Talkback: Authors and booksellers on stocking self-published books
With a number of traditionally published authors moving into self-publishing, there’s never been a greater demand for bricks-and-mortar bookstores to stock self-published titles. Andrea Hanke asked hybrid author Ellie Marney and booksellers Kym Bagley from Dymocks Melbourne and Angela Crocombe from Readings Kids how self-published titles are making their way into bookstores.
When YA author Ellie Marney released her first self-published book No Limits in August, she set about trying to get printed copies stocked in bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
Marney says her preferred method was to supply the books through Ingram’s POD printing service IngramSpark, a process she describes as ‘fairly straightforward for booksellers’. ‘Every self-published author I know who offers POD copies through Ingram offers booksellers a wholesale discount and the ability to return stock, like a regular publisher. All a bookseller needs to know is the book’s ISBN, and then they’re ready to roll.’
‘It’s a pretty smooth process, once a bookseller has an Ingram account,’ says Marney, who consulted with other authors from the self-publishing community in her response to Books+Publishing’s questions. ‘Retailers who haven’t ordered with Ingram before usually have a direct debit process for the first order or two, until their line of credit is established, and then they can choose invoiced accounting. Freight costs are also ‘highly competitive’, says Marney.
Despite this, Marney says the response from bookstores when it comes to POD orders has been ‘variable’. ‘Some booksellers are concerned about quality, or find the POD process too different from their typical order process to invest in titles.’
The other option is to offer self-published books on consignment, but Marney has reservations about this model. ‘Some self-published authors I know do large-scale offset print runs and all their sales are on consignment. But that means you’re also working as a distributor, as well as an author and publisher, so you are following up on unpaid invoices, and driving books to stores, or arranging delivery and so on—it’s pretty hard work, for a single individual.’
Marney also notes that consignment sales often produce ‘pretty minimal returns’. ‘Selling No Limits on consignment, for instance, would earn me less than one dollar per book, when I could earn many times more than that selling online, and I would be doing significantly more work to move consignment books into stores. So for me, consignment sales aren’t really worth it.’
Marney acknowledges that a bookseller’s decision to stock a self-published title is a gamble, but argues that the gamble ‘probably isn’t that far removed from investing in titles from a regular publisher, if the author is professional and reputable and is providing high-quality books that readers want’. ‘A savvy retailer would look at the author’s listed titles on online sites, and gauge how they’re moving, being reviewed etc, and make their own decision,’ she says.
There are also things that self-publishers can do to increase their chances of being stocked: providing high-quality books in the first instance, and supplying booksellers with the necessary information to order in the titles. Marney says that when No Limits was first released she created an info sheet with details about the book and how to order copies through Ingram, which she handed out to booksellers. ‘It wasn’t a glossy brochure, but it did make interacting with booksellers easier,’ says Marney.
The bookseller’s perspective
For Kym Bagley, general fiction buyer and inventory manager at Dymocks Melbourne, the biggest barrier to stocking self-published books is lack of time. ‘Bookselling is such a time-intensive occupation that sometimes even finding five minutes to reply to an email is impossible,’ says Bagley.
Bagley says she prefers to receive books directly from the author, usually on consignment, as the store hasn’t had much experience with POD. She also recommends self-published authors provide a ‘concise info sheet’ with a short blurb, cover image, author information, cost and retail price, ISBN, delivery information and any other relevant marketing information that might help with sales. ‘Having all that at our fingertips would make it a lot easier to decide if we should stock a book,’ says Bagley.
The look of a self-published book is also a big factor. ‘We have had success with a great little novel called Redemption by a Port Fairy author Tracie Griffith this year because the cover is great and the book looks professionally printed,’ says Bagley. ‘Because we have so many books on the shelves, sometimes self-published books with that high gloss perfect bound cover get overlooked.’
Authors who work hard to publicise their books also have an advantage, says Bagley. ‘Ellie Marney has such a strong social media following that it makes it easy to sell the books. We also have success with authors who have strong academic credentials, or who are getting out there doing interviews in the local media and public radio. It’s not all about Twitter! But Twitter really does help.’
It’s a similar story at Readings Kids, where manager Angela Crocombe receives between two and five requests from self-published authors per week. ‘It can be very time-consuming when we have so much else to do,’ she says.
Consignment rather than POD is also the store’s preferred method of stocking self-published titles. ‘We ask authors to send us a copy of their book for perusal to make sure that it is of a sufficient quality that we think we can sell it in store,’ says Crocombe. ‘Then we have a consignment form that we ask authors to fill out and send us the quantity of books we request. We only pay the authors if the books sell but we are very happy to have them in store and to put them on our website.’
Crocombe says Readings Kids only orders POD books if they anticipate a high demand, or if a customer has requested a copy. She observes: ‘These books often don’t have the same quality as a traditionally printed book (I feel) and they are also not returnable, which makes it difficult for a bookstore.’ While many POD printing services do allow self-published authors the opportunity to offer booksellers returns, the choice to select this capability lies with each author.
Crocombe believes that many self-published authors could do more to improve the quality of their books. ‘Often I see picture books with far too much text for their audience, books that do not have the title and author on the spine (which is impossible for shelving spine out) and even books without an ISBN. These are all basic things that need to be done to ensure a book is presented well for booksellers and consumers,’ she says.
She also recommends self-published authors ‘do a bit of promotion and let people know where their book is available in order to help with sales’. ‘A little local media can be a wonderful thing. If an author can use social media to promote their book and where it is available, this is very helpful,’ says Crocombe.’