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Interior view of Indigo bookstore in Toronto.

Having already done three book-signing events at Saskatoon's McNally Robinson bookstore in support of his regional bestseller, The Saskatchewan Book of Musts, author D. Grant Black balked when asked to pay a $25 fee prior to appearing at a fourth, pre-Christmas signing this month.

The ask was "a bit of a kick in the teeth for me," Black said recently from his home in Wakaw, Sask. His was the 10th-bestselling title in the store in 2010, according to the author. "I beat out Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, who lives in Saskatoon," he says. "I beat out Eat, Pray, Love."

Told he had only escaped paying the same fee for previous signings due to "billing errors," Black cancelled the scheduled event. "It just looks like nickel and diming to me," he said, "and I think they should take a hard look at that policy."

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Although squeezed booksellers are under increasing pressure to "make events revenue-bearing," bookstore owner Paul McNally said in an interview, the $25 appearance fee is not a response. "It's not a fee," he explained, rather a share of the costs involved in promoting events. "And we've been doing it for a million years."

Other booksellers expressed surprise at the practice. Chapters/Indigo stores "encourage author participation wholeheartedly," company spokeswoman Janet Eger said in an e-mail, "and do not charge publicity fees to host."

Toronto bookseller Ben McNally (no relation) expressed astonishment that colleagues would be charging authors fees to appear. "These are the people you depend on for your livelihood," he said. "I can't imagine doing something like that."

Event co-ordinators at his two Prairie stores are "given some latitude" to decide who pays such fees, according to Paul McNally. "If someone is just starting out and has a very low budget they have discretion to waive very low fees like that," he said. "But you do end up with some inconsistencies, which is unfortunate."

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