Transcripts

 

Getting Your Book onto the Shelf: What Role Does the Bookstore Play?



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all. Welcome to our Thursday Professional Connection online interview.

 

In a few minutes, we'll be chatting with Debbie Cross, co-owner of Wrigley Cross Books.

 

Debbie Cross has been the co-owner of Wrigley-Cross Books in Portland, OR for 12 years. They carry used general stock and new and used science fiction, mystery, and horror. She works closely with the Portland Area Used Booksellers Association's 25 plus members and is a member of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

 

We all tend to assume that once we sell our book to a publisher, they take it from there. That is not always a valid assumption!

 

There are some things we all need to know about how books get from the publisher to the bookstore, and thence, to our readers!

 

Let's welcome Debbie Cross, co-owner of Wrigley Cross Books! We're delighted to have you here, tonight!

Debbie Cross

Thanks, I'm glad to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

Part of the reason I asked Debbie to come talk with us, is that I had a LOT of misconceptions about

 

the process from publisher to bookshelf. Generally, I figured that it wasn't my problem. Wrong.

 

I've learned a lot since then, and some early mistakes can be QUITE costly to a writer.

 

Debbie, can you tell us a bit about how a bookstore decides which books to put on the shelves? You can't stock them ALL.

Debbie Cross

That's for sure. First, we have to decide what we can sell. Every bookstore has a different clientele.

 

Obviously, we're going stock all the new books by our best selling authors.

 

What is hard, is deciding which new authors are worth giving a try.

 

Many factors can influence this. Everything from publishers blurbs to recommendations from our customers.

Mary Rosenblum

So if you're a new author, and you don't have a lot of name recognition from say, short fiction sales, then it's worth promoting your book on your own?

Debbie Cross

I think you have to. Very few publishers are going to spend much effort in promoting new authors.

pieter

What is short fiction?

Mary Rosenblum

Sorry, Pieter. :-) Short fiction is simply any short story. As opposed to a novel length work.

 

And from my side of the publishing trade,

 

I can tell you that as a new writer, your book's promotion by the publisher is most likely

 

limited to a brief sales pitch to the big buyer for Barnes and Nobel, etc, and maybe a couple of trade magazine ads. That's a large NY publisher, I mean, not a small press publisher.

 

Do you get any promotions from your book distributor, Debbie? Do they pitch any books to you?

Debbie Cross

No, I'm afraid we fall below their radar.

 

In theory we have a publisher's rep, but I've never had one from a big publisher in the store.

 

I might see one if I go to trade show.

 

We do however, get things like advance reading copies and proofs from the publishers.

Mary Rosenblum

Wrigley Cross Books is an independent store. That mean's they're not part of a big chain, like Waldens or Barnes and Nobel.

 

One of my early mistakes

 

was to overlook the value of the independent bookstore. While Barnes and Nobels may stock your book,

 

the owner of a small bookstore who likes your work may really PUSH your book. And the regular clients

 

trust him or her. I've had two of my mysteries on the 'top ten' list for sales in one small coastal bookstore, and I sell a TON at Wrigley Cross. Thanks to Debbie and Paul!

pieter

What is a book distributor and what role do they play?

Debbie Cross

That's really good question, pieter.

 

Small stores often do not buy directly from the publisher because of the minimum orders that each require.

 

Distributors sell books at wholesale from many different publishers and the buyer can consolidate their orders.

 

I think they are very important in getting books into the stores, especially for small presses.

wendyk

Is it hard to get a self-published book into the bookstores?

Debbie Cross

Extremely, wendyk.

 

Not only do they not have a method of distribution, but there are a lot preconceived ideas about them.

 

Generally, they have little or no editing.

 

We might assume that the author was unable to get published by anyone else, so there might be quality issue.

Mary Rosenblum

Is this also true for the Print on Demand publishers, such as iUniverse?

Debbie Cross

Yes, it is. There are other issues with them as well. The usually have very small discounts and don't accept returns.

 

Most bookstores require at least a 40% discount (maybe 35% for a well known popular author).

 

They also expect to be able to return unsold books.

ccollier

Do people actually return a book after reading it?

Debbie Cross

I expect that they do, especially in big chains. But what I meant by returns, is unsold books returned to the distributor or publisher by the bookstore for credit.

paige

Did you have any suggestions as to the most effective ways of promoting our books?

Debbie Cross

First of all, it has to good. Nothing is going to make a poorly written or dull book sell.

 

As a new writer, I'm afraid you're going to have to go to the grass roots.

 

Buyers need a reason to buy a first book. Reviews and personal recommendations go a long way.

 

In sending information to bookstores, or calling them, stress whatever you can that might catch their attention:

 

Things like a local setting, tie-in to current events, nominations or awards, endorsements from well known authors, etc.

 

Make any kind of personal contact that you can. Offer to visit book groups, teacher's classes, any kind of literary events.

 

There are many conventions for genre fiction where authors can participate in panel discussions.

 

I've bought books by an author I've never heard of because they had something interesting to say in a panel discussion.

