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20 Tips from a Bookseller:

 

You’ve written a book.

Congratulations, I mean it, and that’s coming from someone who:

  1. is completely incapable of writing a book and
  2. 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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

 

  • Really?
  • 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.     

 

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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.

 

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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:

1) Funny

2) Gripping

3) Superb

4) Beautiful

5) Dazzling

6) Compelling

7) Powerful

8) Moving

9) Entertaining

10) Charming

11) Remarkable

12) Ambitious

13) Enthralling

14) Brilliant

15) Wonderful

16) Disturbing

17) Engrossing

18) Heart-breaking

19) Comic

20) Dark

 

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.    

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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16)  Pulling out your self-published book because you are

on holiday

or because

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?

One answered:

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.

 

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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?

 

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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.

 

Black Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on lime background

 

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.

Good luck.     

34 comments on “Self-Published Authors”

  1. Too true. only too painfully true! However, I don’t find it easy to turn down a self published author who is stood directly in front of me – even if I am certain, in my heart of hearts, that the book is a great big pile of steaming nonsense! I always end up taking a couple or so – and almost always fail to sell a single copy.
    I’ve only been in the business for four years; will I develop the necessary thick skin, callous uncaring attitude? Or am I forever doomed to be a soft touch?

  2. You make some good points. Some very understandable ones. But also some unnecessarily snarky points that I feel are rather unfair.

    There are good self-published books, of course, but how can I help you sort them from the bad and the fug-ugly?

    Most people would probably tell you to look at the presentation – whether the cover and interior look professional, and the blurb looks authoritative and slick. But to be blunt, pigs can be well disguised by the right kind of lipstick. Still thinking in pig, a good sausage and a bad sausage look mostly the same on the outside.

    No, instead, I urge you to do this. Look at the author.

    Consider the following:

    What experience do they have of publishing? Do they know how much meticulous polishing a book should have? Have they already been traditionally published, and learned what it takes?
    Do they give the impression that they are wise and competent enough to make responsible publishing decisions?

    Yes, it has to be admitted that some books are published too early. A release date is decided, and sometimes there is no time for the author to do a rewrite, even if the manuscript badly needs it. The editorial people do the best they can in the time available, tidying up the typos and inconsistencies – or sometimes they don’t even have time for that. I’ve been involved with books like this – and industry friends have too.

    Sounds like a ghastly compromise, doesn’t it? And do you know, the examples I have in mind are not self-published books. They’re books produced by traditional publishing houses. I promise on my honour, this happens and it’s not even uncommon.

    Manuscripts that have already been published in hardback often get another proof-read before they release in paperback – and all manner of unholy errors come to light. Not just the odd typo, but fundamental goofs with credibility and consistency. And major craft issues like head-hopping. I can’t count the number of published books – yea, even those from trad houses – where the author hasn’t grasped point of view. When characters start talking about things they can’t possibly know, it can slap a reader right out of the story.

    So it’s not safe to assume that a trad published book has superior quality control.

    But, you might ask, who is doing the quality control on an indie author’s book? Well, the trad houses use freelances – freelances who are also now working with indie authors. It’s the editors who guide the book, line by line, into a publishable shape – so indie authors who use them are getting exactly the same degree of professional stewardship as authors who are published by an established imprint. And, if they’ve been sensible with their schedules, these authors might be able to use the editor’s contribution more fully.

    But all the good authors get book deals, don’t they?

    No. They don’t. A book deal isn’t like an academic qualification – you hit the standard, you get the badge. That’s one of publishing’s biggest myths. Here’s the reality – a book deal is awarded to writers whose work fits current marketing needs. Big, big difference.

    Let me tell you a story to illustrate what it’s really like. I have a friend who’s a senior editor at one of the Big 5. A decade ago she published a set of novels that were well reviewed, got a five-figure advance – the full fanfare. She’s now come out with a new novel, which has seriously impressed an agent. But.

    What’s the but? The market has moved on and isn’t looking for books like hers. On its own terms – as a reading experience – the book is her best ever. Her old fans would probably love it too. Her original books are still finding a steady trickle of new readers. She’s made the grade, dammit, but that book does not fit today’s market.

    And what’s she doing? She’s seeking my advice on self-publishing. As is another friend who got his original publishing deal by winning a national award, and then went on to publish 10 highly acclaimed novels.

