Missing in Action
I spent an afternoon recovering at the home of poet Linda Addison before my next signing at the Barnes and Noble in Tucson, and during that time, I’d begun to mull over something important. Before I tell you what it is, we have to backtrack a bit.
A decade ago, you could find my books in any bookstore. Indeed, most Borders and Barnes and Noble carried a few copies of each book in my backlist, thus creating a Brian Keene shelf, right next to Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. I can’t tell you how crucial this was to increasing my audience. If you’re a customer browsing the horror section (or even the alphabetical K section) your eyes are naturally going to be drawn to an entire row of books written by the same person, rather than a lone book by a lone author.
When myself, J.F. Gonzalez, Mary SanGiovanni, Bryan Smith, and others in our field killed Leisure/Dorchester to save the genre (and ourselves), those Brian Keene sections went away. Since then, readers have been unable to find my books in stores. That’s because many of the publishers I have since signed with—Deadite Press, Apex Book Company, Thunderstorm Books, etc.—don’t have distribution into those stores. And that’s okay. In truth, I make more money from Deadite than I ever made from Leisure (and I was one of Leisure’s top-paid authors) because of Deadite’s distribution. They sell directly to readers and through Amazon, which means I get paid every month, rather than waiting ninety days or more for the bookstore chains to pay them. And since they are selling their books to readers at full price, rather than at a discount for the bookstores, I get paid a much bigger cut of the cover price.
And that’s the way it has been for many years now, starting with the publication of my first post-Leisure novel, Entombed. I’ve released a dozen plus books since then, and none of them have been available in bookstores. Based on my sales and social media imprint, I had assumed all this time that my former bookstore readers had followed along with me, and were now buying those books via Amazon or on Kindle.
But I was wrong.
Yes, my post-Leisure sales stayed the same (and even increased, somewhat). But it wasn’t older readers following me into the brave new digital publishing landscape. It was newer, younger readers discovering me for the first time. Many older readers hadn’t followed me at all, because they were unaware I had continued writing and publishing.
I have seen the proof of this over and over again, at every signing. Readers age thirty-five and younger bring Deadite paperbacks they’ve ordered online, or pick up a copy of Pressure or The Complex and tell me they already read it on their Kindle, but want to get a signed copy. They follow me on social media, and are completely up-to-date on what I’ve been up to. Readers over the age of forty bring a stack of Leisure paperbacks for me to sign, and they comment that it’s nice to see me back in bookstores again. (Keep in mind, Pressure is published by a mainstream publisher, meaning bookstores carry it, the way they used to carry my Leisure titles). They are under the impression that Pressure is the first thing I have written since A Gathering of Crows (my last Leisure novel). They ask me if I’ll ever write a third book in The Rising series, completely unaware that books three and four have been available for several years now. These are readers who are not social media savvy, who don’t use Kindle or other e-book readers, and who vastly prefer to find their books the old-fashioned way—by perusing the shelves at their local bookstore. They are readers who I mistakenly left behind—readers who I didn’t even know I had lost.
And now that I’ve found them again, I need to figure out how to reconnect.
I saw the same dynamics in play the next night at The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix. A standing-room only crowd showed up to see Stephen Coonts, Ben Coes, Weston Ochse, and myself. Half the crowd were over the age of forty, and happy to see me apparently writing novels again. The other half were under thirty-five, and happy that I had never stopped writing novels.
(And yes, I know there are people over the age of forty who are well-aware that I didn’t retire, and have been buying all my stuff, but you guys are super-fans, and the data above doesn’t apply to you. And bless you for that).
The Phoenix signing was supposed to be over at nine. I signed until around ten-thirty. Then I hung out a bit longer with Weston, Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm Books, and author Joe Nassise, who I hadn’t seen in years. Then it was time to hit the road again. High school football coach Tod Clark was my companion for the next part of the drive. As he and I climbed into his truck and drove off into the desert, I presented him with my findings and data.
I had to stay with the independent presses like Deadite and Apex and Thunderstorm. But I also needed to stay with at least one mainstream publisher, lest people think I’d disappeared again.
An hour out of Phoenix, something large and hairy and bestial ran across the road, eyes shining in our headlights. It might have been a coyote. Or a Chupacabra. Or an omen of things to come…
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.