Writing a book is easy. Selling it – well – that’s another matter entirely. When you go through conventional publishing channels, the selling effort from you will be concentrated pre-publication. We all know how hard it is to get a novel published by a traditional publisher. Even to get an agent seems impossible at times.
So you’ve grown tired and impatient and you’ve self-published a book. It’s easy and quick and with the help of various sites, doesn’t cost much. You advertise on the web, and you sell a few copies. Your sales aims aren’t high. It would be great for sales to cover that con you plan to attend, or maybe the cost of a new computer, or maybe you just want the use sales, no matter how low, to justify to your family the amount of time you spend on writing.
But your real dream is to see your book on the shelves of a bookshop. That is hard. It’s not entirely impossible, but it’s important that you know how the book trade works and how your book fits into it, and especially that you understand the pricing structure and have incorporated it in the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of your book.
Here are a few truths about the book trade from a bookshop sales perspective:
- When a bookshop buys stock, they typically get a discount of 40% off the set RRP. Large chain stores can buy in bulk directly from the publisher and get larger discounts.
- Most bookshops get most of their stock from distributors. These companies have travelling sales reps who go around shopping titles in their range. It’s handy for a bookshop to buy from these companies, since it consolidates a lot of their paperwork into a few accounts.
- Distributors sell book for a range of publishers. To have a book listed with a distributor, you have to offer them between 60 and 70% off RRP. They won’t pay you until the bookshops have paid them.
- Bookshops don’t like risk. They will be heavily biased towards publishers/distributors who can offer three-month sales-or-return contracts. That’s right – if it doesn’t sell, a shop returns the book to the source (publisher or distributor). In the US, it’s customary that just the front covers are returned, in effect destroying the book (writers, mind your language: I can hear the WTF!! exclamations from here).
So why on earth would a run-of-the-mill bookshop stock a book from an unknown self-published writer, who can only offer 30% off RRP, and whose stock is ‘firm sale’ (in other words: non-returnable), who cannot be paid through regular digitised channels, whose stock carries a lot of extra administrative work?
No reason, really. That’s why the chain stores won’t be interested, unless you can somehow interest their head office, but then their administrative requirements will be the paper equivalent of having wisdom teeth pulled.
Dream on. It’s very unlikely to make this worth the time, effort and aggravation.
A shop will be likely to stock your self-published book for a few reasons:
- The manager is a friend of yours
- The shop is very specialised and you have published something in their genre
- The shop is an independent seller and not adverse to trying something new
- And the manager is a friend of yours (I know I said this before, but it’s really important)
Whichever of the above, it’s still a hard, hard process that involves lots of work. Above all, do your homework on pricing structures. Some shops are willing to give you a go, but only if you can offer them 40% discount so that at the end of the day, they can pay the rent and their staff.