I first met LINDA KELLER at Lori Foster’s Reader Author Get Together in Cincinnati several years ago. Linda and Lori, along with author Dianne Castell, put an incredible amount of work into this fabulous annual event. As a Barnes & Noble bookseller, Linda has won numerous awards, and is extremely well-respected for both her knowledge and her willingness to help authors. Today she brings us part one of her three-part mini-series on publishing, from a bookseller’s perspective.
I. In the beginning…writers wrote books.
Nope, this isn’t about how to get your book published. And it isn’t about the new epub opportunities for digital authors. That is relevant, but we’re gonna talk bookstores. Bricks and mortars. The smell of books. The feel of books in your hand. The art of hand-selling.
We know change is continuous. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s misleading. I’ve discussed this before in my workshops, so I’ll jump in right now – print-on-demand (POD) publishing choices affect an author’s career when it comes to having your book on the shelf. I understand digital publishing and ereaders. I get that’s the new face of the book industry. I’ll have a few thoughts for digital authors later on. Right now, I’m focusing on those individuals wanting their book in print and in the bookstore.
The majority of print-on-demand publishers do not make their authors’ books returnable for the brick and mortar stores. Books have to be returnable through the same acquisition process used to order a book for on-the-shelf inventory. Books not selling need to be returned to make room for new merchandise. As many as 600 boxes of books arrive at a store in a week, and they all have to find homes out on the floor.
If the POD process is your choice, at least you’ll have the brick & mortar perspective. If small press publishers use POD technology, or don’t use a distributor participating in the return process the company requires, the books are listed as “Prepaid Only”, and “nonreturnable”. “Prepaid Only” means the store is more than happy to order the book, but the customer has to pay for it first, and the book is generally shipped to the customer’s home.
Prepaid Only was a business decision Barnes & Noble had to make. They couldn’t know about or carry every single title published. As long as the book was on bn.com, we were more than happy to order the book for our customers, doing our best to provide excellent customer service and never requiring the customer to pay for orders until the book arrived and the customer could look at it, determining it was indeed what they wanted.
Sadly, people took advantage of great customer service. It became a nationwide problem costing thousands and thousands of dollars. The problem? Authors and their friends, knowing the author’s POD book would never be on the shelves as browseable merchandise, call a store, place an order for the non-returnable book, give a bogus phone number, thinking if no one picked up the book, the store would have to put it on the shelf to sell, thus – browseable merchandise. It backfired. Stores talked to each other and email notices were sent to stores and home office received notification of these scams. And at this point, scams they were.
The ones caught in the middle are you and your readers. Any book a store checks for availability and marked “non-returnable” is listed “prepay only” and “ship to home”. Customers have to pay for the book(s) first; either at the register or over the phone with a credit card and the order isn’t released for ship to home until the payment transaction is finished at the register.
Barnes & Noble’s Small Press Department has guidelines and criteria for you as an author or you as a small press publisher, in getting your book(s) in B&N stores. (email me, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the paperwork).
This is why it is incredibly important for authors to ask the right questions to make sure publishers understand and are willing to make the returns process a reality. Make the process work for you, not against you. Don’t give away the book of your heart with out being sure whom you’re giving it to.
A word about self-publishing is in order here. When you decide to self-publish, you are the publisher and sales force. It will be your responsibility to contract with a distributor (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc.) to handle your books and make them returnable if you want to work with a brick and mortar. The percentage a distributor gets to handle your book can range from 40 to 55%. I know many self-published authors who turned their backs on contracting with a distributor thinking they could make the same sales themselves. You can recognize them. Their cars are in their driveways because the garage is full of boxes of unsold books.
Let’s talk digital. This is a tough confession for me, but I was an ebook snob. Of course, the ebooks I dealt with were the 3.5 floppy disks. Remember them? That was the ebook and the only place to read it was on your computer. Couldn’t get ‘em in the store for signings, couldn’t sell them for authors. Couldn’t order them. Times have changed. Devices have changed. E-readers are multi-functional, classy looking, as much an accessory of your busy day as your cell phone.