 

Encourage your publisher to send out proofs of advance reading copies (ARCs) to reviewers and stores.

 

Do it yourself if they don't.

chatty lady

If we have a book or short story accepted by a publisher, can we still push it ourselves? Also how do we get it to you? Then what do you do?

Debbie Cross

Thanks chatty lady. Let's start with just the first part of that question.

 

Not only can you, but you must. Publishers just aren't going to spend money on promoting new authors unless they think you're going to be the next Stephen King.

 

In fact, his first publisher didn't do much. It was the publisher who bought the paperback rights to CARRIE that decided he might be big.

 

As to how to get to us, do the kind of things we just talked about.

 

If I bought your book, it probably means I thing it has merit. That means I will "hand sell" it.

 

Which means everything from a special display to personal recommendations to my customers.

 

The important thing is that you or someone has to convince me that it has merit first.

chatty lady

Should you send a book store your book or just a review?

Debbie Cross

I know that some bookstores try to read all the books and arcs that they get. But in reality, many of us just don't have the time. Still, if you can afford it, it is worth doing.

 

But in my opinion a review, especially from a respected source, goes much further in convincing me to buy a book.

annie

Is there a way I can promote my book to small bookstores out of town? How do I find them?

Debbie Cross

Annie, that's a good question that I'm not sure I have answers to, but I can make some suggestions.

 

Certainly you send bookstore promotional material.

 

As to how to find them, I've never actually done this myself. I would start with a local bookstore with which you already have developed a relationship.

 

See if they are members of ABA or other trade associations. Most of them publish lists of their members with some statistical information.

 

Since you are all obviously on the internet that would be another place to start.

 

It's amazing what you can find on Google. You could even search for specialty stores that match the type of book you are promoting.

Mary Rosenblum

The ABA, by the way, is the American Booksellers Association. You can also find telephone directories with yellow page sections for major cities in most main branch libraries.

 

Ask in the reference section.

senicynt

What is your standard turn around time for books on the shelf? Does it vary with genre?

Debbie Cross

I really can't answer that one as we are such a specialty store. We only carry Science Fiction, Mystery and Horror and cater to collectors.

 

We almost never return books because if we hang on to them long enough they go out of print and become collectible.

Mary Rosenblum

I know that chain bookstores DO return books, but I don't know what the interval is.

 

I suspect it depends on the individual store.

arfelin

Can you pick and choose all the books you buy from your distributor or do you have to take a certain percent of what they offer you without a choice?

Debbie Cross

We hand pick every book that we sell. I'm not sure, but I suspect, that the big box stores buy in recommended lots.

paige

Those were excellent suggestions, thank you. Would a distributor buy any quantity of a new book by an unknown author?

Debbie Cross

I think that would depend on the publisher. They don't carry a lot of small presses.

 

I really don't have any idea about the quantities the stock from major publishers, but they order them if they get the orders from the stores.

ccollier

Debbie, do you have an email or snail mail address so that we can contact you with promotional material?

Mary Rosenblum

Christine has a nice collection of four linked mystery stories out from iUniverse, Debbie.

Debbie Cross

wrigcros@teleport.com or 1809 N. E. 39th Ave. Portland, OR 97212....

 

But please bear in mind, we only stock hardcover or small press books in the three areas I mentioned.

ccollier

Thank you.

pieter

Who is in your top ten listing now?

Debbie Cross

China Mieville, Terry Prachett, Jasper Fforde, Rhys Hughes, Mark Samuels.

 

Never heard of most of those have you? I said we were specialized and have a very focused clientele.

pieter

Did the authors contact you or otherwise promote these works?

Debbie Cross

No, these are mostly from specialized small presses. In those cases we carry just about everything the press puts out....

Debbie Cross

Terry Pratchet would of course be the exception. But in his case we always carry the British first editions.

 

Some examples of the presses we carry are Ash Tree, Arkham House, Subterrainian.

 

You can find websites for these presses and get an idea of what I mean by focused specialty publishers.

Mary Rosenblum

Debbie, I think this is a good time to say something about the reputation of small press houses. That they are not equal, and may affect the sale of your book.

 

How does a press's reputation affect your purchasing?

Debbie Cross

You’re absolutely right. The presses I just mentioned are high quality presses in their area. They generally do limited editions, which means they don't sell huge numbers but generally sell all of their printings.

 

These are totally different than small presses who are doing low cost print-on-demand (PoD) or subsidized presses who actually charge the author to publish their books.

 

We don't buy any PoD. But of course, we not typical of even small independents. Still I think it's hard to sell PoD books to anyone.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you want to expand on the 'why' of that, Debbie? I know there are website regulars

 

and LRWG students who have published with PoD houses.

 

Is there a way around the difficulty?

Debbie Cross

Again, it goes back to the things I said before. The preconceived notion that they may not be of good quality,

 

the small discounts, the return policies. In addition, there is the difficulty of ordering from some presses (this can also apply to some of the more respected small presses).

 

I think most stores would special order a PoD book, if someone came in and asked for one.

