Friday, June 6, 2014

Intent VS. Perception; Reality of Book Selling; Part 1

There is a cliché stating the Road to hell is paved with good intentions.

How many times have we tried to do something good, in the best interest of a group or a person and the reaction is the complete opposite of what you hoped for? It’s happened to me a time or two (well, more than that.). 

Recently R.T. (Romantic Times) had their conference May 13-18th in NewOrleans. It was a huge success; hotels were filled to bursting. Walking into the Marriott there was an incredible noise of people talking. It generated tons of energy and motivation.

I had a ticket to the Book Selling event on Saturday where authors sold their books, readers could meet them. There were tons of people and things were running later than expected. We were herded into a line and were guided up stairs to two rooms. On the left was the Traditionally published authors, on the right in another room was where the Indie/Small press authors were located.

Things sort of dissolved from there; R.T.’s intent was to make sure Indie had signing options, but how it was done made others perceptions think it was exclusionary.  

The traditionally published room was filled to the brim with authors, packed with fans, and hard to maneuver. Many didn’t have the patience or desire to go to the Indie room, even though there were authors there they liked. (I went, and it was far quieter, and everyone was delightful)

To compound the problem—checking out was a nightmare. The line was very long, just to check your books to see which ones were indie and which were traditional (and many were missed like some I had). You had one place to buy the traditional books and a completely different one to buy the Indie, it was confusing and frustrating for authors, readers, and everyone involved.

I have to admit organizing something of this size is probably like hopping into a ocean liner and driving it through the canals of Venice; lots of work and energy, but sometimes you will hit a building or gondola.

A native New Orlean’s woman was behind me in the awful checkout line, she wanted to know why this event wasn’t held at the Convention Center- located down the street. (Good idea!) I had no idea, but we did find an R.T. representative and the woman did get to talk with her about it. Not that it changed what was going on at the moment.

In the end; everyone was tired, angry, and more than ready to riot. (well, at least go get an adult beverage).

So, how could this be solved to make it better? I asked around and heard from one Author who said, last year Indie/Small press authors weren’t even allowed to sign, so no matter how crazy it was, this was a step in the right direction. I agree.

I think R.T. will figure this out; but for me as an Author (as well as the reader buying books), the biggest frustration was getting the books. I was going to rant and carry-on about it, instead I decided to talk to a book seller I know, who graciously offered to answer a few questions; The book seller is Author,Author!  and the owner/operator LBHayden has been in the publishing business for a good 20 plus years. I respect her highly—better yet, she’s straight to the point and tells it like it is.

Below are two of the questions—the second part of this will be posted next week.
Is it possible to have Indie's and Traditional books available? What makes Indie books more difficult to order and sell?
Sure, you can have indie and traditional books available.  What makes indie books more difficult to order and sell is that in most cases, the cost falls directly on the bookseller.  When I order from a distributor like Ingram, I can return the books albeit with a 10% penalty and a limitation of how many books I can return.  (Ingram allows you to return up to 10% of the books you've purchased.)  So you try to make very wise purchases when getting speculative stock--that stock that isn't already presold.  I get free or extremely low shipping from Ingram and I can combine orders from all of their publishers to meet the minimum order.
When I order from Ingram, I know exactly how many books are in stock, how much they cost, what my discount is and how long it'll take to reach me. 

But when indie press books choose Ingram distribution, they often do so with;  
1) far lower discount than considered standard--25% versus 40% or better
2) the books are non-returnable.  (For those using CreateSpace, that's their model--25% discount and non-returnable.) That means the bookseller is making the real monetary investment in the book, not the publisher.  From my perspective, if a publisher --no matter big or small-- isn't willing to invest in an author and his/her book, then as the bookseller, there's no way that responsibility should fall to me.
MVF: This is very good point!

A large number of indie presses don't use any standard distribution.  That means in order to get them, I have to contact the publisher or author directly.  I can't figure out my costs in advance because most indies
 1) don't offer any sort of online ordering
 2) don't have a telephone number on their website or dedicated email to someone skilled with dealing with bookstore requests
3) don't publish their discount or freight policies online
4) don't offer any attractive freight policy
 5) can't tell me the freight costs until the books are packed and ready to ship
 6) if they take returns, I have to pay freight to return them.  If they're not returnable, then again, the bookseller bears the SOLE cost of the book.   
MVF: Excellent information—and things I didn’t realize; which I will not start looking into when looking at publisher to submit my work to. To weigh the benefits and negatives.

 Being able to return a book is important; why can't some indie books be returned? 
Indies are totally in charge of whether they take books back or not.  I've heard horror stories about indies receiving returned books that were
1)obviously used
2) in terrible condition
3) covered in stickers, etc.  Yet, when I return books to Ingram, I'm required to return books in saleable condition with no stickers and no signs of use.  I'm not sure where the discrepancy occurs in the system. 
MVF: wow! This is good to know.

I can suppose an indie doesn't want to deal with the concept of holding royalties as a reserve against returns.  It's a bone of contention with traditionally published authors because the publisher holds back a substantial amount of money for a long time.  But that's because a book can be returned for a very long period of time-- three years or longer, depending on whether a book is considered still in print.  Once a publisher declares a book is out of print, the clock starts for returns--usually 60-180 days. 

But obviously, it's unfair to make the bookseller be the one "holding the bag." A small independent bricks and mortar store may have 20k new titles in stock but will need to rotate a large percentage of that stock to current books.  They do this by stocking books for 30-60-90-120 days then returning them and reallocating that investment into other books.  The key is to minimize your investment in books that can't be returned. 
MVF: I never knew, this is very good information

We are going to have to stop here for now, thank you LB Hayden for your time and expertise, I can hardly wait to ask you more questions. 

Stop by next week to pick up this conversation—!

If you went to R.T. what was your perception?

For those who didn’t—have you ever intended on something, for it to be perceived wrongly? I’d like to know.


  1. I was at RT and it was madness. Two of my publishers are Medium size and their books can be ordered and returned through Ingram but I, along with the other authors from one of them, were shuttled into that other room. A FEW of the writers with the other one were in the main room and I am not sure how that was decided. I did indeed feel as if I were treated as a second class citizen.

    1. Jillian-- and I think that was wrong on all levels. I believe, (maybe wrongly so) that next year it will be different. For me, I was frustrated as a reader, because I didn't care who or how the author was published--I wanted to meet them. Hopefully they learned.
      If not..why go? Its readers finding writers.
      And also--for the authors--having the cluster it was to get their books to even be sold was frustrating; I cover more of how, for example, RWA handled it at nationals on the next post. :)

  2. I did not go to RT but I've heard similar stories. This was an excellent and informative post, MV. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Callie,
      I give all credit to LB Hayden for taking the time to let me ask questions. :) and I believe in sharing. :)

  3. Very informative - learned things I didn't know. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Very informative and I agree with you, M.V.. I was at RT and didn't care who published the books. I wanted to meet the authors of my favorite books, both Indie and Trad Published. We were herded into the huge Trad Pub room first with conflicting directions on how to get the "big name" authors to sign your books. By the time I found my beloved Indie authors, my anxiety level from the crowd was through the roof and I missed several, just wanting "out of there." Hopefully things will improve as people see Indie/smaller publishing is here to stay and a growing force to be reckoned with. Thank you to L.B. Hayden for the information!

    1. Nancy--exactly, it was wild; but I think R.T. will try to do better, not that I'm defending them --but it makes sense. I think things will change because you're right--readers want their authors and it doesn't matter where they come from!