Interview Transcripts

Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley: From Publisher to Bookstore 3/29/07



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 Professional Connection interview with Debbie Cross of Wrigley Cross Books

 

Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley have co-owned Wrigley-Cross Books in Portland, OR for about 15 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.

 

Debbie, welcome! I'm so glad that we've managed to overcome the tech hurdles!!!

Debbie Cross

I'm glad to be here in spite of being technologically challenged.

Mary Rosenblum

It's the firewalls sigh. Security cuts both ways.

 

I'm so pleased that you agreed to come back and chat with us again. The publishing world is really changing

 

and self publishing or publishing with the many new small press publishers that are using print on demand technology to get started cheaply...

 

has left a lot of novice writers really confused about what publishing means any more...at least in terms of selling books!

Debbie Cross

Everything changes so fast, we're all confused.

 

One day it's a major project to print a book, and today anybody can do it for almost nothing.

Mary Rosenblum

Can we start at the basics? How you, as a bookstore owner, choose which books to stock and why?

Debbie Cross

Naturally, we're looking for what we can sell. That takes a lot into account.

 

First, it has to be something with a demand. But we also have to make profit.

Mary Rosenblum

But how does a bookstore owner actually find out what's offered? How do you find out what has been published?

Debbie Cross

That means we have to consider things like will the book be publicized, what kind of a profit can we make on it.

 

It depends. Most major books are publicized through catalogs either from the Publisher or distributor.

 

We also watch for reviews in magazines.

 

Sometimes the author contacts us directly or we may hear about a book from other sources. Sometimes from customers.

msz

What do you mean by "major books"?

Debbie Cross

I meant to say, books from major publishers like St. Martins, Knopf, etc.

speckledorf

Is there anything specific an author can do to influence getting on the shelf? Signings, special promo, that sort of thing.

Debbie Cross

There are many things. But let me start by saying that the first and foremost is to write a good book. No amount of publicity will offset bad writing.

 

That said, there are things you can do. Start by contacting your local stores. Let them the book is coming out.

 

You can offer to do readings or just drop by signings.

 

Signed books are returned to the publisher less often.

 

If you write in a particular genre, appearing at conventions can be really good exposure....

 

Many authors do a lot of their own publicity with mailings to stores, but there some things you should keep in mind...

 

sorry to go on and on. If you do send out publicity be sure it includes important information like where the book can be bought, ISBN number, price and discount schedule and format.

Mary Rosenblum

Now this is critical in today's world of new small publishers! You won't necessarily know that Whatever Press has published a book if they don't send you a catalog, right?

Debbie Cross

That's right. And even if they do, we might not order it if we don't know anything about it or it does offer the right terms.

Mary Rosenblum

Maybe we should pause here and I can have you explain how the bookstore business works, since many houses like iUniverse don't offer any kind of discount.

 

You probably need to explain 'format' too. J

Debbie Cross

The bookseller has to make a profit selling a book. Therefore they have to get a discount from the retail price of the book. Most sellers would expect to get at least 40%.

 

Some of the new print on demand publishers don't offer any or only a very small discount.

 

We would rarely buy a book with less than a 35% discount unless it was a sure sell limited edition from a big name.

 

Most bookstores will also expect to be able to return a book, with a restocking fee, if it doesn't sell. Some publishers offer no returns.

 

By format, I mean is this a hard cover, trade paperback or mass market paperback.

Mary Rosenblum

So this is something that the writer needs to think about when they publish with one of the small press print on demand houses, right? Will that publisher offer a discount to bookstore purchasers?

Debbie Cross

Yes. They should be asking the publisher several questions. What wholesale terms do the offer bookstores?

 

What kind of publicity will they do for book?

 

Are their books listed with major distributors such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram?

 

We specialize in small press books so we deal directly with a lot of publishers, but some of the bigger stores just aren't going to bother with books they can't get from a distributor.

charie'

Why does format matter? The space it takes on the shelf?

Debbie Cross

Not so much the space. In our case, we specialize in the collector market so we aren't going carry a mass market paperback or print on demand books.