    These are some of the people who are self-publishing. Senior figures in the industry. Prizewinning authors. People of solid publishing pedigree. And they’re probably even better authors than when they started because they’ve grown as writers and people. Other kinds of people who self-publish responsibly include authors who’ve begun under contract and then continued as self-publishers; authors who have released their books once they went out of print; authors who’ve published in very commercial areas but would like to publish with more creative control.

    Even if an author ticks the marketing boxes, they might prefer not to accept a deal. Not just because of money or royalty rates, but because of other clauses that have long-term consequences. Two that particularly deserve attention are rights grabs and reversion clauses. Sometimes, a publishing deal doesn’t make business sense to the author, even with the kudos.

    We are in an age where more authors will be their own creative directors – for artistic reasons and financial ones (we haven’t even mentioned creative control, but that’s another factor for committed authors with their eye on the long game). A lot of the new, important voices will come up through self-publishing because traditional publishing will have to play safer and safer. And a lot more of your favourite authors will be continuing their body of work by self-publishing.

    Your shop is your shop, of course. And you make a persuasive case for your policies, which are yours anyway and are none of my business. Many obviously self-published books are horrors, for exactly the reasons you describe. I chuckled in recognition many times through your piece. I’m good friends with a bookseller and I know it from his point of view as well. But I do feel it’s important to explain why competent authors selfpublish.

    • Brava, Roz Morris!
      I too laughed out loud at much of the article and understand The Secret Bookseller’s pain. We have all met authors like those. But so wrong to tar every self-published author with the same brush. She is missing out on some gems – including Roz’s. And what is she hoping to achieve by this?
      It’s a shame she’s a Secret Bookseller – if she dropped her cloak of secrecy, self-published authors could save their valuable time calling on her. I mean those SP authors who do abide by high standards, use a team of reputable professionals to design, edit and proof their work. That would leave her to concentrate on turning away those who don’t. She clearly enjoys it.

    • Thanks for your response, Roz. Next time someone enters my shop with a self-published book, I shall try following your advice. I will “look at the author” and ask myself questions such as “Do they know how much meticulous polishing a book should have?” I’ll let you know how I get on.

      • There are many qualified SP authors that choose not to go the traditional publishing route for several reasons.

        1. Traditional publishers don’t provide quality marketing for unknown authors. They publish the book and ship it out but provide little to no marketing. Any marketing they do provide is done by someone who handles several books and has little to no time to commit to the book and author.

        2. Royalties are less.

        3. In relation to point one, since the author ends up doing most of the marketing, it’s nice to have more control over pricing, etc.

        Given that, experienced writers/authors tend to leave traditional publishers and go the SP route because of the control factor, and work with professionals who edit, proof and market their books, as well as graphic designers and book formatting companies. Of course you’re going to find those novice authors who do it themselves, and I cringe every time I read somewhere that someone has friends or family edit their books or they don’t feel they need an editor because they use Grammarly or self-edit, but not everyone does that, so please don’t count out those of us that don’t.

  3. I’m sure you do meet many annoying authors and all of these are real examples you’ve experienced. Unfortunately, your post suggests that all self published authors publish books of a low standard.
    While I’ve no wish to blow my own trumpet here, I just want to state that my books are stocked by all Irish bookshops via the wholesalers (I’m based in Ireland) at the standard 55% discount as well as a number of gift shops. I’ve been interviewed by presenters on national TV and radio and they didn’t realise the books were self published until they were announcing the publisher when giving the book details at the end of the interview.
    I’m not going to continue as I’ll only be rewording what Roz has said so suffice to say I agree with every word she has written.

    • Did nobody read the bit where I said there are “many worthwhile physical self-published titles?”

      That was a lot of trumpet-blowing by the way, but feel free.

  4. The truth is that “A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space.” (https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing). Not to mention, most booksellers are as unlikely to take a traditionally published book offered over the counter by its author as an indie-published book–contract conditions would make it impossible to afford for either party. A booth at a local fair would be a more lucrative idea!

    So even being traditionally published does not automatically translate to bookstore shelf space. That has much less to do with quality and more and more to do with luck. My go-to reading is the mystery genre–seven of the now famous and wealthy (and very good) writers in that genre began in the late 80s or early 90s and say publicly in interviews that they would never be published today or found in bookstores, based on the way things work now. It is a different world, and the definition of what creates a good book in any genre is in jeopardy versus what can become a blockbuster, which publishers need to support the majority of their other books, which are all too often remaindered in the brick and mortar stores within six months (or simply removed).

