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Selling indie authors in bricks-and-mortar stores

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Recently, Readings Kids bookstore in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton ran a self-published children’s books promotion. The two-month-long initiative included a feature window and an in-store display. Independent Publishing spoke to Readings Kids assistant manager Dani Solomon about the promotion and stocking self-published books.

How successful has the promotion been? Roughly how many authors have participated?

We had around 70 titles by about 50 authors participating in the promotion—I would definitely call it a success. There are things I will do a little differently next time—I’d like to be a bit better at promoting them online, for example, and I will be stricter in what I take in so I can give people a little more time. Fifty authors was a lot to juggle.

Have there been any titles in particular that readers have been really attracted to?

There have been a few! The most popular, hands down, has been My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family by Tenielle Stoltenkamp. It’s about different types of families and it’s clear she has used professional designers because it truly is a beautiful product. It has a textured die-cut cover (I am normally not a fan of die-cut!) and the illustrations by Go Suga are unique, playful and bright. Having a well-designed book helps immensely but the text is important too and thankfully the text in My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family does its cover justice.

One of our other popular titles has been My Little Friends in the Mirror by Celeste Morgan, which started its life on Pozible. It’s a board book with a mirror on every page and again it’s really well-designed and has great illustrations by Michelle Carlslund. People really are very visual when it comes to books. One of my absolute favourites, and one that I hand-sell as much as I can, is My Kind by AFL player Eddie Betts—it’s a great book about how it’s cool to be kind. He has a new one out called My People, which aims to teach kids about the Aboriginal culture, and I am very excited about it. Most of the books mentioned above we will now permanently keep in stock throughout the year as they’ve proven they can sell themselves.

What convinced you to run the program and do you think you’ll run something similar in the future?

All of our Readings stores accept consignment books throughout the year. Due to space reasons in the kids shop we are rarely able to take enough copies for every consignment book to be displayed face out. This meant a lot of our children’s indie author titles were not being sold and it seemed a shame to see some of these really great books getting lost in the noise. I felt like I could do a bit more to support the authors and decided to only take submissions twice a year. This allows me to showcase them by making sure every book gets some time on display in the window and by giving them a prominent spot in the store with signage. Our next intake starts in July. I learnt a lot from the first intake and have fine-tuned the process a bit, but I fully intend to keep our indie author program running for as long as I work here.

What are the types of things that will convince you to take on a self-published author’s book?

A few things—is it well-written and well-designed? I think a lot of people underestimate how hard it is to write a good children’s book—especially a rhyming picture book. The same with illustration and design—these books need to be able to hold up in the presence of professionally written and designed books. People are a little more forgiving of indie authors of course—but not that forgiving!

Is it written by someone who has read children’s books before? It seems like an obvious thing, but it is always easy to tell when the author has not.

Does it have printing on the spine? No printing on the spine almost always equals no sales.

Does the book have a good message? It doesn’t have to be preachy or full of morals or even have a message at all, but I have had to turn down some books that have been a little misguided or old fashioned in what they were trying to say.

Is there anything you’ve noticed that successful self-published books have in common?

Without sounding too much like a broken record, well-designed and well-written books! Having said that, I am a firm believer that a good book will find a way to reach its audience and I am very proud to be a part of that process whether I’m selling professionally published books or books by indie authors.

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