Tag Archives: independent bookstores

What I learned about working with bookstores

One of the things I learned by self-publishing my book is that I am now not only an author, but a publisher. And that I would do well to behave as one, and to learn the ins and outs of the trade. So when I found out about a local book publishing organization that includes self-published authors among its members, I called them up and found out about the speaker event “Working with PNBA and NW Bookstores,” and then I went. It was well worth my time!

The speaker, Tegan Tigani, is a woman with many hats: board president, bookseller, children’s book buyer, book editor, blog editor, freelance writer, and children’s enrichment tutor. How she finds the time to do all that, and then come do a speaking engagement, I have no idea!

She was there speaking partly about the upcoming fall trade show for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and partly about how to respectfully work with bookstores. Sounds like the trade show has educational book tabling opportunities for authors. There is also an annual award competition, which she encouraged people to submit to. The cost of submitting would be the cost of mailing the book to the committee members.

The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association has a relationship with Book Publishers Northwest. Book Publishers Northwest always has a booth at the trade show, and members can make use of it. They can leave copies of their books for trade show members (including booksellers and librarians) to read through, and then any display books left over afterward are donated to rural libraries. (Massively cool!)

As for working with local bookstores, Ms. Tigani referred us to a post by author Mark Holtzen, “Advice for self-published authors.” She suggested reaching out with an email first, because some booksellers might want to see the book and some might want a sheet with talking points instead. If you provide a sample, don’t ask for it back . . . because apparently bookseller’s offices are really cluttered up with books. And to be respectful, don’t mention that your book is available on Amazon, because Amazon’s business practices are problematic for brick-and-mortar bookstores and publishers. 

Some bookstores will work on consignment, but some, like Queen Anne Books, don’t like to do that, because it’s so much easier to deal with invoices and returns for one distributor than a bazillion authors. It’s easiest if a book is available through a distributor like Ingram, Partners West, or Baker & Taylor. I asked about CreateSpace, since that’s where I had my book printed, and it turns out that yes, it is possible to make a book printed through CreateSpace available through Ingram. (And when I went home, I found out that yes, it was!) If it’s available through Ingram, many independent bookstores will carry it.

As for asking a bookstore to host an event, Ms. Tigani pointed out that authors have to do most of their own promotion. From my experience reading at Weller Book Works and Third Place Books, I’d say that’s spot on! She suggested pitching an event as a pair or a trio, because each author then brings a fan base, so more people attend the reading. Good plan.

She mentioned that ebooks published on the Kobo platform will work on all newer e-readers, including the Kindle Fire, and someone else mentioned that a good way to get it onto the Kobo platform, as well as other platforms, is through BookBaby or Smashwords. I looked into that, and found out two cool things: one, Smashwords will provide an ISBN for free; and two, Smashwords will make books available to libraries — at way more reasonable terms than publishers currently offer.

 I think I have my work cut out for me now . . .

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What do small publishers and indy bookstores have in common?

Q: What do small publishers and indy bookstores have in common?

A: They’re making hardly any money. It’s a labor of love.

I knew that intellectually before, but now I really know it. Having finally self-published my book, I now understand all the time and effort that goes into it. You have to sell a lot of copies to recoup the cost. And how do you sell those copies? By spending even more money to promote the book. And time. Lots and lots of time. It’s definitely deepened my respect for small publishers.

Small bookstores are struggling too. I miss A Woman’s Place bookstore in Salt Lake City and Red and Black Books in Seattle. A Woman’s place hosted my first reading, and Red and Black Books hosted a reading AND introduced me to Octavia Butler, an author I would not have found on my own. I remember that when I went in to give the reading, I saw a paperback book of hers sitting on a spinner, looking shiny and new and fun.

The small bookstores that survive, like Ravenna Third Place Books near my home, have to sell both used and new books because the profit margins on new books are so small. Third Place also had to add a restaurant and pub. Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the restaurant and pub. I’m just saying that’s what it takes to break even as an independent bookstore.

Enter the writers struggling to break into publishing. We don’t just have to write excellent and desirable books; we also have to convince a publisher that they won’t be taking a loss by putting out our books. We must also somehow convince a publisher we’re worth the risk. That’s the part I didn’t understand all the time I kept trying (and failing) to sell my book to a publisher.

What’s a writer to do?

You don’t need me to answer that question. Everybody and their dog is going to answer that question for you: there’s that one story about the guy who made a million bucks selling books out of the back of his car. (Of course, that’s not going to be the reality for most writers, but never mind that.)

Let me ask a different question:

What can writers do in order to make the publishing and bookselling world more hospitable to authors? I’m talking big picture, can we forget about our piece of pie for a second and find out how to make that pie bigger for everybody?

Yes indeed! We need to band together and support the small presses and independent bookstores we eventually hope will support us. So without further ado, here are a couple publishers and independent bookstores that make my five-star list.

Small Presses

Calyx – for supporting women’s writing

Aqueduct Press – for supporting speculative fiction and women’s writing

Book View Cafe – awesome midlist authors who banded together to sell ebooks

Bookstores

Ravenna Third Place Books – my neighborhood bookstore and new-mom refuge

Elliott Bay Books – Seattle’s best-known

Powells Books – I seriously take trips to Portland specifically to spend all day (or days) at this “City of Books”

Got a small press or independent bookstore you’re crazy about? Add a comment.

– Kristin