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Why Didn’t Borders Want Your Book?

Andrew Wheeler, a marketing manager at Wiley, has a long, thoughtful essay about why the national chain bookstores don’t order every book published, including some books by imprints at the biggest conglomerates. “I market books for a living, so I can tell you an unpleasant truth: the order for any book, from any account, starts at zero,” Wheeler warns. “The publisher’s sales rep walks in the door with tipsheets and covers, past sales figures and promotional plans, to convince that bookseller’s buyer to buy that book… Sometimes, that buyer is not convinced, and the order stays at zero.”

“Generally, for a hardcover or trade paperback that’s not being pitched for something promotional… you’re talking about whether the order is one, two, or maybe three copies per store,” he explains—but there’s also the possibility that they’ll only order inventory for the stores that sell that book’s category best. And it goes without saying that an author’s past performance will factor into the store buyer’s consideration—looking at the two prominent Borders “skips” of books in the science fiction genre that prompted Wheeler’s explanation, the decisions appear purely numbers-based, brutal but economically sound from the store’s standpoint. And, as Tobias Buckell notes, those decisions are entirely top-down: “Borders stores for the most part aren’t allowed to respond to in-house movement, and are not very independent,” Buckell, who saw his latest novel skipped, says. “At a signing recently a Borders employee who handsells my book told me they were not allowed to bring Sly Mongoose in store, despite their desire to sell it, and had purchased a copy of my book from another store to have me sign it.”

But, Wheeler warns, indignant fans shouldn’t necessarily be so quick to stop buying any books at Borders; as he dryly comments, “Getting [science fiction and fantasy] readers to move their business away from Borders is exceptionally unlikely to get Borders to start stocking [science fiction and fantasy] in more depth.”

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