Friday, June 13, 2014

Intent VS. Perception; Reality of Book Selling; Part 2

Last week I discussed the intent Romantic Times had when they had Traditional and Indie/Small press authors sign at the Book Selling event at the Convention in New Orleans in May.  The perception of what R.T. attempted caused a bit of kerfuffle; especially when it came to checking out and buying the books obtained.
I decided to speak with a book seller Author,Author!, LB Hayden who deals with getting books for authors, Indie and Traditional. I wanted to find out why there were two lines at check out and the issues faced with obtaining and selling Indie books. The information she offered is exceptional and this is a continuation of the discussion we started:

How do you handle it as a book seller when you have left over indie books?
I try to only order the number I think can sell at that event.  Leftover books that aren't returnable or sold to the author at cost are...lost money.  I've had indie books in stock for 3-4 years that I simply can't sell. I keep lowering the price until the point where it's more feasible to donate them to a 501(3)c charity. My customers aren't likely to make a speculative purchase of an unknown author from an unknown publisher for a price that is often higher than traditional print books.  It's not unusual to see indie books pushing $20 with less than 200 pages whereas I'd expect to see a traditionally printed book of the same trim size and page count be priced $12-14.  
MVF: This is very good to know, how it causes you a problem; no wonder there is reluctance.

If at a signing an indie brings their own books and sells them, how do you handle this?
Our company offers a very attractive situation for consigned books at events.  We only take 15% of the cover price which means we handle all aspects of the sale-- a centralized checkout, receiving all moneys (cash, check and credit card) and taking the responsibility if someone's payment bounces (admittedly this seldom happens because readers are more reliable than other segments of the public) and theft of product.  We pay based on the number of books "checked in" and the number of books "checked out."  We make enough to cover our labor, time, paperwork and credit card fees.  But for this to work, we have to have a good-sized number of traditionally published authors for whom we're making a standard profit.  We wouldn't be able to make a reasonable profit from an event that was built solely on a 15% fee and regrettably, we've had to turn down events that would be mostly indie authors because the amount we'd make wouldn't cover the cost of gas to drive there much less all the other associated costs.  Our only option would have been to raise the consignment fee which wouldn't have been fair to the authors.
MVF: Another very informative point—I never knew this and it makes sense. You don’t work for free, nor does anyone. I appreciate knowing this for sure. Also-you small comment that readers are more reliable when paying for books—made me cheer.

At RT there was a separation; traditional in one room, indie in another, there were also separate lines to check out in for both; How do you handle this as a seller? 
 First, I'd look at the logistics.  If there were more authors than one room could hold, then I would divide the authors--by alphabet which is eminently fair.  Or if a logical split could be made, by genre.  This would be harder for those authors writing in multiple genres.  Letting them choose under which genre they want to be associated with sounds nice, but would still be a logistical nightmare if not done as part of the initial application.  To RT's credit, they might not have figured out that they needed two rooms until after that process started. 
MVF: You’re right—I wouldn’t have wanted to figure this out!

That said, if the two rooms necessitated two checkout systems, that'd be unfortunate, but could have been mandated by the physical layout. Since I wasn't at RT, I can't say if this was a consideration or not. But I wouldn't have chosen a hot-button concept as whether one was traditionally published versus indie published to make the split.  IMHO, that was just asking for trouble and comment.  
MVF: I think this was a classic case of unintended consequences. I don’t think it was meant to be insulting—but it did cause all sorts of bad feelings. It is my inclination to think this is a work in progress and next year will be significantly better.

RWA (Romance Writers ofAmerica) National Conference had every author in one room; how did they successfully do this?
 Luckily, I've been on the RWA National Board and can offer some insight into this. RWAplans their conferences five or more years in advance which means their contract with the hotel already has a requirement for a room that can hold 700+ authors with tables (as well as a room large enough to serve 2000+ people lunch at one time or seat 2500+ people for an awards ceremony).  Authors are added to the signing by registration date.  But, the one very big difference between RT and RWA is that RWA's booksigning is stocked with DONATED books--donated either by the publishers or by the authors if indie published.  All proceeds (minus credit card fees) are given to literacy charities include at least one in the host city.  Last year RWA raised over $52k which was donated to ProLiteracy Worldwide, Literacy Action In and Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta. (   So to answer your question, it all boils down to excellent planning in advance and a keen awareness of both your attending authors and your intended audience of readers.    
MVF: I’m all about supporting literacy! And I agree—knowing audience is important. (I have to say as an aside, my hat is off to you for being on the national board, I have great respect for your doing this)

What is your suggestion as an author, bookseller and reader regarding the differences; what do you hope would change?
 More small presses need to "act" more like big companies.  This sounds counter to the small press philosophy but it isn't really.  A well-run business (no matter the size) should work on all levels-- offering quality, well-priced products reflective of consumer tastes, valuing their suppliers (the authors!)  offering great customer service (dealing with readers, bookstores, libraries, etc) and adopting a professional attitude in all aspects of the business.  These qualities can apply to a business of any size from conglomerate to single author. However, I realize it's difficult because larger companies work on smaller margins than small companies because large companies make their profit on volume.  Larger companies also have deeper pockets and can sell by company reputation as well as individual author reputation.  But small presses have so much  more flexibility which serves both authors with products that don't fit traditional genre focus and readers looking for a wider variety of books.  IMHO, there's room for all sorts of publishers in the world of bookselling and book reading.   
  MVF: Again, another excellent point—and one that I think is important in this business, because that is what it is. The product—the book/story and the consumer—the reader, truly it is a time to get creative and everyone will benefit. Well said.

Any other comments you'd care to make?   
 We're finally getting to a point where you can't look at a book and known instantly whether it's traditionally published or from a small press.  Yes, we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but a bad or amateurish cover suggests that the publisher spent just as little time choosing the book and editing it.  That's totally unfair, but too many times, it was a realistic indicator.  With the explosion of stock sites and freelance artists who produce quality artwork, the covers are skyrocketing in quality. I think it shows the shift from the unfortunate perception that some indie authors merely slapped a bad cover on a first draft in hopes of making some money and instead better reflects the strength of the independent market where authors invest in books that are well-edited, expertly typeset and presented a professional-level cover.  
MVF: Again well said—things are evolving and eventually it’s all going to shake out appropriately—I think. There will always be frustrations and pains, but look at how far Traditional and Indie have come.

Thank you Author, Author!; LB Hayden  for taking the time to answer my questions and clarify very much what the business of bookselling does for Indie and Traditional. I hope you stop by again—because I really like how you recognize and see both sides of the story.

Now—everyone, what are your thoughts?


  1. Such good information. Thank you both for sharing.

    1. Thanks Callie! I know I learned a lot.

  2. Fascinating to hear the bookseller's perspective. Thank you both.

  3. thanks for this post. I enjoyed it.

  4. Very interesting post. I agree with your comment about the book cover! I know that as a reader, it's more often than not the cover that persuades (or not) me to buy the book. If I don't like the cover, then I read the back blurb or inside cover blurb next to decide.

    1. Sonya--as a reader I do the same thing.!

  5. Great info. Thanks Laura and MV. :)

    1. Thanks Meda--I enjoyed learning from her! :)