The issues stopping “indie” or self-published authors from being stocked in bookstores is the deadly combination of returnability of and pricing. I can't explain it as well as Linda Nagata does in this thoughtful piece on her blog, Hahvi.net where she talks about why my book Blood Orchids isn't in bookstores in Hawaii, which it's an ideal fit for since it's a “regional” read.
Going through the process of learning and accepting this has been a combination of dream-squashing and embarrassing. I'm so ignorant of the business of publishing, I thought all you had to do was get a store to order and carry the book. Ah, more fool me! That's the easy part, it turns out.
Linda is a Nebula award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, rereleasing her backlist under her publishing company, Mythic Island Press. She's also a former computer programmer, and used her techie skills to do the actual creation of my book in both print and ebook versions.
Linda faces the same bookstore issues I do, with the additional wrinkle that her books are not of the “local color” variety; instead, they are beautifully-crafted science fiction and fantasy. Here are two of her award-winning books for your reading pleasure, now only available online:
Throughout my book's journey to publication, what's become obvious is that, despite all the touting of the ebook revolution, many people lack the means or access to anything but print books–many people in Hawaii don't have an e-reader and don't ever plan to get one.
We need to keep making print books and making them affordable and available to people, or I fear a time when no one reads anything longer than a paragraph and that on an electronic device, and print books are just antiques on eBay.
What about the elderly, the shut-ins, the poor, and the just plain stubborn who don't want to read on a device? We all deserve the joy of good books.
This is a trend that's not going away, as traditional publishers, being driven out of business by the returns policy among other things, pick up fewer and fewer new authors. It would be great if the big chain bookstores that are left (Barnes and Noble in Hawaii) and indie authors could figure out a way to meet halfway, so the risks and burdens of bringing new works into stores is possible.
Readers want new content, and authors want to present it, and stores want to sell it– but the returns policy will continue to prevent worthy indie literature from getting to the public in many areas.
And we're all poorer for that.
Is there no bookstore that will take your book? I have mine in 4 stores and three library systems. Really work on getting the book noticed by book clubs. Libraries should be able to help you start that. Tuesday I go to second book club visit (the first was my own –very scary) This group invited me. Another is in February. They are buying the book and recommending it.
I am getting the book into the Maui Makawao library, and the UH Maui library. There’s only one bookstore on Maui, that’s Barnes and Noble. ANd you have my adventure with that chronicled here. Good ideas, Janet, but we don’t have those small indie bookstores here that will help out a writer.
See if you can get a reading at the library.
Many of the libraries and schools cannot or will not put a book on the shelves unless they receive some sort of professional review to support their decision. Virtually all of the professional reviews have to be submitted prior to publication. On my latest novel we decided to try that and because of politics or internal decisions we were not even successful getting a book reviewed.
Is that due to the lobbying from the larger publishers? Who knows? However indie authors are at a severe disadvantage because their connections are not as strong. Another problem is the shipping cost. My books cost more to ship than print right now. Book stores will only stock lesser known authors if they are associated with a large publisher that has a “big-name” author. That is sort of like buying shelf space in the grocery store, but it helps the return-ability and shipping situation.
The flip side is that the Internet provides a lot of opportunities for newer, lesser known authors to display their work and there is some fabulous work out there from unknowns. The electronic readers will be around when book stores go out of business and they help to solve the shipping problem. After all of this it just becomes a lifelong exercise in branding to let the world know that you exist.
What a thoughtful answer, James! That was well said. Perhaps you should do a blog post on this same topic? I found myself tongue tied when it came down to explaining it all.
I agree: print books will not disappear nearly as fast as some are predicting because not everyone is willing to convert to an e-reader. The big bookstore business model is based on the days of large publishing companies churning books out in runs of tens of thousands. Indie publishing can not match the cost absorption capability of the big houses. Between insisting on a minimum discount of 55% off cover price AND demanding the ability to return for full credit, we will be running negative sales numbers if some big-time promoting is not done to spur sales. And the bookstores rarely do any of that; that too falls on you.
I know a couple of people who also felt the same disappointment over not being able to walk in to their major brand bookstore and find their book on the shelves. Perhaps once the ball gets rolling it will be worth taking a shot at the bookstores. Best of luck to you, Toby!
Yeah it was kind of a mini-death and I’m still working through it. I’m hoping that here in Hawaii, where we have so few bookstores, it will be worth working something out.
Boy do I understand where you’re coming from. My third release will probably never see the light of day here in Jamaica unless I ask the publisher to give me the print rights since they’ve only done e-copies. Of course, there’s a huge cost factor involved in printing, but my third novel will not see the light of day here because most Jamaicans don’t have ereaders or even know what they are. I’ve self published a collection, but again unless I get print copies, that won’t make a mark in Jamaica. Book shops here are receptive once you let them know you’re willing to take back the books when they don’t sell.
Jamaica–the shipping!! Similar issues to Hawaii. and the isolation and lack of bookstores which would actually help the book sell… but who can assume the returns risk?
Toby, when I was in Holland I attended a Winter fair at the end of the cobblestone street where my brother lived. Amongst the old architecture and the church that dominated the square where sheep were gathered, bread baked in a stone oven and many beautiful handcrafted items were being sold there was a booth of books.
The organization that set up the book booth was made up of independent authors! I asked them how they did and they said that they did very, very well and that people knew to look for them at the fairs.
I didn’t think any more of it until I read this blog. You know it could be worth a try. Maybe it could turn into something like the independent film festival or even the Maui writers gathering that has grown each year. I know it may sound a wild dream but what have we if we don’t have our dreams.
As a reader I think it would be wonderful to attend something like this. Though I’m not a writer I would think that it would be enticing to go to Hawaii to participate in a fair like this if I were an independent publisher.
You might even advertise that before the fair starts there is a site that people could go to, to read the first chapter of the books available at the fair. Maybe this way they would have a shopping list or order list by the time the fair is on. Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.