20 Tips from a Bookseller:
You’ve written a book.
Congratulations, I mean it, and that’s coming from someone who:
- is completely incapable of writing a book and
- counts eating a whole tube of Pringles in one sitting as a typical life achievement.
However, if you are thinking of bringing your self-published book into my bookshop, you might like to consider the following:
1) If you have paid money to have your book printed, this will put you at a disadvantage when approaching bookshops, no matter what your “publisher” might have told you or how much they might have charged you for “trade distribution.”
Publishers of all sizes (and I’m talking about conventional publishers here, who don’t ask for money from their authors) have a rigorous selection process, based on quality.
If you have paid to have a book published, this immediately shows me that your book has not been through that process.
Quality control has not been applied here.
2) Books undergo many re-writes before and after they are accepted by publishers.
An accomplished team will then work with the author on design, content, editing, you name it.
We can only assume that your book has had no expert help or collaboration.
Telling us that your Mum liked it or that your next-door neighbour gave it five stars probably won’t compensate for any of this.
3) It is not uncommon for an Indie Bookshop to buy in less than 5% of the titles shown to them by publishers/wholesalers every month.
It is very much the exception for us to buy a book, and even more so over the counter.
Therefore your book must be exceptional.
Bear in mind too that, though your book may be literally under my nose, unlike almost every food item I could mention, that fact alone is not going to jump it to the front of a very long queue.
4) Why is your book priced at 7.49? This suggests that you have never seen a book before.
5) Why is your book priced at 20.99 for a standard paperback?
If the answer is:
That reflects how much it cost me to get it published,
then you really shouldn’t have got it published.
6) What size is your book exactly?
Somewhere in between A format and B format?
B+? A-? B flat minor?
OK, so maybe IngramSpark do list 87 different ‘trim’ sizes for books, but why not go for a format that is already established?
7) Front cover design and font choice are two key areas where your book can look very home-made.
Achieving a professional front cover yourself is not easy and yet this is the main criteria on which your book will be judged.
(That’s right. I’m not going to read it.)
You may have written the best book in the world but if the reaction to your cover is:
- Oh my God. Is that what I think it is? or
- I haven’t seen that font since Windows 3.0
then not many people will get to read it.
Authors don’t tend to design their own covers.
I certainly can’t help in this area, as someone who once designed a shopping bag for my bookshop and then had to spend over a year pretending it was the winning entry in a competition for under-fives, but generally speaking, if you insist on doing your own cover, I would advise going to Kindle Cover Disasters and studiously steering clear of everything you see.
That would be a good starting point.
8) If your book is “suitable for ages 3-93” or aimed at “readership: everyone,” this again suggests that you have never seen a published book.
9) Your book is not technically “available from all wholesalers” if the two main UK wholesalers (Bertrams and Gardners) have the book listed at:
- 10% discount,
- print on demand and
- firm sale
(translation = crap terms, takes bloody ages to come in, can’t return the damn thing it if it doesn’t sell.)
10) It is very risky telling an Independent Bookshop that
Waterstones are stocking it.
OK, it’s not quite as bad as telling us that your book is popular with child murderers, and yes, there will probably be some stock overlap between Waterstones and any Indie Bookshop, but it does show a lack of understanding and tact to suggest that an Independent Bookseller will hear the word “Waterstones” and immediately jump to attention:
Oh, why didn’t you say? We make it our business to try and stock every book that Waterstones has. Better take twenty copies. Martha, clear the window immediately. Incoming book. It’s a Waterstones stock title.
11) Try to avoid using the quote “thought-provoking” on the dust jacket.
It’s amazing how many “thought-provoking” self-published books there are.
To me, it just begs the question: what was that ‘thought?’
Was it: “How the hell do I get out of reading this?”
I am convinced that no publisher worth its salt uses the description “thought-provoking” and to prove it, I did a quick spot check of adjectives used on the jackets (front and back) of all our newest fiction titles. It was a bit quiet at the shop.
These are the top 20 words used:
There were over 200 different words in total, including zingy, fabulistic, sane, foul-mouthed and my own favourite: readable, but not a single thought-provoking to be found. Case closed.
12) Dear Author. Thank you for sending me your book set “mostly in Portsmouth.”
It seems that being set mostly in somewhere is a phenomenon found mostly in self-published books.
The Harry Potter books may be set mostly in Hogwarts but you won’t find this mentioned anywhere on the book jackets.
Books that tell us they are set mostly in a location end up mostly in our recycling bin.
13) Do not be aggrieved when we (politely) say no.
If “being stocked by our shop” was a vital and quite possibly the only component of your master plan for world domination, might it have been worth telling us this before going to print?
I once rejected a particularly shocking piece of self-published baloney “for kids of all ages”
(probably called Tilly The Tractor, Desmond the Digger or Ellie The Electric Counterbalance Forklift Truck, you get the idea)
whereupon the author turned to me and asked plaintively:
But what do I do now?
as if this was all somehow my fault.
Yes, apparently, it was me that had set her on the road to believing that this poorly-sketched travesty of a picture flap book was her golden key to success.
