Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Valuable advice on self-publising in ALCS News

Let me draw your attention to a very well-rounded article by Caroline Sanderson in the current ALCS News.

I'm not here to give advice about self-publishing (though I could, having done it moderately successfully myself). What I want to do is flag up this bit, because it raises some points I'd like to emphasise for all writers:
"At the Society of Authors day, an alarming number of self-published authors who had visited local bookshops expecting to have their wares welcomed with open arms, expressed shock that discounts of 40 to 50% were routinely required. Well, welcome to the world of traditional publishing. Bookshops have to make money too, and often they don’t. They might take a punt on a new self-published author, and do a supportive favour to a local writer, but it's the author who should be obliged, not the bookseller. I was astonished by the number of authors who felt that the fact that they had published a book gave them an automatic right of entry onto the shelves of any bookshop."
Here are the points that occur from that paragraph:
  1. Bookshops only contain a tiny percentage of the books available. They have to choose the ones they think they can sell. Competition between books is huge.
  2. Space in a bookshop costs. Things have to sell, otherwise they are taking space (and therefore potential income) from the shop. If the shop knows it can sell a pile of Harry Potter books easily but a pile of Nicola Morgan books with greater difficulty, it would be wise (though arguably short-termist)  to stock HP. Sadly.
  3. Luckily, most booksellers are book-lovers, and they want a good variety, so they may choose to stock NM, but they must believe in the book. It's the job of my publisher to convince them.
  4. Yes, discounts are minimum 40%. Usually 40-60%. Discounts to Amazon may be 80%. Discounts to book clubs such as the Book People will be at least that. (And, by the way, our royalty is on the revenue received, not the cover price...)
  5. Most books don't make a profit, for the above reasons.
  6. Every publishing contract is a guess. Publishers want to get it right and they take many risks along the way. If they didn't, we wouldn't stand a chance unless we wrote only relatively safe commercial sellers. 
If writers understood the bookselling business better, they might be less bitter when the rejections come. They might be more realistic. They might make a greater effort to give their books a must-read quality. And they might stop thinking the world owes them a living. We have to fight for our living, but we have to do it with knowledge and understanding, not naïveté. Same whether we are aiming to self-publish or to be published.

That's why I once wrote a post recommending that all writers should self-publish. (But please read that before reacting to the statement, as that title is misleading!)

Eyes wide open, dear writers. Eyes wide open.


Alison Morton said...

Bang on the nail, Nicola.

Approaching a bookshop with the objective of having your book stocked is like any other business meeting: prepare well and have an open attitude, then you succeed. Ensure your book is listed by Nielsen, have a professional bookseller information sheet and a good quality business card.

Think about what the bookseller may gain: a good-looking addition to their shelves that may attract footfall, an author prepared to work with them on PR and events and above all, a professional attitude.

As a self-published author you are entitled to nothing; as an author-entrepreneur with a serious proposal for co-operation, you have a great deal to gain.

My first book is now stocked in shops in the Waterstones, Blackwells and Foyles chains.

JO said...

I have never approached a big book chain with my travels, as I can see - just looking at their shelves - that they've no space to take a chance on me.

But my local independent bookshop is wonderful. They read a copy first, before deciding whether to promote it. They said they are approached by a number of self-published writers and are reluctant to promote exclude eel vomit. (I gave them a free copy - which was fine.) They tok six, rang for another six, and another six ... they were kind, professional, and encouraging. Which was exactly what I needed. I didn't make a fortune, but I did begin to believe that I can do this!

Derek Thompson said...

One approached that I tried was to give them a free paperback and an ebook version on a CD. One must also consider the thorny matter of returns (and the condition they might be in) and how long you leave stock in a shop. Most importantly, cultivate a relationship with the book shop people. It's unreasonable to expect them to sell your book, but choose to purchase books from somewhere else. And lastly, don't expect an immediate response!

Nicola Morgan said...

Three well-behaved, intelligent, clued-up writers. Have a chocolate, each of you!

Vanessa Wester said...

I have no idea how many publishers survive to be honest - it must be for the love (maybe?)