    The truth is also that on average traditional publishers accept less than 2% of the books they receive via queries and referrals–they simply cannot afford to print more, given the industry is a low-profit one. Thus, it is not quality that is the sole arbiter, or many more books would be in the running. Here is an excellent article about traditional publishing “success” by a successful author: http://www.ian-irvine.com/on-writing/the-truth-about-publishing/–not a pretty picture.

    I get what this article is trying to say–but it is not a persuasive or totally accurate viewpoint, based on the facts of the industry now. Booksellers are no longer the gatekeepers they once were for writers and publishers. Even local libraries have more in stock or at last use a regional exchange system. Brick and mortar booksellers are not making or breaking any author’s income. Once upon a time, they did.

    • Not to mention, most booksellers are as unlikely to take a traditionally published book offered over the counter by its author as an indie-published book

      This is not correct, certainly for my bookshop. We often order books shown to us over the counter by authors taking the traditional publishing route. This is now quite a common way of getting first-time authors’ books into shops. The publishers send the author out on a charm-offensive tour of bookshops, armed with proof copies. Quite labour-intensive for the author but it does work……sometimes.

      Re your last point, there are plenty of authors who couldn’t have made it without the support of bookshops, both small and large, and also plenty who find success while by-passing bookshops completely. I don’t think it is as black-and-white as just saying:

      Brick and mortar booksellers are not making or breaking any author’s income.”

  5. I don’t disagree with you on lots of your points, but I think with point 1 you mean “If you have paid to have your book PUBLISHED … [by a vanity publisher]” which is quite different from printing, which is a necessary expense to get a physical book.

    Why do you assume that the book has had no professional help? I have read many self-published authors who have paid for an editor, a proofreader and a cover designer. I agree many haven’t, but simply asking the question would mean you don’t have to assume.

    You make a lot of valid points and many self-published authors don’t understand the rigorous process in producing a quality product (although, in fairness, some traditional publishers seem not to either). Also, as a seller having to deal with the type of self-published author who has a sense of entitlement that you should take their book come what may must be hugely frustrating. And I know you don’t have time to weed out the good from the bad. But to those people jumping up and saying that they would never buy a self-published book, you are missing out on some excellent reads.

    For authors wanting to do their homework before approaching shops, the Alliance of Independent Authors has a host of posts on working with independent bookshops: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/?s=bookshop&submit=Search they also have their own publication How to Get Your Self-Published Book into Bookstores (https://selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-get-your-self-published-book-into-bookstores/) and a book for publishing professionals called Opening Up to Indies (https://selfpublishingadvice.org/opening-up-to-indie-authors/).

    I wrote the above this morning when there were no other comments, but it hasn’t appeared. Roz has said much better than I have and I agree with both her and Lorna.

    • Sorry about that. Your response got flagged up as spam. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I would “never” buy a self-published book. I just very rarely do, that’s all. Thanks for the links. I particularly enjoyed the site that encouraged writers to buy “gifts of coffee from the nearby bakers” for your local bookseller. Now there’s a campaign I can get behind.

  6. “There are just some things no-one wants for free, like herpes and your book.”

    This made my morning.

    I agree with you–there ARE some good self-published books out there. Like in most things, only 10% are top tier. I wish I could actually find one of those books, but when the other 90% of the offering is muddying the waters, they’re harder to find than I have the endurance for. That’s me. Some readers who devour a book a day are probably more forgiving of many things I’m not.

    It always surprises me when self-pubbed authors get so peeved about the obvious downfalls of this everyone-gets-published market. It’s impacting their sales more than it is traditionally published authors. (I’m talking ebook here, because SP here in the States rarely go to print.) Maybe they’re selling thousands of copies…at 99 cents. Or giving free downloads. How many of those 99 cent or free downloads actually get read? When something comes to you for nothing, or next to it, you’re not as invested in reading it. So you got 8000 downloads in a day and made it to the top ten in your category for ten minutes. Is that really the goal? Or is growing your audience the goal? How is such an offering, or the momentary “success” doing that if few actually read it?

    There are always exceptions doing well in their endeavors, and huzzah for them. Even among these, I’ve been unable to get through a single one. I’ve tried. I really have. Free or no, I’m not into cringing through head-hopping grammar train wrecks built around flimsy plots and flat characters. That being said, I’ve read two SP books cover to cover. Note–these are not among those SP authors doing well. I think they might have sold a total of 100 books between them.