 

However, most general bookstores are going to be more likely to invest in a mass market paperback by an unknown author rather than the more expensive hardcover edition.

charie'

Are publications like "Book Dealers World" a good investment for advertising your book?

Debbie Cross

I don't personally look at any of those because we are so specialized. We look at magazines like Locus for science fiction. I can't really speak for a more general store on this subject.

msz

How important is a good author's/book title website?

Debbie Cross

I don't think it makes much difference to the bookseller directly, but it could help build a fan base that would have influence on the bookstore buyer.

 

Also, I think sometimes an author can build a good working relationship with independent stores.

 

One of the things they can do is list independents who stock their books on the their websites.

builder guy

Barnes and Noble will order books with no charge and if you don't show up for it they send it back. I guess that would be harder to do for the little guy huh?

Debbie Cross

That's very hard, as there is always a loss due to restocking fees and postage costs. And it does bring up a scam that has been the talk among some stores lately.

 

An author, friend, or publisher with call under a false name and ask a store to special order a book. Then when the book arrives the store finds out the phone number is non existent.

 

The author/friend may have thought this is a good way to get the book in the store, but it really hurts them in the end.

 

Booksellers talk to each other. Eventually it will just create ill will toward the author and the publisher if they don't allow returns. DONíT DO IT.

 

Talk your friends and relatives into actually buying the book from an independent rather than online.

Mary Rosenblum

That's too bad. It's also going to make stores less willing to special order without a deposit up front

Debbie Cross

Absolutely.

cosmos

If an independent book seller gets 40%, an agent 15%, how much does the publisher take? Does the publisher pay for the distributor? How much is left for the writer who is expected to market his book?

Mary Rosenblum

Debbie, do you want to explain how an author gets paid?

Debbie Cross

You could do that better than I Mary, but I'll try. In a traditional contract the author signs an agreement with the publisher who pays them an advance against royalties.

 

That means the author agrees to take a certain percent of the retail price of each book sold.

 

If more sell than the advance covers (you wish!), then the publisher will pay you royalties on a regular basis.

 

Agents take their percentage from the authors percentage.

Mary Rosenblum

In other words, if your paperback sells for 9 dollars, you might get 8% royalty on every copy sold.

 

Out of that 8% of each book sold, you will pay 15% of THAT amount to your agent.

 

The publisher simply sells the book for the cover price to individuals and forty percent of the cover price to bookstores. They take all that money and pay you your 8% from that.

Debbie Cross

Also, any publicity the author does is out of their own pockets. Hopefully the publisher is doing publicity, too.

cosmos

How long does a book sit on your shelf for you to declare the book a remainder?

Mary Rosenblum

(And you should probably explain 'remainder' Debbie)

Debbie Cross

It is not the bookstore who decides when a book is remaindered. A remainder book is what the publisher has left when they decide to declare the book "out of print"

 

They will then sell these books for pennies, none of which goes to the author, to some distributor. That is what you see on the bargain tables.

 

However, many of the books you see on bargain tables are not remainders of regular print runs, but where made just to sell as bargain books.

 

These are sometimes called promotional books.

builder guy

I guess you just have to trust the publisher on how many books were actually sold?

Debbie Cross

Pretty much. And you have to remember that initial sales will returns subtracted from them.

Mary Rosenblum

Returns are the books the publisher sends to, say, Barnes and Noble, but that they do not sell. They return them to the publisher.

hauckston

Is there a certain number of copies run for a preliminary screening, to test the market first?

Debbie Cross

Not as test of the market, but some publishers produce uncorrected proofs or advance reading copies which are distributed to reviewers and book buyers.

 

These will hopefully create interest in the book. It is one question you can ask a potential publisher.

 

If they do plan one of these, you might be able to suggest bookstores or reviewers in you area that should get them. There is always interest in local authors or settings.

speckledorf

It seems there are a lot of strikes against small presses if a writer wants a career. Do you see this changing in the future?

Debbie Cross

There's a lot of strikes against small presses in general.

 

However, there are some very good small presses who publish for quality, not necessarily quantity.