Readers’ keeper shelves look different…they’re out *there* in cyberspace. Readers can hang on to a lot more books now. Think about this…when you hold a book in your hands, you see the size of the author’s efforts. You look at 400 pages of words and appreciate the hard work of writing the story. What do you see when you hold an ereader? Does this diminish the reader’s appreciation for the author’s efforts? Just wondering…
Somethin’ to think about…
• Verify publishers you submit to make the books returnable the proper way.
• Be very, very cautious when doing a keyword search for “publishers”.
• Check the shelves at your bookstore or library for genres and publishers who interest you.
• If you accept a publisher’s conditions for the sake of having your name on the cover of a book, understand you may have just made your career path very rocky.
II. Let’s talk Publishers’ Reps.
When I was a Community Relations Manager, I was asked how often publishers’ reps came to my store, promoting their upcoming releases. The truth was I probably saw less than four or five reps in the ten years I worked in books. I received visits and phone calls from publicists, but not the sales representatives. The reps I did meet were from small, local publishers, but I received a ton of promotional material from a boatload of publishers – small and large. The pieces of mail I really enjoyed were the catalogs, Spring and Fall releases. It was always a plus to know about new releases.
Sales representatives generally visit the corporate offices of the major book retailers. Most sales people have specialties…like romance, mystery, children’s books, etc., and specific buyers at the chains are the ones they focus on. They go in armed with projected sales figures, marketing plans, and promotional ideas, but they know exactly what they’re doing and whom they want to talk to. When an editor decides on purchasing your manuscript, the sales department at the publishing house becomes the editor’s partner because the editor has to convince the sales people your manuscript will make money. That’s the same information and ammunition the reps need to deal with retailers.
This is why an author can have an edge in the submission process by having a terrific marketing plan of his or her own and have a solid social media platform. If you can show your editor you know how to help the sales department sell your book, you’ve become a very savvy addition to the team. Remember, your work isn’t finished when you write “The End” or get “the CALL”. You’ll soon discover the writing was the fun part.
Somethin’ to think about…
1. No matter where you are in the writing process, think about the sales punch your book can have. Make the social media outlets, the internet, every aspect of branding and marketing work for you.
2. Make a list of five ideas to jump-start your sales on a local level.
3. Phenomenal writing aside, list three reasons your book is a smart investment for the publisher.
4. List three reasons the sales department would say “no” and have a response for each. (Rule #1 of warfare – know your enemy.)
5. Even if book one isn’t finished, take a day to think about book two and develop a three or four sentence marketing tie-in with book one.
Authors, Linda will join us on Wednesday to answer your questions. Do you understand how book placement works? Do you know how to set up a book signing? Bring your questions and join us again tomorrow.
Check back Wednesday for part 2 of Linda Keller’s 3-part mini-series!
Linda Keller is a three-time award winning bookseller and retired Community Relations Manager for Barnes & Noble. She was the 2006 Central Ohio Fiction Writers’ Bookseller of the Year, 2007 RWA Steffie Walker Bookseller of the Year, and 2010 Central Ohio Fiction Writers Lifetime Achievement recipient.
She uses her 20 plus year knowledge of the industry, love of the romance genre, and experience from her years of workshop presentations, including “The Other Side of the Bookshelf” and “Crucial Things to Know BEFORE You Publish” to help published and unpublished authors understand the publishing process as it relates to the retail and wholesale side of the business. She shares information designed to guide writers to finding a publisher, submitting their manuscript, the consequences of publishing choices on their career, the process of publishing and more.
In addition to coaching the craft/industry side, she breaks down in easy to understand language the retail side of the book culture offering best practices for signings based on over 100 book signings in 10 years, including at least three yearly multi-author signings hosting with over 50 authors each time. She has hosted over 80 fiction-writing workshops presented by published authors and industry professionals and continues to coach and encourage writers. Follow Linda on Facebook.
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- The Other Side of the Bookshelf: Part 2
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