    I come at this through many years in the industry as a writer, an editor, and (for a brief time when the publisher I worked for had a stroke) as a small (as in REALLY small) press publisher. I’m published small, medium and (in June) big 5. I know the differences among them firsthand. And though I’ve never self-published a book, I know the difference between a good one and a not-so-great one.

    Anyway, this is a subject people are passionate about. Truth is, in publishing, there are good experiences and bad whether you’re small, medium, big or self published. What it comes down to is–it’s got to be about the love, not the money, not the fame. If you do it for love first, you can’t be disappointed once you have that book finished.
    AUTHOR TLDeFino 😛

    PS, I’m not including “hybrid” authors in this comment. Authors with an established audience, whether by having already published traditionally or via some other means, are a whole new ball of wax.

  7. Your article has just had me howling with laughter.

    “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 know this feeling so well.
    I was bombarded by one lady looking and talking a little like Barbara Winsor, she wouldn’t give up and in the end she defeated me. The children’s book was horrendous but it sold – to one of her friends! I fobbed her off when she wanted me to take more, but recently she’s been back in with a bloody sequel! Which is twice as bad. I’m thinking of closing the shop to avoid her and many others of her ilk.
    I couldn’t agree more about the local author never seen in the shop before. They tell you what a lovely shop you have and how they love independent bookshops then walk straight out without pause.
    Fabulous article loved every line, at least I know mow I’m not on my own. 😊

  8. Hello fellow fig roll lover,

    My immediate response to your blog was to be defensive, but on second reading I realised that I can understand how you have gained your impression of self-published writers. Two immediate examples spring to mind.

    (1) Not very long again, I received a very generous reception from a newly-opened independent book shop. In fact, it was no ordinary book shop. It was book heaven, complete with its own gin bar. I had been invited to speak to their writers’ group followed by a book signing and my books were to be stocked. Then I blew it. I was unable to resist posting a comment in a writers’ forum about my experience. The forum had thousands of members. As a direct result of my one vain post, the bookseller was inundated with unprofessional emails saying ‘Jane Davis sent me’. Rarely have I been so embarrassed.

    (2) I host an author interview series called Virtual Book Club which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their books a book club audience. I turn down approximately 50% of applications down because, when I use the Look Inside feature on The Website That Shall Not Be Named, either the content is completely unsuitable for my audience or I spot glaring errors.

    I fully take on board what you say about utilising your limited shelf-space to full advantage. When I was trade published, I was expected to play my part in ensuring my book remained in stock. I went through a lot of shoe leather.

    That said, I do feel the need to respond in some small way.

    Over twenty-five per cent of those who present as self-published authors will be hybrid authors, meaning that they are also trade published. Some will be represented by literary agents. Some will have been trade published in the past and have now opted to self-publish. Some ghost write for well-established authors selling millions of titles but their own work is refused, primarily because of market conditions.
    As for my own experience, the ink was not dry on my first publishing contract before the small publisher was bought by a large publisher, who had no interest in my book. My second novel won the Daily Mail First Novel Award in 2008 and was published by Random House. In 2012, I turned to self-publishing. Last year, my seventh novel won Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Which brings me to your comment: “We can only assume that your book has had no expert help or collaboration.”

    One of the reasons the Writing Magazine award appealed to me is because it not only rewarded exemplary writing, but high production values and strong attention to detail. As an independent publisher, these things are vitally important to me. I could write the best book in the world, but without great design and print quality, it simply wouldn’t sell.

    I submitted one of my ‘bookshop’ editions printed by Clays, with its striking cover by Andrew Candy, founder of Mine Art Gallery, (which has won two cover design awards in its own right) and interior design by JD Smith Design. Including my team of thirty-five beta readers, my structural editor, my copy editor and my proof-reader, it took the combined efforts of more than forty-five people to produce the winning entry. The judges said that the book would sit well among the titles of any of the Big 5 publishers. If anything, I take greater pleasure in this award than the Daily Mail Award, because I am now completely aware of the work that is taken to bring a book to market.

    Although the words ‘though provoking’ do not appear on my book covers I might have been slightly guilty of using that phrase. To other authors reading this thread, I recently learned using some nifty software that readers do not search for ‘thought-provoking fiction’ or ‘thought provoking fiction’ or indeed ‘thought provoking novels’. Not a single search. I imagine the same applies when browsing in book shops.