 

These can be helpful in starting a career. Big publishers these days tend to be looking only for the next Stephen King.

 

Some authors fill special niches and do very well in specialty markets with small presses.

Mary Rosenblum

So, Debbie, just how does a novice writer, new to the business, find out who the quality small presses are?

Debbie Cross

Thatís a good question...

 

First of all, you should talk to other writers. Check out the publisher's website. See who else they have published.

 

Do they specialize? Do you fit their specialty?

 

Do seem to publish on a regular basis and on time? Do author's complain about the way they are treated?

 

Ask the questions about how they deal with booksellers.

Mary Rosenblum

Should they visit their local independent bookstore and ask the owner?

Debbie Cross

Why not? Talk to everybody.

Mary Rosenblum

And of course, visit Preditors and Editors, the website, and ALWAYS look them up under 'book publishers'.

 

This is a website that lists scams.

 

Paul Wrigley was able to join us. Paul is the other half of Wrigley Cross books. John welcome, glad to have you here tonight!

 

Paul, I have a specific question about a publisher for you.

sailor

I'm trying to help a friend find a publisher for her book, a humorous murder mystery. Specifically, Point Blank Press is the mystery imprint of Wildside Press. Wildside claims to be "one of the industry's leading publishers of SF and Fantasy." To check them out, could I ask a local bookstore to request their catalog, assuming they have one?

Paul Wrigley

Yes they should have a catalog. They also have a nice website. Yes ask local mystery stores.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you have some suggestions for good small press houses that people could investigate? Off the top of your head here?

Paul Wrigley

We know science fiction and horror the best. Anyone interested in those areas?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, we do have a number of folk who are.

Paul Wrigley

We recommend checking out Subterranean, Cemetery Dance, PS Publishing.† These are some of the big ones.

 

Night Shade is good for Science Fiction

Mary Rosenblum

Wildside? They do SF too, don't they?

Paul Wrigley

Yes, that is their biggest area.

 

Small presses which do trade paper backs which can be beneficial for new writers include Small Beer, Wheatland, Aqueduct, and Tachyon.

Mary Rosenblum

What about mystery, Paul? I know Poisoned Pen is good.

Paul Wrigley

Yes they are. Crippen & Landru are good, but they generally only do short story collections by established authors.

 

Rue Morgue also does mystery.

msz

Will you explain the self publishing options?

Mary Rosenblum

We do need to talk about this. More and more novice writers are opting for self publishing with some rather unreasonable expectations, I'm afraid.

 

What is your reaction as a book seller to the offer of a self published book? And what affects that?

Debbie Cross

Personally, I think self publishing is appropriate only if you just want copies to give or sell to your friends.

 

If you have a very specialized book you might know the right places to market it,

 

otherwise it is very difficult to sell it yourself. I should know, I tried it.

 

Bookstores are not likely to take a risk on a self published book unless they are your friends.

 

Just be realistic about what you can sell.

Mary Rosenblum

So for a self published book, you're probably better off investing in a good website?

Debbie Cross

That could be true. There are a lot of folks trying e-books now, but that isn't really something we know about.

johnmarvin

I've heard of writers paying an agency to do publicity.

Mary Rosenblum

What's your opinion of a publicist?

 

They're spendy.

Debbie Cross

The truth is, we throw a lot stuff in the waste basket that comes from publicists. Usually because they don't have an understanding of what we do and send us stuff that isn't right for us.

 

If either you or a publicist is going to do expensive mailings, take the time to check out the stores. Most have websites and you see if you are a good fit for them.

msz

Would Preditors and Editors have info on self pub houses?

Mary Rosenblum

I can answer that one.† Yes, they should, if they have received complaints about the publisher.

 

They should be listed under 'book publishers'.

speckledorf

Is there a general list of some sort that lists book stores such as yours or is it a hunt them out kind of thing?

Debbie Cross

Locus Magazine Online lists specialty SF stores. You can also check out the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association website.

gwalden

How do you keep up on new Publishing trends?

Debbie Cross

There are many on line websites that specialize in one topic or another. They often have links pages that include book dealers.

