How to get your #indie #book into Barnes and Noble

Someone at B & N liked Unsound!

Someone at B & N likes Unsound!

How to get your indie book into Barnes and Noble? It's not for the faint of heart.  I’m having my first Barnes and Noble book signing October 12 at the B & N in Lahaina, 3 to 5 pm. Care to hop a plane and join me? I’d be delighted to give you a hug and some book swag!

The road to this day has been a painful, expensive and bumpy one, and that’s not mentioning the agony of writing the books. In spite of over half a million copies of my books sold online, I face the same challenges any indie author faces in getting books into the brick-and-mortar giant, and those can be summed up in one word: returnability.

But before we go there, here are some of the things I’ve tried to breach the walls:

  • Hired top-notch team including NY cover designer, trad pub editor/copyeditor, and interior book design team, so that my print books look good as anything in stores
  • Hired a saleswoman whose job was getting the books into stores, with focus on Hawaii;
  • Mobilized readers to go in and ask for my books
  • Paid for review and advertising on Kirkus to gain the attention of booksellers, store buyers and libraries;
  • Paid extra to be listed in ALL versions of Ingram’s wholesale book catalogs;
  • Paid to big bucks to be featured in IndieReader’s Eidelweiss catalog of vetted, reviewed indie books that have their stamp of approval for marketing to bookstores.
  • Changed my pricing to 55% to retailer, and enabled returnability.

The last item on this list is the one that made all the difference. In fact, the only one.

Early into my author/publisher journey, my saleswoman called all the B &N’s in Hawaii. They had heard of me, had dealt with customers asking for my books, wanted to stock them, but COULD NOT, due to corporate policy, carry them until the pricing reflected their mandatory 55% cut and returnability was enabled.

Returnability is a huge risk for any indie to assume. In addition to all the money I’ve spent on advertising and other strategies I've tried tackling the print book issue, in order to be carried by B&N I have to personally assume the same risk every publisher assumes: if the book doesn’t sell, the bookseller can send it back, either to my book producer, LightningSource (with an additional pulping fee of two dollars a book) or to me personally.

I chose for them to send it to me.

Last week my first box of returns arrived on my front doorstep.

Because my books are gorgeous, high-quality trade paperbacks, they cost around five dollars apiece to produce, plus two dollars shipping. I get to suck down 30 times $7.00 (and that’s just the books coming back that I know about right now.)

But at least I don’t have to pay 2 dollars more apiece for a pulping fee. I figure I can give these copies away to libraries, as prizes to fans. Hell I can drop them off at the homeless shelter…but can I afford to invest in print? No siree.

I make one dollar per print book sold.

(Contrast that with $3.79 profit per e-book sold at Amazon, and NO risk or return cost.)

When calculating the cost of print, don’t forget to add production fees, shipping, 55% to retailer, and now I need to remember to deduct “returns.” (At a seven dollars loss per returned book versus one dollar profit per book sold, I’d need to sell 210 print books to break even on that box that just showed up on my doorstep. What a fun math word problem that was.)

So this book signing at B &N is really about my personal bucket list. I’ve dreamed of seeing my books on shelves, of going into B&N (the only retail bookstore on Maui) and seeing my books there. And now they are! I am so excited…and boy do I hope the store in Lahaina sells every one of those copies!

Now you know what it takes to get into B &N… nerves of steel, and a pocketbook that can take some hits, and THEN the phone call to the individual B & N store pitching your book.

After next month, I plan to turn OFF returnability. It’s just not a sandbox this indie author can afford to play in, and its very evident to me why the publishing world is failing under this current model. Who can afford to absorb all the returns?  It would give even Michael Connolly pause if he had to pay personally for them.

Thoughts? Anyone else find another way into B &N?

19 Responses to “How to get your #indie #book into Barnes and Noble”

  1. JL Oakley

    Toby, there are no returns with CS. I have to have my books on consignment at my favorite indie store as a result, but I sell out all the time, they give me great support and I’m now considered a best seller. They have a fabulous on-line magazine. Had my book launch published there, book noted when book clubs picked it. It’s a lot of hard work to be indie, but worth it.

    • Toby

      I agree Janet, it is! But the effort seems to be around choosing what the priority is. I could be writing, or I could be working phones or driving boxes of books around to deliver them on consignment…I choose to put more time into generating more books and hope the marketing takes care of itself. At least with ebooks, this seems to be somewhat true!

  2. Jesi Lea Ryan

    First, congratulations for getting into B&N!!! That is so exciting. While that is a dream of mine, I don’t currently have the time or money to sink into it.

    I’m glad you broke down the math for us. Yep, I can see exactly the problem with trad publishing, It’s a wonder that model worked as long as it did.

    • Toby

      It worked because it was the only gig in town and they CAN produce books more cheaply than I’m doing wtih my high-end POD…but then I’d have boxes of books lying around to deal with. Oh wait, I already do! >.<

  3. Holly Robinson

    As always, Toby, you do a great job of telling it like it REALLY is! I hope you write a blog post after your B&N experience. I’ll be very curious to see how it goes. Good luck! You amaze me every day with your hard work and creativity–not just in writing, but in developing a business model that really works for indies.

  4. Jennifer J. Chow

    Thanks for sharing your story, Toby! I’ve run into the same issue about returnability as well. Independent stores are more willing to take things on consignment, though.

  5. Patricia Burroughs [aka pooks]

    I have been at two major events–one a writers’ con with a book room run by the local BN and one a library event with a local BN selling authors’ books–where BNs ordered our books and then put the ones that didn’t sell on their shelves.

    These were nonreturnable books.

  6. Terry Ambrose

    Congrats on getting into B&N, Toby! That is a huge accomplishment which, from a personal satisfaction standpoint, is well worth the effort. I wish you the best of luck in becoming a hot seller in the store!

  7. DiDi

    Another idea for the returns–offer them as freebies when someone buys another book(s). 🙂 That would definitely make it a little less painful. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Ron Herron

    Toby –
    I know returnability was the key. Folks can order my books from B&N, but the store orders it from CreateSpace to fulfill the request. Not the same thing as seeing your handiwork on the shelf. Thanks for a good post.