Any self-published author who has tried will affirm how difficult it is to get a self-published book into a bricks and mortar book store. Why? The following is a conglomeration of information, ideas and thoughts obtained from a variety of sites and places.
First, some of the concerns and problems surrounding this topic will be considered. Then ideas and thoughts on how self-publishing authors might be able to overcome these will be looked at.
Due to the costs involved, bookstores and retailers in general prefer not to deal with individual self-published authors. The same applies to libraries though this may be changing to some degree; some self-publishing sites e,g, Smashwords, now enable books to be added to library ordering lists.
What are these costs?
- When ordering through a major supplier a bookstore only has to deal with a few invoices, whereas dealing with individual authors would mean thousands of separate ones.
- Correspondence, including invoicing, with individuals would incur substantial amounts of stationary and paperwork.
- Organising the payment of bills one at a time as opposed to handling bulk orders.
- Print-On-Demand (most self-publishers use this method) is more expensive than offset printing (used for traditionally printed books). Some suggest this is not the case but generally most consider it to be so.
- Major suppliers have a returnable policy for traditionally published books whereas most self-published authors do not. Or, if they do, it can be complex.
- When a bookstore orders from a major supplier they are usually offered a 35-40% sometimes 45-55% discount. Self-publishing suppliers, including companies like Amazon only offer 25% or less. Bookstores consequently consider the profit margin too small to make the proposition viable.
- This might be a debatable point: Some stores state the retail price for a self-published book sometimes exceeds that for a similar traditionally published one. At first glance this may appear to be an erroneous statement. However, though e-books generally attract a low price tag, print-on-demand editions usually carry a higher one; the supplier e.g. Amazon, Ingram Spark, etc. has to cover paper, ink, labour and postal costs.
- Small booksellers have limited funds available and therefore cannot afford to pay out for a book if they are unsure it has sell potential.
The question of quality frequently comes up when self-published books are under discussion. Some, very unfairly, state all self-published books are rubbish. Of course this is not true. Admittedly there are probably a higher percentage where the quality is not as good as it might be but to generalise, as with anything, is inaccurate and inappropriate. Nevertheless, the following aspects are often referred to:
- Editing: Virtually every writing advisory site or individual emphasises the need for good editing. Of course this makes sense and every book, article, post etc. should have benefited from such. Authors are generally advised to employ a professional, external to them, editor and a proof-reader. This does however, raise difficulties for some. A large percentage of independent (indie) authors do not have the resources. Even if they do there can be other difficulties. For example: There have been accounts where an editor has requested a complete rewrite that omits much the author considers relevant and intrinsic to the book. In one case the author refused to comply and published without the editors input. Their book became a top bestseller and sold thousands. In another instance the editor changed five times with each having a different viewpoint. Despite these examples the advice stands; most books would benefit from professional editing. Nevertheless, how to afford one is another matter; there is a lot of work involved in editing which is reflected in the substantial fees payable.
- Cover Design: Many readers state, unless the cover catches their eye they will not consider a book: they will not even bother reading the synopsis. In reflection of this attitude, one small independent book retailer declared, if they did not consider a book cover attractive enough to cause customers to pick it of the shelf, they would not stock it. Whatever your opinion of this it is clear authors need to take great care with their cover designs.
- Internal layout: Some consider the layout of print-on-demand books to be inferior to that of traditionally printed ones. Even though it may be true in some instances it is an unjustified generalisation. Also, as has been observed by a few, there are ‘traditionally’ printed books, some by the large well known publishers, which contain errors and layout faults.
Other Bookstore Concerns:
- Market demand: One store made the following observation. If an author approached them direct, they would have to like the book and be sure there was a market demand for it. They would also need to receive the standard (35%-40%; 45%-55%) discount and then only accept the books on a returnable basis. This would undoubtedly prove too expensive for some, if not most, authors.
- Shelf Space: Small stores have limited space and therefore need to ensure they are using what they have to best advantage.
- Reject consequences: If they accepted some books but rejected others, authors of the latter may take umbrage. A handful of authors denouncing a bookstore on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media could seriously damage a small business. As hard as it is to accept authors would behave in this manner, it has apparently occurred.
- Business relations: Most bookstores prefer to deal with a publishing company/business rather than an individual. Probably because it is easier to sort any problem which may arise.
Are there any solutions?
For Bookstores and distributors:
- Invoice/billing problems: It has been suggested someone should design a software programme that deals with multiple customer invoices as well as correspondence. Such a programme would cut costs considerably, especially if automated. Certainly sounds a viable option.
- Relationships: Build relationships with local authors, author groups and reading groups. Will probably be surprised by what they find.
- Collectives: One idea put forward is for authors to combine together to form a major collective. Bookstores/distributors would only have one business to deal with. This, among other things, would reduce their multiple billing problem.
- Publishing Co: Another suggestion, to overcome bookstores’ reluctance to deal with individual authors, they, the author, set up their own publishing company. The suggestion was made by someone who has done this. They acknowledged it was odd to start with but it did work.
- Rapport: Visit local bookstores taking time to build a relationship with them without pushing their books. Once a relationship exists may be able to ask if they would carry their book(s). Authors must ensure their books are of good quality; must offer a proper discounted rate; accept provision of books will be on a returnable basis. If the store accepts, the author should undertake the provision of, and cover the costs of, refreshments for any book signing or other public promotional activity.
- Business incentive: Point out to local store(s), once a relationship exists, a substantial percentage of Amazon’s bestsellers were by self-published authors.
For most indie authors getting books into bricks and mortar bookstores has seemed an impossibility. However, as seen, it is possible though difficult. A lot of work and time is required, primarily in building relationships. Some have succeeded with local bookstores who find the ability to advertise a book as being by a ‘local’ author an incentive. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged for most indie authors it is unlikely they will get their books into these stores.