A Flurry of Self-Published Books

Cynthia Compton - November 7, 2018

Meteorologists are forecasting that the first flakes of snow will fall this week in Indiana. They won’t stick, and the roads will be fine, so this is a welcome weather phenomenon in specialty retail. There is nothing like the swirl of flurries on a gray November day to get customers excited about shopping for the holidays, and to add a little magic to the scene outside our cozy shop windows. Boxes of merchandise are stacking up in the stock room, the rolls of wrapping paper have been delivered (although there seems to be a national shortage of the perfect color of forest green curling ribbon, a modest cause for alarm at this stage of the season), and the annual rumors of shipping strikes, online price slashing, and pop-up retail inside every big box store have begun to sneak under the doors like drafts of cold air.

The annual parade of self-published authors has begun, too, as they are dropping by the shop almost daily to promote their newly minted title “just in time for the holidays — when would you like to schedule a signing in December?” and to assure us that “there’s nothing like it on the market for children.” Each year, I promise myself that I will write a more organized list of store policies for this category, so that busy staff members have something more to offer writers than just a post it note to leave their phone number on top of a sample copy so that “Cynthia can get right back to you, as soon as she’s available.” Instead, I find myself typing the same email over and over, finding new ways to say the following:
Dear Next Bestselling Author,
Congratulations, and thank you for thinking of our store.

  1. If your book is not yet published, and you want us to review the manuscript, please feel free to leave us a copy. We may not get to it right away, but we will try to give you some feedback. We strongly, strongly encourage you to hire a freelance editor before you make the investment in printing your book — when UPS delivers 500 copies to your garage, you are committed to selling (or giving away) that book with the error on the cover.
  2. Once it is complete, please leave us a jacketed copy of your book. No, not just a PDF of your first page, and not a link to read the reviews on Amazon. In fact, while we are on that subject, please refrain from telling me that your book is even available there. It does not, in any way, add to the literary value or increase my likelihood of ordering. It will make me wonder, however, how much you researched your market, and where you buy YOUR books.
  3. It seems rather stodgy and perhaps insulting to mention this…. but spelling matters. If a marketing email is full of typos, or if the book itself has spelling and grammatical errors that are not intentional parts of dialogue, then we will probably reject the title. People really DO “care about that stuff,” and we are those people.
  4. We will return your preview copy promptly if we don’t think it will sell in our store, either by leaving it on the hold shelf for pickup or by sending it back to you in the stamped padded envelope that you provided to us when you dropped it off. Until it is returned, it will stay in our possession, and never “sent off to some big publisher to copy.” (Really,  I swear to you on my St. John medal — we have had this exchange with a new author.)
  5. We may choose NOT to carry your book. That is not an indication of how good or bad we think it is,  but rather, our best guess of what our customers will buy. Every single title on our shelves “pays rent” — meaning that must sell, and sell pretty quickly, to our regular customer base. We may not be the right set of shelves for this book.
  6. If we DO choose to stock the book, we may or may not ask for you to have an event at our store. Events take space, time, and an investment of staff and marketing dollars. All of those are at a premium in bookstores, and if we’re going to host something, we want to do our best possible job. If we do work together on an signing or story time, we appreciate your assistance with publicity by listing us on your website, in your social media posts, and to your local customer base. We will do our part, with press releases, store emails, and similar posts. Having friends and family show up at the event with copies previously purchased elsewhere or online for you to autograph is just, well, tacky.
  7. We prefer to order your book from a publisher or distributor with whom we already do business, rather than keeping track of individual consignment paperwork, deadlines, and other single title requirements. If your publisher is print-on-demand, however, we request that you obtain two new copies and drop them off or send them to us. We will give you a consignment form and a date for them to be returned if unsold. We are willing to be flexible with our wholesale discount arrangement, recognizing that independently produced books can be expensive to print. However, your book will be on the shelf next to a wide variety of price points, and we suggest that you look carefully at the prices in the category for your book, and how it will compare in cost and value.
  8. Calling the store (or having your friends call) to inquire about a title without ordering it may SEEM like a great way to get a bookstore interested in carrying a book they don’t currently have in stock, but it’s a pretty common technique covered in a lot of articles and blogs about promoting your book. It’s also a tactic that is well known by booksellers, and is considered to be rather rude.
  9. If you drop by to “check” on your title — welcome!  We are a bookstore. Are you a customer? Would you like to talk about books, and what we’re reading, and what is selling? Great! You are always welcome. If you are stopping by to move your book to a more prominent display, or try to hand sell in the aisles, perhaps we could interest you in a job application? Or a lease? (We hear there’s a real resurgence in brick and mortar bookstores.)

Your local bookseller (who is also reviewed online, sometimes, but doesn’t usually mention it)

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

4 thoughts on “A Flurry of Self-Published Books

  1. Phil Wrzesinski

    If your 4-year old daughter hand-colored all the drawings because you couldn’t afford to pay for color printing, it isn’t a “keepsake” except to the four (eight?) grandparents.

  2. Ben Woodard

    Hi Cynthia,
    I really hate this is happening to you and your store, especially because I am a “independent” children’s author who has an incredible relationship with my local bookstore. We work together to help each other sell books. I often do a pop-up on a Saturday, after calling first of course, where I bring a table and books to sell. I have sold as many as fifteen in a few hours. I’ll send out a tweet and facebook post to let folks know I’m there and the store likes this since they have no expense or time involved.
    They buy a few of my books for stock through Ingram, but keep only those that sell. Fair enough. I feel it’s my responsibility to get buyers for my books in the store. If they want to return any books, they call me and I give them their cost back. That saves me from incurring a return charge.
    All of my promotions mention the bookstore. I may say that my ebooks are on Amazon, but then I’ll mention my print books are available through the bookstore. I talk up the bookstore at all my events and have even used their printed bags for customer sales.
    In the past, I did a storytelling time on Saturday for kids.
    I don’t do official book signings. Too much time and effort for a little reward, but I have been invited to author events at the store where I’ll be the only indie author. I greatly appreciate this.
    I try to buy most of my books from the store and I used to always take my grandkids to get a book when they stayed with me. Now they read YA and want twenty dollar hardcovers. I take them to the library.
    I know I have a advantage on most indies since my wife owned a bookstore and managed several others. Plus, I have a almost obscene fixation on elimination of errors in my books. I use a content editor, a line ed, and a proof reader. But I’m sure there are excellent indies in your area that could help your bookstore. The problem is sifting through the junk. And, yes, you need tough rules including no consignment and returnable.
    Sorry for babbling on, but maybe some of this can help. I have the greatest admiration for bookstore owners and know how hard it can be to be successful. My wife’s store didn’t make it. Good luck, and if I’m ever in Zionsville, I’ll stop by and buy a book.


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