Patricia Nell Warren

The LGBT Book: Still a Lifesaver, Still a Bargain

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | December 09, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: gay books, gay bookstores, Lambda Book Report, Lambda Rising, LGBT authors, LGBT books, LGBT bookstores

Yesterday Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover's recommend of Mitchell Gold's book Crisis: 40 Stories points up the extreme importance of our supporting the LGBT book business. If not Gold's book, then consider giving some other title as a gift. Why the urgency? Because the book industry is in serious trouble. Recent news stories in Variety and other publications reveal what professionals in the biz have known for some time. Even Barnes & Noble and Borders are in trouble. Which means that niche book markets, like our own, are in big trouble too. We're being hit by everything from shoppers cutting back to readers reading less.

Disclosure: I'm an author and publisher, so I'm tooting my own industry's horn here. But I can't stand by and say nothing while one of our oldest cultural treasures teeters on the brink. For years I've watched the problems creeping up on us. Like the gay and lesbian bookstores quietly going out of business. Fifteen years ago, when my business partner and I first launched Wildcat Press, there were around 300 LGBT and LGBT-friendly bookstores dotting the U.S. Now our bookstore list has shrunk to just 62. Many of our national gay media have stopped reviewing books, and their ad rates are now so high that most of us LGBT publishers can't even afford to advertise to our own book-buying public.

Now, suddenly, with the whole U.S. economy in crisis, LGBT book sales are down the way everything else is down. Sharp-eyed observers notice that the "gay section" has all but disappeared from chain stores. Some people are left wondering where they can even find an LGBT book to buy.

The LGBT book deserves more respect and support from us! Along with bars and a few early organizations, bookstores were among the community pioneers -- the ones that fostered the LGBT rights movement and the growth of our local business communities. Time was, that every LGBT enclave in every city had its crowded bookstore, often with a popular coffeehouse attached. Writers and publishers were dealing with life-and-death LGBT themes long before the film industry dared to deal with them. A book could save someone's sanity or sense of humor. A book could even save a life.

In short, books were there for us when we needed them, whether they were health information or stories screaming to be told. Now it's time for us to be there for books.

Dollar for dollar, a book is still one of the thriftiest holiday gifts you can buy. And the right book at the right place and time still has the power to save a life.

So ...do you want to buy Gold's book and are wondering where to find it? If you don't know of a local gay- or lesbian-owned bookstore to go to, the Web is now the best place to locate a book-buying venue. If it's not within driving distance, you can use a credit card and have your book shipped direct to yourself or a recipient. A fairly complete list of existing bookstores can be found at the Lambda Literary Foundation website.

A few bookstores still have websites with a book-sales feature -- like Lambda Rising in Washington D.C. .

How do you find out the hot titles? Many bookstores sell our trade magazine, Lambda Book Report, which is published by the Lambda Literary Foundation . It has a bestseller list that is broken down into many categories. The Lambda Literary Foundation is our one and only resource for book buying and publishing information.

The popular website, AfterElton.com, also has a gay bestseller list, along with a page full of book reviews and articles about authors.

If you see the hit film Milk and want to know more about this heroic gay political figure of the Sixties and Seventies, you can read Randy Shilts' classic biography The Mayor of Castro Street. which is #1 on the gay bestseller list after many years in print. You can also get the movie's screenplay, Milk: The Shooting Script by Dustin Lance Black, just out from Newmarket Press. You should be able to find both books easily.

If you google the name of your favorite author, you might find an independent-press website or an author website where his or her books are sold. You might even get an autographed copy that way.

Probably the most comprehensive place to search is Amazon.com's gay/lesbian 100 topsellers list. These are the 100 fiction and nonfiction books that are moving right now on the Amazon rankings, which are updated hourly.

Some LGBT people object to buying from Amazon on grounds that big online booksellers have helped to put independent bookstores out of business. On the other hand, people in many LGBT communities today find that they simply don't have a gay bookstore to patronize now. Indeed, their town or neighborhood may have lost its non-gay-but-gay-friendly independent bookstore too. And -- at the rate Barnes & Noble and Borders are closing stores -- there may not be a chain store to patronize either!

So, for many, the only place to buy is online. I'd rather have our people buy from Amazon than not buy at all. After all, Amazon does showcase and sell a lot of LGBT titles. It's easy for self-publishing authors to get their titles listed through the Amazon Advantage program. Amazon's LGBT listings can be viewed all over the world -- in Canada, the UK, the EU, Australia, and a variety of languages. So I'm glad that Amazon supports us.

In short, the LGBT book is in the same situation as Tinkerbelle in the Peter Pan story. She is dwindling dangerously -- but if enough people believe in her and clap their hands, she'll brighten up and get her own new lease on life.