It must have been my idea too, that all her characters should constantly spew forth subtle-as-a-crowbar nuggets of pseudo-babble for kids, on every soul-destroying page:
“Remember, children, just be who you wanna be and you’ll soon find a sense of self” said Flossie the Flower.
“But what do I do now?” indeed.
The immediate answer that sprung to mind was: get out of my shop.
14) Be very careful playing the “local author” card.
Firstly, this works both ways:
- If you are a local author, then we must be your local bookshop, yet how come we’ve never set eyes on you before?
- Why exactly haven’t you been supporting your local bookshop?
- Surely you must be interested in books, you know, as an author.
Secondly, no-one asks for books by local authors anyway. Rarely will someone enter a bookshop and say:
I don’t care what the book is about, or whether it’s complete drivel, but it must be written by a local author, let’s say somebody who lives within a 20 mile radius of your shop. No, this guy lives slightly too far away. Not for me I’m afraid.
15) Asking for your own self-published book is not a good opening gambit.
Nor is it as funny as you think it is:
Have you (snigger snigger) got Bingle and The Bongleberries by Piers Petri-Dish? Actually that’s me (chortle): Piers Petri-Dish. Hi.
16) Pulling out your self-published book because you are
I just noticed this place as I was passing
is a complete no go.
Not to appear vain, but as a shop, I’m starting to feel very under-valued here.
Also, you’d be amazed how many self-published authors not only make it clear that they haven’t visited my shop before, but also fail to take even the quickest look around before approaching one of us.
I sometimes ask self-published authors:
Why my shop exactly?
Because I’m in it.
17) We may ask you:
Have you tried sending this book out to agents and publishers?
If your answer is:
- No or I didn’t think of that – then why not? Have you no confidence that others will see something of note in your work? Does mainstream distribution not appeal for some reason?
- It was rejected by everyone – then why the hell would I want it?
- It’s all a big conspiracy/it’s all who-you-know with publishers – it really isn’t. I’ve met many newly-published authors, and none of them had any previous connection with agents or publishers. No conspiracy, no nepotism, and no harnessing the power of the moon.
18) We are not going to stock your book just so you can send your three friends in to buy it from us under the false premise that you have
had a book published.
Just sell it to them directly and let’s stop pretending you haven’t spent over 5000 pounds on something called a Platinum Package.
19) Apparently your book has created a
bit of a buzz on-line
so let’s have a look: yes, one person in particular seems to have posted a whole series of excited tweets about this very book in the lead up to it “hitting the shops.”
No points for guessing who.
By the way, you may well have 2 million followers on Twitter but this isn’t fooling anyone.
Everyone knows how that is done.
First-time authors at Major Publishing Houses, unless they are already a celebrity or well-known vlogger, will probably have hundreds of followers, maybe thousands, but not millions.
While I’m on the subject, it is probably not a good idea to crowbar the word Author to your name on every available social media platform either.
Published authors don’t tend to do this: there is no facebook.com/JKRowlingAuthor.
They are also very unlikely to tweet any of the following:
You know you’re an author when…
Simply loving my life as an author.
Three years ago, writing was nothing more than a dream to me. Today I am a bestselling author.
If constantly referring to yourself as an Author were enough to make it come true, then frankly, I would have become an Iconic French Film Actress years ago.
20) You tell me your book is a
bestseller on Amazon.
Was it by any chance the number one seller, for around seven minutes on a Tuesday, under the following category:
Fiction>Implausible Thriller>Vapid Fantasy>Meta-Irksome>Over-boiled>Hokeylit?
So there we have it.
I am fully aware that there are a few self-published authors making a lot of money from their books in download form, and keeping a huge profit from sales that conventionally published authors can only dream of.
There are also many worthwhile physical self-published titles I am sure.
Self-publishing can and does work for some people, both financially and creatively.
I am not denying that.
This blogpost is really just about my own experience of self-published authors trying to get their books stocked in my shop.
And to be honest, when it comes to the majority of these books, I wouldn’t take them for free, let alone part with money.
One slightly peeved self-published author actually put this to the test once, by saying to me (post-rejection):
Well you might as well just have it then. I can’t get rid of it.
(which rather backed up my original decision.)
I still refused to take it, which I think annoyed him even more.
There are just some things no-one wants for free, like herpes and your book.
Even after many years of dealing with self-published authors, my heart still sinks when a likely candidate walks into the shop and makes a beeline straight for the counter, clutching items unknown in a jiffy bag.
Oh God. Please just let it be an armed robbery.
I suppose it is rewarding (as a bookseller) to see how many writers ultimately want to produce a printed version of their book as opposed to a download.
However, it is not uncommon for a self-published author to hype up their book as being the absolute bee’s knees, while simultaneously presenting me with an item that has the appearance of a completely different species to books I actually stock.
The likelihood of a bookshop taking such an item is about the same as if you walked into your local butchers, clutching a turd wrapped in cling film, while asking them to stock your “self-produced sausage rolls.”
The good news for self-published authors, having said that, is that all Independent Bookshops are different.
That’s the beauty of them.
A different shop may well welcome both you and your scatological pastry product of the literary world with open arms.