C S Cooper is the author of seven sci-fi/fantasy novels, including Final Flight of the Ranegr, published in 2019, and the six-book series ‘The Axom Saga’ published in 2021. Most recently, he published his first young children’s book, The Giant Gingerbread Gent, earlier this year.
Cooper, who has a background in software engineering as well as in speech and drama, recently ran an independent author stall at Sydney’s Easter Show. He talked to Independent Publishing about his experiences hand selling his books, the logistics of running a sales stall and his tips for other independent authors.
What type of books do you write and how many have you written to date?
I like to write sci-fi fantasy stories. So far I’ve written seven books in those genres. The first was Final Flight of the Ranegr, published in 2019. Then I published all six books in ‘The Axom Saga’ series in 2021, consisting of The Starlight Lancer, The Awakening, Path of a Hero, The Cursed Jewel, Metanoia, and The Star Warriors. In 2022, I published my first young children’s book, The Giant Gingerbread Gent. I have been encouraged to write more such books, and I will when inspiration strikes. I am currently writing a sequel to Ranegr, which I hope will be done in the next year or so, and have plans for at least ten more books in ‘The Axom Saga’.
What are some of the initiatives you’ve undertaken to promote your titles and reach your audience?
My greatest reach has been at anime and comic conventions such as Oz Comic-Con and Supanova. I sell really well at these conventions.
During 2019, I did several book signings with Harry Hartog, and generated significant sales for them. However, due to Covid, it has been difficult to organise more.
I also have tried advertising on Facebook, YouTube and Google. These have had limited success in generating sales. Promoting books at the Easter Show was also an effort to promote and sell independent authors.
Recently, I set up a pop-up stall at Gungahlin Shopping Centre in Canberra. I sold almost $600 worth of books in a five-hour period.
What sorts of things did you have to think about when preparing for and managing the ‘Independent Author’ stall at the Easter Show?
The author stall at the Easter Show was perhaps the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken. The first consideration was pricing of shelves and in-person places. I had to recover as much of the stall costs as I could while keeping the pricing fair and attractive to independent authors.
The second consideration was how to find other authors who would be interested. I had a few contacts I had made at various conventions, as well as the ACT chapter of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. I also reached out to IngramSpark to find other authors. As the list of participants grew, so did the increase in logistics. I had to prepare some form of invoicing system to allow participants to make payments, and I had to carefully track them. I also had to work out how participants’ books would be delivered and collected from the show. There were other considerations as well. Due to the lockdowns, the Easter Show manual was released several weeks late, and the information inside was contradictory to arrangements I had made. In particular, when the requirement for photo access passes was made clear, I had to coordinate with the show organisers to arrange more access passes to be allocated for the participants.
Point-of-sale systems (POS) also became a problem. I am accustomed to using my phone and a Square reader, as up until this point I have only had seven books to sell. However, I was now faced with several dozen products in the catalogue. For this to run smoothly, I needed a barcode scanner. Unfortunately, none of the scanners available were compatible with my phone. I was able to find a Bluetooth scanner, but it was only compatible with iOS-based devices. I ended up borrowing an iPad from one of the FAW sponsors. But, as the show grew nearer, I received reports of millions of attendees predicted to be at the show. Concerned that a single POS system would be overwhelmed, I decided to get a second one. This one, however, was a Square Terminal. It was not compatible with the Bluetooth scanner, and would only accept a USB scanner. I had to find a Square USB hub to attach it, and a power source to run it. It would have cost me over $400 for power to my stall, so I purchased a 12-hour battery bank to power the second POS terminal.
The competition sponsored by Shawline Publishing was very helpful in generating sales. There was some miscommunication in how the competition would be carried out, and so I built a webpage for people to enter their details for the competition. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, as Shawline Publishing provided the entry forms and box for storing the entries.
Managing the Easter Show sales was important as well. I wanted to give regular reports on sales to the participants. So I wrote programs to automatically fetch my sales data from Square, produce report documents, and email the reports to the participants.
