Earlier this spring, Michigan author Loreen Niewenhuis released her most recent book, a travelogue of her journey around the Great Lakes called A 1000-Mile Great Lakes Walk (Crickhollow Books), with an unusual arrangement: for two months before it was available on Amazon, from April until June, the book was available only from 12 Michigan independent bookstores.
"I think the independents are vital to keeping literature and reading alive," said Niewenhuis, whose story of walking the entire perimeter of Lake Michigan, A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach, was published in 2011. "Independents embraced it, and made it a bestseller in the heartland. As a thank you to them, and as a way to support them, I decided to get them books two months before Amazon had access."
Niewenhuis is not at all shy about her opinions of the online giant. In May, Niewenhuis wrote a blogpost bluntly titled "Amazon is Evil," and the Amazon listings of her books feature short notes thanking customers for taking a look at the book, but imploring them to buy from an independent store instead. Remarked Niewenhuis, chuckling: "I don't think they've noticed, but it's there."
Great Lakes Walk had its launch party at Brilliant Books, the indie in Traverse City, Mich., and during the two months before the book was widely available, Niewenhuis visited as many participating indies as she could. "I love the independents," she said. "Many of these owners are my friends now. I've worked very closely with them, done events at their stores, given lectures in their communities where they can sell books. I really consider myself a partner with indies."
|Niewenhuis's book launch at Brilliant Books
Jessilynn Norcross, of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, spoke warmly of Niewenhuis. "She's been a big advocate for the store, and all of the indie stores in the north [of Michigan]. We know her, our customers know her. She's done a lot."
"It's such a boost to independents," said Gloria Tiller, owner of Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo. "In terms of publicity, it was great. And in every newsletter she sends out, she talks about how great all of these indies are for the industry."
"She was able to get the word out in the community in a way that most self-published or small press authors haven't really been able to do," said Hilary Lowe, co-owner of the newly opened Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Niewenhuis reached out to the fledgling bookstore owners, and in May gave a presentation there about her walk around the Great Lakes. Lowe drew a sharp contrast between Niewenhuis, who was extremely organized and proactive and published by Crickhollow Books in Milwaukee, and most self-published authors, who "spew Amazon stats at us."
Although many authors have inquired about her pre-release arrangement with indies, Niewenhuis has not heard of any other authors replicating it. She hopes to do it again whenever her next book comes out, but on a larger scale, and will give indies a further advantage with marketing and promotion.
"If it catches on, that would be fantastic," said Niewenhuis. "Authors in general need to think about how they're getting their books to people. They need to think about how to make connections, not just about 'I need to sell my book.' How you sell your book is just as important." --Alex Mutter