word out and social media can be very helpful to do this. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, among other channels, can help these bookstores thrive.

I also think that indie bookstores that offer eBooks for sale are smart. People like buying books from their local bookstore, but they also like the convenience of being able to download a new book and read it on their device. Companies like Zola Books offer consumers the option to buy eBooks from their favorite local book seller. I think that book stores that take advantage of these kinds of technologies will be positioned to serve all readers. (email to author, 6 December 2013)

Susan Helene Gottfried,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: Bookstores need to become integral parts of our community. They need to host events — not merely author events — that give people — not merely readers — a reason to come through the door and linger. Repeatedly. They need to bring like-minded people together, and they need to simultaneously expand our horizons and let us connect with new faces and businesses. And they need to do it without charging for the services. Let a book club use your back room for free . . . but then offer a discount if everyone buys the book from you. Host storytime weekly, and find local businesses to sponsor the craft that goes with the story. Be the hub of community action and see what happens. (via website response form, 21 January 2014)

Donna Huber, http://www.girl-who-reads.com

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: We are getting more contact with authors than ever before thanks to the digital age and social media. Because of this feeling of getting to know our favorite authors virtually, readers are even more excited to meet them in person. Bookstores can play a huge role in satisfying this need. My local indie bookstore, Avid Bookshop, hosts a ton of authors and I really think that is part of their success. Also being active in the community is big. Again, my local bookstore has been a part of a number of community events. They hosted a pre-World Book Night party for givers, offer a number of reading clubs for readers of all ages, and support the local library with events. To be competitive, bookstores need to offer an experience that goes beyond buying the book. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

C.M. Mayo, http://madammayo.blogspot.com/

It’s a question I’m delighted to contemplate because, from the time I was a small child, bookstores have been a Mecca for me, and, as an author, when it comes to selling my books, an oasis of delightfulness– though sometimes, alas, a fata morgana, now that on-line booksellers such as amazon.com have swallowed up so much of their business. Indeed, as a book buyer, for convenience, selection, and price, I long ago went over to amazon.com and other online booksellers. And as an author I am now seeing more from Kindle sales than from my print books. (In fact, for my latest book, a niche topic, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, I bypassed traditional publishers and bookstores altogether. I had thought it might be nice to place it with a university press. Then I did the math. Ha.)

That said, I am saddened by the way so many brick-and-mortar bookstores have turned themselves into glorified coffee and tchotchkes-made-in-China shops poorly staffed and oftentimes (not always, I hasten to add) by people who seem they might be more knowledgable about, say, pumping gas. As for the sort of hackwork most stock by their cash registers, Joe Queenan described them best: “by Punch for the edification of Judy.” In short, the typical bookstore bums me out– and the coffee isn’t that great, either. I have yet to sit down at a clean table in a Barnes & Noble café. Don’t get me started about the restrooms.

Well, I don’t think brick-and-mortar bookstores are going the way of the dodo, but if they are to survive, they will evolve, and dramatically, to offer a broader array of book-related goods and services. For example, a brick-and-mortar bookstore might offer:

Library services, such as those offered by New York City’s Society Library–not just books for loan, but a research desk, large well-lit tables, and small but comfortable and quiet private offices for writers / independent scholars (especially valuable where public library services are problematic);

  • More curated selections by more knowledgeable staff;
  • Artist books;
  • More–way more–books by local authors;
  • Rare books;
  • Collectible ephemera;
  • A place to bring in rare books and have them appraised (why not every third Thursday of the month?);
  • A place to order up a letterpress book of one’s own (why not bring in the local letterpress guy every second Wednesday of the month?);
  • A place to learn about book design and book cover design;
  • A place to take a marbled paper workshop or how to make pop-up books;
  • A place to take a weekend seminar on Tolstoy/learn French/history of Rome/Mesoamerica (books included);
  • Meeting room for writers groups / book clubs / movies / yoga;
  • A machine to print out one’s book (a few do have the machinery for this already, such as Politics & Prose with the Espresso Book Machine http://www.politics-prose.com/opus); and so on and so forth.

They will also dramatically improve their on-line shops to compete with the likes of amazon.com— not so much in terms of selection, but ease of use and prompt customer service. A few already have. Recently, I have been impressed by the rare books dealers using www.bibliopolis.com.

Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial. And I’ll bet bucks to cabbages that there will be people writing and reading ’til Kingdom Come. So whatever “bookstores” morph into, it’s going to be interesting.

Time capsule: Here’s my 2009 blog about bookstores for Red Room. (email to author, 25 January 2014)

Vinny O’Hare, http://awesomegang.com

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: My first reaction was to say that bookstores needed to add a cafe or something, but the last bookstore I was in was a Borders at Madison Square that had a cafe and it was the worst coffee ever. I remember thinking at the time that wasn’t what was going to keep a bookstore open.

I think if we had the answer there would be less bookstores closing every day. If I was to open a bookstore tomorrow I would make sure it had a good community feel and make myself known as giving back. The bookstore would also have to have something else to draw people in. Maybe free tutoring for kids. Maybe an area for live readings or music? It would also sell gift cards to Amazon and iTunes. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Joey Pinkney, http://joeypinkney.com

People used to buy from entities that they were comfortable with. As an extension of that, people used to buy from people. Nowadays, it’s standard practice for a “customer” to walk into a bookstore, find a book he/she wants to purchase and pull out their smartphone to purchase it online.