What did you learn from the experience—did anything take you by surprise? What would you do differently next time?
I was very surprised by the nature of this crowd. The crowds at conventions, or even at the shopping centre I sold at a few weeks ago, were far more receptive to books. This crowd, by contrast, was the most difficult crowd I’ve ever encountered. The vast majority of people were not interested in books or even reading. Some were actually hostile toward the idea of books.
From this, I have learned that different crowds and demographics view literature and literacy differently. I will have to be more discerning in the future regarding the market and the crowds in attendance.
I also learned that the stall position is relevant. The position relative to entrances and exits can impact a potential customer’s receptivity to the stall’s offering. The nature of neighbouring stalls also seems to influence customers who approach the stall. We were right next to a crystal stall and across from a psychic reading stall. This attracted customers who were interested in those kinds of things, which made books in that genre sell far more easily. The offer of discounts and participation in the $1000 cash draw did improve the chances of large sales. The option of ‘Buy Now, Collect Later’ also attracted customers who wanted books but were disinclined to carry the bags around all day.
Children’s books also sold quite well. I visited the Kid’s Corner pavilion, and found it quite busy. I believe that establishing a stall there and occupying it with children’s authors would produce significant sales.
If I were to set up a stall in the World Bazaar again, I would not offer shelf space. Shelf authors sold very poorly until they appeared in person. Having the authors in person drastically increased the chances of a book selling well. I would only offer in-person spaces and those authors can use the shelves when they are present. This will make logistics far easier, as there will be no need to accept deliveries of books to the stall. It will also make the authors more prominent and visible to potential fans.
What do you love about being an independent author?
I suppose what I like the best about being an independent author is that I am my own master. I am in charge of my success and responsible for my failures. I don’t have a publicist or agent, so I have to learn how to sell myself. When I did my book signings at Harry Hartog, I was told I was the best author they’d ever hosted. The manager of the shop said when they hosted authors represented by publishers, those authors did very little to generate sales, and thus few sales were made. I, on the other hand, sold out most of the stock of my book they had. I believe that, because I am an independent author with my own money and investment on the line, I am more motivated to recover my costs and make a return on that investment. Plus, I am far more emotionally involved in the subject matter of my books.
Most of all, I can write what I want, and don’t have to worry about an agent saying, ‘Sorry, I’m not qualified to represent you.’ I can find my own fan-base in a far more organic way. And thanks to IngramSpark, I can publish as many books as I want, as fast as I want, and get them where I want them as fast as I can.
Any words of advice for other emerging and established authors?
For budding authors who are still honing their writing styles, I strongly recommend speech and drama lessons. Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) exams required me to read several novels and plays from a variety of literary periods, from the Elizabethan era to modern Russian and English periods. This expanded my writing style, and allowed me to write in different ways for different characters, in order to distinguish their culture and upbringing. It also helps with narrative structure. Every editor and manuscript specialist has told me that my manuscripts are very clean and highly readable. I cannot stress enough the importance of public speaking and drama skills in producing good writing.
For emerging authors who are preparing to publish their first book, and even established authors, I found manuscript appraisal to be extremely helpful. I took my manuscript to Laurel Cohn Manuscript Services, and they provided comments and improvements, making pencil marks on a physical copy of my manuscript. They allowed me to improve the book tremendously. However, when it comes to editing, I find that hiring an editor can be hit and miss. I prefer to edit myself by recording the audiobook. This forces me to read the manuscript very carefully as I am reciting the book, and I can identify grammatical and spelling mistakes. This is a far cheaper option, but it takes time and effort. But, as you can guess, hard work wins.
What do you have planned next?
I have applied for San Diego Comic-Con in July, but I don’t know if I will be admitted yet. It will be the second time I have attended that convention. But it will be far bigger this time, as the lockdowns are scaling down in America.
After that, I would like to spend some time focused on the sequel to Ranegr. This sequel is in fact the one congealing in my head since I was a child. I would like to focus as much of my energy on this as I can, so that I have more books to sell to my budding fan-base.