So clap your hands for books, everybody...and put as many books as you can on your holiday gift list.


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I ordered it on Amazon. It got rave reviews especially as a resource for young people feeling alone and suicide prevention. Just a bit over $16.00. There is a note at Amazon: Please tell the publisher:
I’d like to read this book on Kindle

One of my discoveries after moving to the NYC area was The Oscar Wilde Memorial Booksore, which I found to be a delight.

Yes, we are losing large parts of what used to be intergral and rpecious to our community, Patricia...the bookstores, to a Lesbian first coming out, were a treasure trove beyond price...

Yes, the women's bookstores have taken a big hit. In the Los Angeles area, they are all gone.

Lucky for us, the Oscar Wilde Bookstore is still there in New York City! It was the first gay bookstore that I ever visited...which was in 1973.

Some small magazines have useful reviews: The Harvard Gay Book Review (can't remember its official name - Gay and Lesbian Book Review? - but it reviews mostly gay, a few lesbian, very occasional transgender-oriented books), Women's Review of Books (some lesbian), Ms. and Bitch(some lesbian - more popularly oriented than WRB). I can't speak to the book review content of the transgender-oriented magazines.

The Advocate and gender-specific glossies are not the place to go for book reviews - too few to really matter.

Yes, thank heavens for the smaller LGBT publications that still do book reviews...and we could mention a few others too. Including the book review service Books To Watch Out For.

My main reason for shopping online is just price. The local store always charges full price and I can save quite a bit of cash by ordering via Amazon. I wish they'd lower the price a bit so I could support them, but I just can't pay that much for as many books as I buy. I just bought 5 books via Amazon; I saved almost $50 off the list price by ordering through them. That's a good chunk to still have in my pocket...

Yes, the competition of online discounts (and chainstore discounts too) has been very hard on the independent bookstores, who seldom are able to compete with those deep discounts. I admit to buying books from Amazon myself, especially with books I need for research.

There are some things about the Amazon MO that set them apart, and give them an edge over even the conventional discount stores like Barnes & Noble. They don't buy much from wholesalers. Instead, they try to buy direct from publishers, but they ask to get a wholesale price. They also avoid that costly, stupid, generalized industry practice of "returning overstock." Instead, they buy very conservatively, every few days, and order again when it looks like their little stock on the shelf is going to run out. So they never return books, and save themselves a lot on the warehousing end. Small publishers like Wildcat appreciate dealing with Amazon because we don't get returns stuffed down our throats the way we do when dealing with big wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Amazon's streamlined model is one of the reasons why they can give you those fantastic prices. And it points up all the complications of why the book business is on the ropes right now. It can't just be reduced to a couple of reasons like "fewer people read books" and "big bad chain stores put the independent bookstores out of business."

beachcomberT | December 10, 2008 5:03 AM

Thanks, Patricia, for giving pointers on finding GLBT books. I'd like to point out, though, that Amazon is not the entire online bookselling universe. There are many competing marketplaces -- eBay, Abebooks.com, Biblio.com, IOBAbooks.com, tomfolio.com, alibris.com, to name a few. You can also use search engines like bookfinder.com and addall.com to do price comparisons quickly for any title that interests you. Sometimes you can find books for free. Pardon the plug, but my own tiny online bookstore, KingChamp Books, has been giving away GLBT books at Pride events and gay-friendly churches since it started 7 years ago.

Thanks for listing some other online resources. There is www.barnesandnoble.com too. A number of the big indie bookstores maintain websites too, like Powell's.

For used books, there is also bookfinder.com. (I do need to mention that development of the used-book market is one of the things that is killing the market for new books -- today a new front-list title hasn't been out a month before "used copies" are being offered by all these online services at a fraction of the price. But hey, I buy used books too.)

Hurray for you for giving away books! My own publishing imprint, Wildcat Press, donates used books to public and school libraries, community-center and organization libraries, and fund-raising events.

I single out Amazon because of the features they offer. Namely the huge diversity of LGBT titles, and the gay & lesbian 100 topsellers list, which makes it easy for buyers to browse and identity the hot and current books. Also their subsidiary topsellers lists, like biographies and history. And the ease with which a self-publishing author or new small press can get their titles listed.

And now, by owning the publishing service BookSurge, Amazon makes it easier for self-publishers to get a foothold in the marketplace. BookSurge titles are automatically listed on Amazon worldwide, as well as sold through Barnes & Noble, who works with Amazon.

Yes! These books are good for the community, and there are so many out there that there's no reason we shouldn't have books that speak to us.

I just hope that improved education will mean that people go back to reading books. There was a time when most people didn't read, and it was called the Dark Ages for a reason!