Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why can't I get my books into bookstores???

How many people does it take to write a best seller? 
How many of them will live to brag about it? 
In this dark novel of intrigue and deception the line between good guys and bad guys is blurred. 
Very blurred.

Question from the e-mail: How can I get my book for sale in real book stores? My agent of ten years says I should steer well clear of Print on Demand Publishers (POD), that the very idea of printing books one at a time is "ridiculous" and anyone who self-publishes, has a fool for a publisher. Yet in 10 years, she has not sold even one ms. for me, while I can buy the self-published books of all my friends on amazon.com...

So here's what I'm asking, if POD  is ridiculous, why do so many small press people, like yourself, choose to go that route?  Can it be more ridiculous than having any book that anyone ever sat down and thought up, self-published and crowding the market on the Internet??? 

Answer: We can never get your book into "every bookstore."  And in twenty  years' time, there will be a lot fewer actual book stores around. Your agent is supporting the present standard method of book production and distribution.  The agent is the go-between who tries to get the Publishers interested enough to print and offer your book for sale. The publisher contracts for the book, pays all costs of production and distribution.  They advertise to get customers into the stores to buy. They ship it everywhere and NOBODY pays them Unless the book Sells! Big advertising and national distribution are ways of life for them.  And those are GOOD things when you are a big guy at the top of the system. But they are expensive...

The bad part is that since the advent of Kindle and relations, bookstores have been selling fewer and fewer hard cover and paperback books and their market share for them will continue to drop. All because of the popularity of the "new" e-readers.
E-books, the laughing-stock of publishing fifteen years ago, are cutting into the traditional market to the point where many chain bookstores are operating in the red, while electronic file sales are soaring. E-books have many different brands of machines and many different formats. They confuse a lot of people, but more and more they are attracting a large pool of regular customers. 

Others swear they will never touch one, because they like the feel of a "real book" in their hands. 

For any  book to garner sales, Distribution IS the key. Nobody ever bought a book they haven't heard of. Nobody can ever buy a book  that isn't for sale, whether they shop in a bookstore, or on the Internet. But in today's economy, few self-published authors, or even small press publishers like me, have the capital to pay for printing large runs, warehousing paper books and advertising. It costs money to print 6000 copies and sit them in a warehouse somewhere. If they sit there a year, you will have to pay Uncle Sam 15 % of the Retail price for every copy you have left OR dump your inventory in the trash and pay someone to print more.

POD is a new technology that came about after Internet book sales and  computer printers came along. The publisher prepares the book for printing and saves it in portable document format, and distributes the printable PDF FILE, not the actual book. POD books are printed from the file one copy at a time and only after the book has been paid for

Traditional publishers who are used to print runs as high as 150,000 find it difficult to believe that of anyone will want to print one book at a a time.

Traditional bookstores CAN buy the books I publish, but few of them seem happy to give me a credit card number with their order. They are used to operating on credit and can be very suspicious of any supplier who wants to be paid when they place the order. But I need that money to pay the printer, who will print the book and mail it to them only AFTER I pay HIM.

More recently, POD presses have been installed in some of the larger B&N bookstores and a customer can order any book I publish, and go and have a capuchino while it is printed right then. That press is like a glorified copy machine, and it produces a "trade paperback." A book that is as large as a hardcover book, but that has a soft cover. The book is printed on acid-free paper, not pulp, so it won't turn yellow or fall apart easily.  There is no book to accrue tax until printing actually takes place, so the file can stay on sale as long as we want without anyone paying inventory tax. It is also a costly technology. It costs much more per copy than any book produced in a real print shop. A POD paperback will cost between $5 and $10 per copy just to print. Add to that the salary and benefits of a Real Person, the training to operate the printer, the cost of paper and the end product usually bears a price only about $10 to $15 below the hard cover edition

But here's the part I love. NONE are wasted copies copies. None are sent to fill up landfills around the country, because no book is printed until after it is paid for. Many small press publishers love this idea. They escape all the printing fees and shipping fees, and warehouse fees, and inventory taxes because the print data files are sent electronically to the individual printer stations. 

What is becoming more common, and WILL become even more common still are those "printer stations" in bookstores, where POD books can be printed while you wait. In 10 years or so, there will be one in every mall in America whether there is still a bookstore around it, or not. All anyone will need is the author's name, the title, and the ISBN, and the book file can be downloaded and printed right there and then. You can go on and shop and stop back in an hour to pick up your brand new,"hot off the press," book.

We are already garnering sales of our paper titles with this method and we believe that process will continue to grow.  Will this put the "big boys" out of business? No. They will (they already have) just send fewer titles to press every year. While the number of readers will continue to grow larger every year.

Did TV put the movies out of business? 

No. But it reached more people, on a wider level, and through a different process. That's just what is happening with books.



  1. Thanks for the plug and the information on POD.
    One thing: the cover you show has the title at the bottom and my name at the top while the cover I have shows the title on top and my name at the bottom of the page. Personally I like the cover with the title at the top. I think it shows off the artwork more effectively, but...

  2. Sorry I goofed on the cover. Was looking for the lamp. Sill me!

  3. Arline, thank you so very much for the precise explanation about POD, Ebook popularity, and the 'mall' bookstores. This is the one aspect I get frustrated trying to explain to readers, and in general, to a person not in the industry, such as everyone in my family, well... except for my husband.

  4. Thanks, Elizabeth. It's very difficult to explain, especially when you get authors who say, "So how come my friend bought my book at the bookstore downtown, but when I went in there were none on the shelf??

    Trust me, it's no help to say, "She had to ask at the counter."