    Also, my mother hates my writing.

  9. I love this so much I can’t tell you. As a self-published writer (I never call myself an ‘author’, it sounds poxy), who sells only Kindle books and gets them professionally edited and proofread, I despair over people such as those you encounter, who don’t research the business they are in before publishing, who don’t understand that ‘vanity’ publishing is for total losers, who don’t realise that the first novel they write may not actually be publishable, etc etc etc.

    Most of all, I love that you feel the way I do about ‘You know you’re an author when…’, and all related ‘hilarious’ blog posts and memes. These people don’t want to write, they want to be a member of a rather smug online club.

  10. Oh yes, and ‘thought-provoking’ – waaaahhhh!!! Author-author review cliche number 67. Comes just after ‘flawed characters’.

  11. Surely an easy way to sort the wheat from the chaff would be to make the first question you ask the aspiring author, “Who is your editor?” If that question is met with a blank stare, then you can pretty much guess what’s between the covers. If they’ve gone to the trouble of getting their book edited, then the chances are that they do know a little about publishing, have a more professional attitude to their writing, have had at least some external guidance with their book, and so on.
    If they say they haven’t had it edited, you can refer them to me. 😉

  12. I hadn’t been planning to use the term “thought-provoking,” but I definitely never will now! Some very interesting insights about what *not* to do. Do you have any stories about a self-pubber who really impressed you? That would help a lot, too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Local non-fiction books are usually the most impressive self-published books: oral histories and books of old photos, that kind of thing. Can’t be too specific as my locality is a secret!

    • Fiona Woodhead and her “once-upon-a-slime” series of books. There are now four of them, aimed at 3-8 year olds, based on stories she and her partner told their children. Very informative (do you know how many varieties of slugs there are to be found in your garden) as well as entertaining.
      They have always sold well in my shop.

  13. Really? Want my opinion on ‘independent & mainstream bookshops? OK:
    1. You need to smarten up your window displays.
    2. You need to stop piling the same genre books on tables ..
    3. You need to be far more flexible about what you stock. I see the same old same old everywhere. There are plenty of small presses.
    4.Stop being so sniffy about writer events. OK, maybe some of us aren’t Zadie Smith, but we should still not be treated like street scum.
    5. Despite your rather snarky post: many of us pay for professional editing, covers and spent a HELLOFA lot of time making sure our product is as good as we can. I have found typos and bad punctuation in a lot of so-called mainstream published books.
    6. Oh, and should we deign to offer you the fruit of our many many hours…stop ripping us off! 40% discount? You’re not actually doing us a favour ~ we, as writers, are the reason that you, as a bookseller are still in business.
    Good luck. Wish I knew who you were, so I could make sure you won’t stock my books (Oh, and FYI, I was on the Silver Dagger shortlist for the first one.)

    • You don’t need to make sure, Carol. You have my absolute guarantee that my shop doesn’t stock your books. I hope that puts your mind at rest.

  14. I had to read this right to the end. I was very intrigued and waited for the positive messages, but was very disappointed. I decided to self publish my children’s book as it was a family project and a collaboration with my daughter when she was ill. I am learning so much about the industry and how challenging it is. This post could make me feel disheartened and like it’s not worthwhile. But then I think about my little readers and how they love the story and our characters. I go into schools to read my book, inspire young children and talk about the themes in the book. It has opened up a whole new world for me. I am now on the second book in the series and have more schools booked in. As long as I am inspiring and helping my young readers then that’s all that matters. As much as your post made me uncomfortable, it also made me smile. I have never approached independent book shops. But you have given some useful feedback.

    • “The good news for self-published authors, having said that, is that all Independent Bookshops are different. That’s the beauty of them.”
      That was the positive message: I am only one person, speaking on behalf of one shop.

  15. Well, this post has been effective – the consciously snarky tone has certainly led to plenty of replies, both level and hot-headed. You make plenty of valid points, especially about the lack of professionalism of many self-published authors, but the same piece could be written about the lack of professionalism of the trade.

    I’m a hybrid. My first book was published worldwide, sold out several print runs and I scarcely made a penny. Yes, partly that’s because I was a new writer and would have made a Faustian pact to get my book out, but it’s also because the royalty rates offered by the big houses are dismal. As part of their work promoting my book, they appointed a PR team. Expensive, no doubt, but they got 10% of the coverage my book received – I achieved the other 90%, including a double page spread in The Guardian.