Bookstores stay in business by selling books, not displaying books. And they sell books by servicing the community. One surefire way to serve the community is by providing a venue for readers to physically meet authors for book signings and being a place for book clubs to have book discussions. Social media may enhance this, but it will never take the place of real social gatherings.

In order to connect the readers and the authors, bookstores will need a strong presence both online and off. And easy-to-navigate website will be a must (and would seem common sense), as well as accounts with popular social media outlets. “Frequent reader discounts” issued by way of printable coupons, QR codes or text-codes will help maintain the bookstore’s status with the reader. Online mailing lists and text alerts will also be an important aspect of being able to spread the word about upcoming events and book releases quickly and efficiently. Bookstores that are not able to take advantage of these online tools will not survive.

Going forward, bookstore staff will have to be extremely attentive to customers. The amount of knowledge and service that a bookstore can give will have to justify the cost of the books it sells since the Internet has made it very easy to find, purchase and download books. Amazon’s algorithms are pretty neat but can never compare to a person you can relate to who can tell you why they like or dislike certain books.

The bookstore of the future will need a way to satisfy the customer’s need for instant gratification. The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA, is a perfect example. It has an “Espresso Book Machine” that can readily print 5,000 different titles and also has the capacity to print self-published titles. This printing press is a dual blessing. It lowers the amount of non-revenue generating inventory for the bookstore, and it gives the customer what he/she wants in a matter of minutes. Why wait on a book to be shipped to you in a few days when you can get it within hours, if not minutes, of purchase?

Bookstores will continue to be a “watering hole” for the literati of the area the bookstore serves. Book-browsers don’t get the staff or the rent paid.  In order to stay afloat, bookstores will have to be savvy in the ways of how technology and the Internet can even the playing field with the online places books can be purchased and/or downloaded. (email to author, 7 December 2013)

Prospero blog on arts and culture, economist.com

 . . . Bricks-and-mortar bookstores appear to be on borrowed time. So, what is the future of the bookstore?

This was the burning questions on everyone’s lips at a recent event at Foyles’s flagship bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, where some of Britain’s leading literary agents, authors, marketing managers and booksellers gathered to discuss its fate ahead of the bookseller’s move from its current rambling premises to the former home of Central Saint Martin’s art school just up the road.

For a bookstore to remain successful, it must improve “the experience of buying books,” says Alex Lifschutz, an architect whose London-based practice is designing the new Foyles. He suggests an array of approaches: “small, quiet spaces cocooned with books; larger spaces where one can dwell and read; other larger but still intimate spaces where one can hear talks from authors about books, literature, science, travel and cookery.” The atmosphere is vital, he adds. Exteriors must buzz with activity, entrances must be full of eye-catching presentations and a bar and café is essential.

The trend for not only incorporating cafés in bookstores but also placing them on the top floor makes good sense. The new Foyles will have one, Mr Lifschutz explains, because this draws shoppers upwards floor-by-floor, which is bound to encourage people to linger longer and spend more. (Top-floor restaurants in department stores abide by similar principles.)

There are plenty of ways to delight the bookstore customer, but few are easily monetised. The consensus is that bookstores need to become cultural destinations where people are prepared to pay good money to hear a concert, see a film or attend a talk. The programming will have to be intelligent and the space comfortable . . .

To survive and thrive, bookstores should celebrate the book in all its forms: rare, second-hand, digital, self-printed and so on. Digital and hybrid readers should have the option of buying e-books in-store, and budding authors should have access to self-printing book machines. The latter have been slower to take off in Britain, but in America bookstores are finding them to be an important source of revenue. “The quality is now almost identical to that of a book printed by a major publishing house,” says Bradley Graham, owner of a leading independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics & Prose. His shop leases an Espresso Book Machine and makes it available to customers.

The bookstore of the future will have to work hard. Service will be knowledgeable and personalised, the inventory expertly selected, spaces well-designed and the cultural events enticing. Whether book stores, especially small independents are up to the challenge, is not clear. The fate of these stores is a cliff-hanger. (Blog post, “A Real Cliffhanger,” 27 February 2013)

Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files at idealog.com

Their business [of Barnes & Noble], on which they must make money, is selling books. They are trying to diversify their merchandise selection a bit in their stores, but that’s a strategy that is both difficult to execute and has nowhere near the upside that Amazon, Google, and Apple have with their other businesses. This is an unfair fight where B&N is dependent on margins from their ebook (and book) sales while their competitors, if perhaps not totally content to break even on that business, aren’t materially affected if they do, or even if they lose a bit of money on that aspect of their business . . .

In other words, publishing — like book retailing — is likely to become a subsidiary function pursued in strategic support of larger goals. Unlike in retailing, this will not be consolidated among a few players, but as widely scattered as the subjects about which books are produced. But the core challenge for the legacy publishing establishment, that they will increasingly face competition that doesn’t need the profits from that activity as much as they do, will be the same. Book publishing as a stand-alone industry with most of its significant players earning all their profits within it is in the process of morphing into something quite different, starting with the retailers. (Blog post, “Book publishing may not remain a stand-alone industry and book retailing will demonstrate that first,” 29 January 2014)

Read the entire Bookstores of the Future series in the #noticed category


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Pin It on Pinterest