Pink and By Blood Written

Last night, under a cold, big, but less than full moon, I drove over to the Cool Springs Barnes and Noble for Writers’ Night, shared a few laughs with local writers Angela (Romance) and Michael (Crime, Mystery), and listened to Steven Womack speak about writing and publishing. His newest is By Blood Written.

Steven Womack

Steven told a frightening thing that happened to him after his 1996 book Chain of Fools, with a plot set in the dark underbelly of the entertainment business in Nashville. He did considerable research for the book and discovered that a lot of college girls were working in the massage parlors and clubs, putting themselves through school, because they could earn a lot of money — $500 per night, as opposed to $7.50 per hour selling shoes at the mall. His character was a wealthy girl from Belle Meade, murdered by her boyfriend at the end of the novel. Not long after the book came out, two MTSU coeds were brutally murdered at a massage parlor in downtown Nashville. The killer is still at large. After three months of investigations, the head of homicide called Steven one day. He said they’d gotten a tip on the murder — an anonymous caller to Crime Stoppers. The caller said that the murder scene was too reminiscent of the murder scene in Womack’s book … and that Steven did it. [That could ruin your day.] Long story short, he didn’t do it, and authorities knew it.

After that bit of suspense, Steven discussed how the publishing industry continues to go through a major revolution. It’s a numbers-driven business. Publishers are throwing tremendous numbers behind authors who deliver, and then offering bargain-priced books. He pulled a few off the end cap beside him and called out the prices — a Janet Evanovich for $4.98, a Stephen King for $6.98. Four factors influencing the change in the industry are:

1) The rise of big box stores and chains. Like Costco and Wal-mart. They dictate to publishers what they will put in their stores. They offer a few dozen titles — and sell truckloads of those — at rock-bottom prices.
2) The rise of amazon.com. They make it e-e-easy. Boy, do I know that! And they come after you! “Because you bought So-and-So, you may be interested in Thus-and-Such.”
3) The decline of independent booksellers. It’s hard for a Mom & Pop to stay in business. It has to find an alternate niche other than the selling of new and classic titles. He mentioned Landmark Booksellers in Franklin as a successful independent, with its collection of old, used, and rare books.
4) Fewer distributors. There are six, with Ingram and Baker & Taylor being prominent. Here’s how it works. Ingram buys books from the publisher at 40%, the payment due in 120 days. Booksellers pay 60% to Ingram, due in 30 days. On Day 29, they can pack up and return all the books that haven’t sold, so they don’t have to pay. On Day 119 Ingram can send the books back to the publisher. Got it? If you do get a book on the shelf, it has a month of life.

Steven affirmed self-publishing. Because of print-on-demand technology, it’s doable, and it’s an acceptable way to go. [Hey, I knew that.] You’ve got to work it like a business, though, which goes against the grain of most writers. We like to sit alone in a dark room; we don’t like to sell. But, sell, we must. So, with that being said, please take a look at my [memoir/essay] book, Pink Butterbeans: Stories from the heart of a Southern woman.

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