 

Also, I think some of the presses are getting the idea and may start offering better terms to bookstores. This is something you can ask about before you sign up.

chatty lady

Is there a list somewhere of (honest) small publishers and presses?

Debbie Cross

Not that I know of. You just have to ask around. Try to talk with other authors who have used a press.

 

Ask your local bookstores what they think. Ask the publishers questions.

 

Here a few I'd ask. What terms do offer bookstores?

 

Are your books available through a distributor?

What kind of publicity will you do for my book?

paige

Is consignment an option with bookstores?

 

Not in my experience, although I can't speak for all stores.

 

Powells, our local mega independent, will let you give them a book. They put it on shelf and if it sells they might consider ordering more.

 

Occasionally and author will offer to do a book signing and bring their own books and give a percentage to the store.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm going to jump in here. Consignment IS an option with stores that sell books as part of a more varied inventory,

 

such as tea shops, garden stores, gift shops and the like...even restaurants.

 

But of course, your book

 

will have to tie in with what that store focuses on, and you MUST be clear and professional

 

about accounts. Get a receipt for copies left from the owner/manager, for example.

 

Don't depend on verbal agreements.

annie

What about signings at bookstores? Are they a good way to increase sales of a book?

Debbie Cross

They can be. Any exposure is good....

 

Yes, but, as I'm sure Mary can tell you, don't have your expectations too high.

 

As a new author, it is going to be hard to draw people. There are things you can do.

 

Invite all your friends and family. Have them wait to buy their copies at the signing. It makes the signing look good and others may become interested.

 

Provide the bookstore with promotional material well in advance. Things like posters of the cover, your biography and maybe even a picture will help them promote your book.

Mary Rosenblum

All of which you can do with a scanner and color printer! And from personal experience,

 

I've found that a chain store signing brings in few people, unless there are big names involved.

 

But at a small bookstore, the owner will tell customers you'll be there, offer food and even wine at times, and make it a party.

 

Many people come who have never read you, and may walk away with a book.

paige

Are discounts quantity discounts, or discounts based on the retail price of the book? Who establishes what price the book will be? Does price affect sales much? Generally, I mean, not in a specialized bookstore such as your own?

Debbie Cross

Discounts are based on the retail price of the book. Most distributors have a minimum order, but that is for mixed titles.

 

For large quantities the discount will be a little larger. We're only talking a percent or two unless it's huge like Barnes and Nobel's orders.

 

The price is established by the publisher.

 

Generally the price doesn't affect the sales much. There are pretty much accepted ranges for most books.

 

The main differences will be between mass-market paperbacks (pocket books), trade paperbacks, and hard covers.

 

Certainly mass-market paperbacks will sell more than hardcovers to the general public. There is trend in the publishing industry now to do trade paperbacks.

 

Personally I don't like them. I feel they are way too expensive for a book that is going to fall apart just a quickly as the cheaper paperbacks.

 

If you're really lucky, the publisher will publish your book in all three formats sequentially, starting with the most expensive.

senicynt

Generally, after the discount to the bookstore and the cost of printing & shipping, what is the profit percentage?

Debbie Cross

If you’re asking what percentage the publisher makes, I can't answer. That's out of my area of expertise.

Mary Rosenblum

I don't know either, alas. But it's not a lot, I do know that.

chatty lady

As for promoting a reading, you can run a small ad in the local paper and post a flyer in all bookstores or where ever they'll let you. Let them run every day for a week or so. It should contain some juicy bits of the story and also tell then there's a drawing for a free book. Its amazing how that draws people when they see the ad for a week or so.

Mary Rosenblum

That's a good idea, Chatty Lady!

 

I hadn't thought of offering a drawing.

Debbie Cross

But in a big city it could be expensive.

Mary Rosenblum

Good point.

 

Best to stick to a couple of small local stores, eh?

 

We're going to need to let Debbie go.

 

She has a meeting at the bookstore in a few minutes.

 

I really appreciate your coming here and sharing the 'bookstore side' of publishing with us.

 

It's something you simply know nothing about, until you sell your book! And even then, it takes awhile to figure it all out.

 

 

I will be posting an article by Debbie in Business of Writing either later tonight or tomorrow. It's called

 

Getting Your Book Onto the Shelves, and it covers a lot of what she talked about tonight.

pieter

The name of your store again?

Debbie Cross

Wrigley-Cross Books

Mary Rosenblum

One last question, and we'll let you go!

chatty lady

Are there publishers for paperbacks only and is that a good and cheaper venue for your work?

Debbie Cross

Very few publish just mass market paperbacks. Most all of the print on demand is in trade paperback.

chatty lady

Thank you Debbie, very informative

paige

Thank you so much, Debbie. We have learned much!

senicynt

Thanks Debbie.

bingocliff

Thank You Mary and Debbie for a great interview.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you MUCH, Debbie. This has been an excellent discussion, and I really hope you'll come back and talk more later on.

 

You gave us some great information.

Debbie Cross

Thanks, I've enjoyed doing this. Good night all!

Mary Rosenblum

Good night, all!

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