 

Paul says we listen to our customers. It is surprising how often we hear of a new press or author from one of them.

 

We also pay attention to the genre magazines and we even check out other bookstore's newsletters.

charie'

Do items like bookmarks or magnets grab your attention?

Debbie Cross

They might make me look closer in a package or envelope, but they don't really influence the buying decision.

 

Your money could be better spent attending a convention or traveling around talking to booksellers in person.

charie'

Do you attend Booksellers conventions where an author could promote their book to you?

Debbie Cross

Occasionally, we are probably more influenced by conventions where the readers attend. It is interesting to see the reactions to an author when they speak or read.

speckledorf

So good reviews from major magazines could influence the purchase decision?

Debbie Cross

That's probably one of the greatest influences...

 

In fact, if you are sending out promotional materials you should include copies of actual reviews, even if it's just from your local paper.

 

An author can tell us all day long how great their book is, but a third party tells us a lot more.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you ever been 'scammed' by phony reviews?

Debbie Cross

Not that we know of, but we do know an author who's husband wrote fan reviews for her book on amazon.com.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, that happens a LOT!

sailor

How influential is having chapter 1 of a book take first place in a contest?

Debbie Cross

If would be influential and should be mentioned in publicity, but it would depend on how well known the contest is.

cosmos

Do you give priority to Oregon writers who are willing to market their books? What do you look for in a book that would cause you to feature it?

Debbie Cross

When we had an open store, we would have featured Oregon writers. Now not so much unless they happen to be friends.

 

Good reviews, good cover art helps on the website. It is sometimes nice to feature books we think are high quality, but might not yet have come to the attention of our customers.

 

For example, before everyone know Joe Hill was Stephen King's son, his stuff was winning awards and getting great reviews in genre magazines.

 

It was a lot of fun to "out" him to the readers.

Mary Rosenblum

Fun indeed. J

 

Well, we're nearing the end of our time together. Want to give a sort of summary of advice to a

 

novice writer who really isn't sure what he/she needs to be looking for in a publisher?

Debbie Cross

I would say, donít be in hurry to sign with the first publisher who says they will publish your book.

 

I know the desire to see it in print is hard to resist, but author beware.

 

Take a little time to make sure the publisher is legit, and actually cares about the books they publish.

 

If you want to see it in the stores, make sure the publisher has a plan for marketing and has record of getting the books into bookstores.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that 'don't be in a rush' advice is the most important.

 

We all are DYING to see our book on the shelf...but shop well.

Debbie Cross

Also, talk to published authors and get their feedback and advice.

Mary Rosenblum

And check Preditors and Editors ALWAYS before you deal with a publisher or agent. Scams abound, taking advantage of just that naivetť and enthusiasm.

cosmos

Please give all the arguments in favor of supporting independent book sellers in the day of deep discount and extreme buys at amazon.com.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes!!!

Debbie Cross

Independents can give new writers a leg up by "hand selling" books they believe in. They order books they care about and are a good fit for their customers.

 

We know our customers and often bring books to their attention they would miss otherwise.

 

If independents go away, all books you see will be the same ones on the supermarket rack. The same authors over and over, because the big publishers and big stores don't want to take risks.

 

If you buy online, it can be great if you know just what you're looking for . But how are you going to find the book you didn't know you were looking for but find you need?

 

If you don't support your independent stores for the commonplace purchases, they will go away and the online stores will be all you have left.

Mary Rosenblum

So keep that in mind!

 

If you love diversity and surprises, think small. :-) Think of the price difference as an investment in your reading future.

 

Paul and Debbie thank you so much for coming tonight!

 

It is getting easier and easier to publish books

 

with print on demand technology and it's more important than ever

 

to understand what you're doing before you sign on the dotted line. I really appreciate your expertise.

Debbie Cross

Thanks for asking us. We want all of your writers to go on and be published, but we want them to do it with their eyes open.

Mary Rosenblum

You bet! So keep your eyes open folks....

cosmos

Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed tonight. I learned a lot. Thanks so much for being advocates for books and writers.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you all for coming tonight.

 

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