    For my new book, I’m self-publishing. I know better than any publisher how to speak to my audience – I understand their reticence in publishing many books, each one is a risk, which is why so few publishers take them – and I know better than any bookseller how to get books in the hands of my readers. Do I want to negotiate with the surly staff of my local bookshop (I’m not saying you’re surly – but they certainly are), offer a large discount, when I know that it’s not really the outlet for me? I’d rather spend that time building my mailing list, launching a new AMS ad, blogging for my readers – time that will lead to sales and a growing audience.

    Like most local bookshops, they’re happy to sell a mixture of discount books and pile-em-high genre stuff I wouldn’t use to fix a wonky table but is clearly popular (and yes, they also stock the popular local stuff that is full of photos, vanity published and invariably appallingly written). My book doesn’t belong there. (As an aside, I do pick up presents from there – the last was a Joseph Conrad classic with a dreadful cover and a typo in the very first line of the book – hurrah for the big publishers and their ‘accomplished teams’!). Clearly local booksellers struggle against the chains and online growth, but perhaps they could take some inspiration from self-published entrepreneurs and work more flexibly and effectively.

    There’ll always be willing amateurs who get everything wrong but, happily, the work of groups like the Alliance of Independent Authors and the plethora of publications, blogs and courses offered by utterly professional self-published authors is spreading best practice throughout the SP world. There’s increasingly little excuse for going to market with a badly-edited, poorly-designed book, and while that’s who you’re targeting with this post, it doesn’t reflect the reality of a growing sector of the market.

    Out of interest, what would be the correct answer to question 17? Mine would be – I think I know the market for my book better than any agent or publisher who haven’t been in that particular milieu. Because I can build that audience myself, my new book is in profit after three days of sales and I’ve fielded queries on film rights and turning it into a live show. Past experience dealing with the big houses has taught me that I know better than them how to promote my books to my readers. I’d rather be writing my next book or speaking to my readers than fruitlessly pitching to a lumbering giant who doesn’t understand niche markets well enough and probably rejected Harry Potter or A Confederacy of Dunces because it didn’t fit their manuscript requirements/wasn’t double-spaced/was emailed/wasn’t emailed.

    This isn’t the cry of someone rejected by publishers, it’s the hard-earned wisdom of someone who has danced with them and found them lacking. (Please note – I don’t usually specialise in mangled metaphors like the previous sentence). Would I benefit from a deal with a publisher? Almost certainly not. They’d get it out there, they’d help overcome the innate snobbishness of mainstream publications to SP authors (see Peter Bradshaw’s almost hilariously factually incorrect piece about e-book sales in The Guardian, recently), but they’d also benefit a lot more from my work in marketing to readers than I would. I can do that myself and make much, much more money.

    It won’t be the same for everyone, but it’s just an example of how much more complicated and nuanced the world of self-publishing is than the one you paint here for lols.

    • “…most local bookshops, they’re happy to sell a mixture of discount books and pile-em-high genre stuff I wouldn’t use to fix a wonky table but is clearly popular…”
      You have clearly never visited The Bookshop! (But then, I’ve never read any of your work so that makes us just about equal!)
      I don’t stock discount books, there is a small second hand (“previously owned”!) section in the shop but otherwise the stock is all new stuff. And it is not the “popular” stuff; there is a supermarket a couple of hundred yards down the road that sells the current best sellers at a price cheaper than I can obtain the stock so there isn’t really much point selling them!
      I try and stock a range of titles, fiction and non fiction that is going to be of interest to my loyal customers and not on sale at Sainsbury’s! A lot of thought goes into the process of buying stock because I simply cannot afford to buy large numbers of books that are not going to sell.
      All in all, I think that your comments do a great injustice to local bookshops. you may be unfortunate with your local one but do try and get out more and visit a greater variety of bookshops! You might be pleasantly surprised!

      • Fair enough Mark. I’m guilty somewhat of generalising negatively and putting everyone into the same category – perhaps because I’d just read an interesting blog post somewhere on this page that does exactly that. But you’re right, there are many great local bookstores out there – I had a wonderful one nearby when I lived in Tonbridge – perhaps it’s the paucity of my current local one that has clouded my views.

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