Thursday, May 31, 2012

Leaving the bookstore......again

This is an update to my original blogpost

Okay, I must admit to my own naiveté –I truly thought that if I wrote a good book (compelling, well structured, well edited, etc) AND I did Social media, bookstore signings, speaking engagements, etc that the book would sell. I wasn’t expecting it to make the bestseller list, only to pay the costs of writing, publishing and promoting it, with a little left over.   I honestly believed in the American dream of being an entrepreneur…and seeing some measure of success….

I was willing to do the work
·         I blogged (boy did I blog!)
·         I wrote and published articles, poems and smaller books first
·         I did team signings with other authors
·         I joined writers organizations
·         I attended writing seminars
·         I pitched book ideas and excerpts to publishers, agents, etc
·         I read other authors in my genre
·         I became an expert in my book’s  topic
·         I attended local writing groups
·         I created a website for myself as an author and for my  book
·         I learned about SEO and content management, Wordpress, ….
·         I did volunteer work for literary organizations
          I even became a member of the board for one group  
·         I handed out business cards and postcards and more –
·         I enlisted my family and friends in reading and talking about the book
·         I gave seminars to other writers on publishing, marketing, etc
·         I made writing my second  career
·         I took time away from my family, my hobbies, and my budget –to
             support my new career
·         I used my vacation time to do book related events
·         I exhausted the patience of family and friends who heard about 
              details of my book and my writing career –and almost nothing
              else—for years…
·         I tried every option I could find and afford….and some I really
                 couldn’t  afford

Other writers asked how I was getting all of this done….and I smiled and said I was driving myself because I was serious about my writing career and being successful as an author. 
And after all of that, did the book sell?  Yes..and no…
It is selling more copies than my previous books , but is not even approaching a breakeven point
Sales have lagged as the initial launch is over and family and friends have purchased their copies –I have worked with each local bookstore individually to get them to carry the book—some via Ingram (returnable) some on consignment. I have saturated the retail venues….in the local area , and I have few funds to move outside of the local area….
I still believe in the book and in my own skill as an author. I believe there are readers who would be interested in the book, but may not be specifically searching for it….and I wonder if I need to change the books description (metadata), or BISAC categories, etc—but each of these has a cost…and the book has yet to breakeven. 
I am the person who encouraged others to write and publish their books, who believed they (and I ) could succeed against the odds….and I now know I was wrong…
How did I get here and where do I go now? 
I made some discoveries about the REAL process of how books are sold…in bookstores….
I thought that if I went with a publisher who could get my book into the catalogs of the major book wholesalers and distributors --that would get it noticed…..WRONG!
I thought that bookstore buyers actually looked at the catalog and that my book would be listed with the other books of its genre—biography—on a level playing field….WRONG!
I thought that having the book be returnable would mean that bookstores would “take a chance” on it WRONG! …

It turns out that even though it is returnable, because it is Print on Demand (POD) the bookstores internal computers systems may still code it as non returnable...and it gets "lumped in" with all the other POD books that are not even considered because bookstores have limited space, and if they bring in nonreturnabe books, and they don't sell, they lose money
I thought that if I published it on the date of  a well known anniversary—related to the subject of the book—that media outlets would be interested in this untold story and would cover the story ….WRONG!
I thought the local newspaper might be interested in the tie in between me as a local author, or the subject of the bioggraphy and local connections...  WRONG!

So, I wasn't right about much!
Here are the realities
1)      Catalog listings-for the distribution outlets  (like Ingram and Baker & Taylor)
a.       POD books are listed in the BACK of the catalog –in a separate
          section that book buyers rarely even read
b.      Book buyers (bookstores. Distributors, etc) do not search this
          section –unless they are browsing, and then they are unlikely
          to truly consider POD form an unknown author regardless of
          the topic

2)      Returns
a.       The publisher I used, Lightning Source (LSUS) –which is one of the few that offer returns at a reasonable rate, does list the book as returnable, but because the bookstore systems often “define” POD books as nonreturnable, they are often not “seen” as returnable unless the author points that out to each bookstore..

