Welcome, dear writers. As promised, here is the continuation of last month’s post, Making friends with booksellers.
This month, the stellar advice is courtesy of Maryelizabeth Yturraide and R.J. Crowther Jr., both from Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California. I was fortunate enough to meet Maryelizabeth and R.J. at the 2017 StokerCon, where they were running the onsite bookstore. They are incredibly kind people who have been champions of my work ever since. (Thanks, Maryelizabeth and R.J.! You’re the best.)
Here is their valuable advice for networking with booksellers. I’m so thankful they were willing to share this with us.
1) Garner a little information about the store before you make contact, via their website or the like. Are they a general bookseller, or do they have a curated focus? Not all stores keep all available titles on the shelves at all times, and not all stores engage in the same kinds of activities — author readings, etc.
2) Find out the bookseller’s correct contact person, and preferred contact method. For instance, Maryelizabeth is the contact for events at Mysterious Galaxy, but not for non-event inventory. And she prefers email, in which she can discern that author “Westin Oaks” [what she might hear on the telephone] is actually “Weston Oakes.”
3) Be clear in sharing your goals. Are you looking to get books in the store’s system/on the shelves? Are you interested in a possible author event? Clarity resulting in effective communication will create a more positive exchange with the bookseller than something vague like: “Hi. I have a new book I’d like to bring to your attention.”
4) Provide at least minimal information about your most recent book, both in your communication to the bookseller, and on your website/publisher’s site, etc. At a minimum, the book title, ISBN 13, and publication date are likely to be desired and relevant information.
5) Do NOT provide information on your book(s) exclusively via Amazon links, either on your online presence or in your contact letter. Directing non-Amazon retailers
6) Is there any additional information that the bookseller may or may not be aware of that might enhance the appeal of your work? For example, does your work offer a connection to Frankenstein’s bicentennial?
7) Remember that while bookselling is art, it’s also commerce, and booksellers not only want to be a part of their community, but also have to make a living off of the already pretty slim profit margins offered by the industry. Bear that in mind as you proceed with a discussion of logistics and terms with a potential business ally/advocate.
8) Make sure it’s in your contract that your publisher will submit your book’s info to Ingram and Baker and Taylor, the two largest book distributors. If your book isn’t published by a major publisher, Ingram and/or B&T are where bookstores will order it from, and if there isn’t a record with a description, ISBN, price, discount, and returnability, bookstores can’t order it. Most bookstores won’t buy your book on consignment, with the possible exception of your local store. Many indie presses offer direct sales, but bookstores prefer to go through a distributor, not dozens of small publishers, because of all the added invoicing, paperwork, and cost of direct returns.
9) Make sure before you approve the cover design that the ISBN and barcode are clearly printed on the back of your book, with the list price of the book printed above it. At StokerCon last year, some of the books came in without any of these, which makes inventory and scanning books a nightmare. Some authors are tempted to leave off a price, so they can charge different prices at different events, but this makes the book appear very unprofessional, and means booksellers will have to hand sticker each book with a price. Again, the less hoops you make a bookseller jump through, and the more professional your book appears, the better chance you have of a bookstore carrying it.
10) Standard Discounts: The standard discounts distributors like Ingram give bookstores is 40%. If your publisher won’t negotiate a 40% discount with Ingram, the “short discount” will be passed on to bookstores who order your book, meaning it cuts into their profit margin. Many indie presses only offer 15-20% discounts to distributors, and bookstores generally won’t order short discount books because they’ll have to mark up the price a ridiculous amount to cover their expenses. The entire bookstore is dependent on that 40% to pay their staff and bills. Before you sign a contract with an indie publisher, make sure they offer standard discounts.
11) Returnable books: Make sure your contract states that your indie publisher accepts returns. Ingram generally charges a small fee to indie publishers to make their books returnable, because of the restocking and shipping fees involved, but it’s well worth it. Bookstores will not order non-returnable books, because they have to eat the cost of every book they order that doesn’t sell. For non-returnable books, consignment is your only option, but that means no national distribution. Also, as I mentioned above, fewer and fewer bookstores are accepting consignments. Sadly, even our store is currently phasing out consignments for non-event books.
I hope you’ve found these posts helpful. Thanks to Maryelizabeth and R.J. for taking the time to share this valuable advice with us.
What’s your favourite indie bookstore? What’s the nicest thing they’ve done for you? How have you made friends with your local booksellers?
** Please forgive me, as I’ve fallen behind in returning blog visits and comments once again. But I’ve implemented a new plan to get on top of it, so your patience will be rewarded. Thank you!
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