3)      Bookstore placement is not at the discretion of the bookstore management-it is quite often negotiated at the corporate or ownership level
a.       Publishing houses use the services of sales agents/ distribution companies-to pitch their books ; this is how the bookstores buy –they do not select their own merchandise from a catalog –for most purchases
b.      Book Distributors/sales
         i.       pay to get their books into the catalogs,
         ii.      they pay to get their books placed in specific sections of the stores,
         iii.      they pay  to get posters, etc placed on the stores;
         iv.      they pay for radio and tv advertising
          v.      they pay for special displays and the placement of those displays
         vi.      there is little room for indie books—
        vii.      a small amount of discretion remains with local bookstore management and they use if carefully
4)      Bookstore signings do not attract the public as they did in the past
a.       More stores are charging fees  to authors and attendees
b.      It is more difficult to get a slot unless you are a celebrity or with a major publishing house
c.       There is better success with a team of authors, but still minimal attendance and interest
d.      There is less interest today in attending readings and signings of unknown /local authors

5)      Bookstore browsing vs inventory
a.       There are fewer reasons to go to a bookstore today and fewer reasons to browse and buy
     i.      Fewer places to sit and read
                    ii.      Fewer selections of books on the shelf—less inventory
                    iii.      Fewer book clubs, etc being hosted –less visibility to printed books

6)      Strategic partnerships are  blocking out the indie author
a.       Amazon shows LSUS books as “out of stock” (they are not)—they are POD and available, but Amazon shows them this way to try and get the buyer to select another “Amazon” published book or one where Amazon makes more of a profit
b.      Barnes and Noble will not carry books in their stores which are published via CreateSpace or any other Amazon imprint (competition)
c.       BAMM won’t carry books in their stores which are distributed by Ingram—only Baker & Taylor –(Thoer selected distributor)
d.      Baker and Taylor only offers books they select —LSUS sends all book info to B&T, but they only place it in their catalog
                                     i.      if it’s from a mainstream publisher
                            ii.      if you are part of a publishing network they recognize (paid membership)
                          iii.      if you apply to them and pay) for each book you want them to consider

7)      Marketing –it’s all about the marketing—not the advertising
a.       Today, it’s about building a relationship with potential buyers---letting them know who you are—often without actually meeting you –and about drawing their interest in you
b.      It takes strong relationships –to get books brought into EACH store  or
c.       It takes innovative relationships to attract the market

8)      Platform
a.       Like a political platform -the declared principles, aims, etc, of a political party, an organization, or an individual or author build their platform
b.      The primary element is that you have to create the demand BEFORE you sell the book, so there needs to be a demand before you writ e it and publish it

9)      There is an industry lock out for indies
a.       Although there are more options for publishing –than 20 years ago
b.      And more options for distribution –than 20 years ago
c.       There are fewer options for traditional publishing
d.      And it is more difficult to find a niche market—due to saturation
e.      There is less opportunity to learn from mistakes –what is placed on the web remains forever
Bottom Line
It’s a business, not a community; It’s all about profits and promotion
It is more important in the marketplace to have strong marketing than to have an extraordinary book
It’s all about “selling the sizzle” not the steak
Unless you are very lucky, It’s all about who you know and who they know
And about how much money and time you are willing to invest in
·         cultivating relationships with bookstore managers/owners
·         trying out events to find the best options for attracting  readers (some authors do well with local flea markets/swap meets; other do well with home shows and cooking demonstrations; some do well with jewelry store tie ins (example author JT Ellison whose crime novel included a diamond ring), etc
·         building and expanding your speaking engagements
And make no mistake; it is expensive –and exhausting

Yet, I want to continue to write and sell, even if it is only to a few, so I will now move to ebooks, less cost, more possibility of directly reaching readers

Another author leaves the bookstore…..

This is an update to my original blogpost

On May 5, 2012 I was part of a team book reading and signing at Parnassus Books in Green Hills.  In prepration for the event, Parnassus ordered 18 copies of my book. (Most bookstores order 6-8) . None were sold during the event, and now, just 3  weeks later, All have been returned- it appears that was little effort to stock/sell the book.  While I do understand that the bookstores need to limit their inventory, none of the other bookstores that ordered the book retunred them in 3 weeks!  

Also, for those of you who (like me) made your books returnable to entice the bookstores to carry them, you should be aware that this one returned order cancelled out ALL previous profits from this book and put me back in the red .  Just another reminder of the validity of my recent decision to do no more printed books.  Lesson learned.  Hopefully, some of you will learn from my sharing, and avoid these costly attempts at bookselling. 

To date, the publishing costs (and now return handling costs) of this book have far exceeded any returns. 

And this is a book that is receiving 4 - 5 star reviews and excellent feedback. 

Leaving the bookstore...again.....

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