More and more frequently, we're asked by self-published authors to host signings for their books. We can't accomodate everyone, so we set up some rules, and they're not necessarily popular ones, but they're the ones we decided best help us winnow the field. And it's an impressive field!
According to Bowker , there are more than 235,000 self-published titles released every year. That's a whole lot of writing to have to narrow down! Granted, some are digital releases, so that's the immediate and first cut; obviously we can't host signings for digital books. But don't forget that there are a lot of digital books that are becoming print books, and when they do, our rules have to apply.
First, it has to be a mystery. I know, you'd think that would be obvious, but you might be surprised at how often we're contacted by self-published authors asking us to stock their books only to be hurt when we point out that we're a specialty shop and their romantic memoir of a talking badger just doesn't fit with who we are. Turn the badger into a detective and we'll talk.
But then, there are other rules, and we're serious about them. We'll only consider a self-published title if it's offered by one of the big wholesalers (Ingram is the first one folks go to, but Baker & Taylor works just as well), if it falls within industry standard discount (40% -- we have to cover our overhead to stay in business so that you'll have a place to sign), and if it's returnable (we always hope to sell through, but realisitically? It may not happen). Those three are non-negotiable. These guidlines are not meant to be mean. They're fiscal.
It's this combination that proves to be problematic. Books will be offered at the wholesalers for a reduced discount, and then authors tell us their publishers will give us a better deal, and that's great, but if we don't sell through and can return them to said publisher, that means we may have a credit with someone that we'll never use, so it's still money out of pocket. That's why we want to get the copies from a wholesaler - if we have to return some books, we can use the credit for a future order.
And remember, there's 235,000 titles out there. Every year. And that number is growing. Other stores have come up with different criteria for their handling of self-published authors, and ours may change over time, but this is where we're at.
Authors, if you're self-published and want us to carry your book and/or have you in for a signing, here's what we need from you in your very first contact email:
~ Give us your published name (if it's different from your email name), the title of your book, who the publisher is, what the price is, the binding or format, and who distributes it. Also give us a small synopsis, just a paragraph or two. You can add a link to your website, but if that's all you provide, we won't click through. You have to be willing to do a little work to promote your book. If you won't, why should we?
~ Do not, ever, tell us to read the reviews on Amazon. In fact, don't mention them at all. We're indies; we've been fighting Amazon all along. Our stance is pretty solidly on record. If you use Amazon as your selling point, you don't need or want us. A lot of our fellow indies will simply delete your enquiry email unread if you link to Amazon. We're not saying that you shouldn't sell your book through Amazon; obviously it's financially imperative for you to do so. But we're not interested in partnering with them. We're not interested in you if you're promoting Amazon as the last word and source of your book. We want to help you, but we won't help them.
~ Which brings up another point: we do not and will not stock books published by Amazon. If your book is published by Thomas & Mercer, sorry, we will not support it or agree to a signing.
~ If your book isn't carried through the wholesalers but you have an innovative way of approaching the discount and returnability criteria, we can talk. We're flexible on a lot of levels, but you have to bring the solution to the table.
~ If we come to an agreement, it's your responsibility, dear author, to make sure your friends and family know that they can buy your books from us. FYI, if you give away your book to your family and friends, you're not doing yourself a service. This is your immediate buying base. They love you, they should be willing to support you, and they should be doing that by buying at full price. You don't become a paid and successful author by undercutting yourself. So have them call us and reserve the book to be sure we have enough on hand. If they buy it somewhere else, say somewhere on-line that discounts, and think it is perfectly fine to bring it to our signing with you they are terribly wrong. If we have you in to sign books, it is to sell our books. Please be clear with your friends and family on that. Don't undercut yourself or us! The best way to be invited back for a signing for your second book is to help us sell a large number of copies at your signing. Make sense? We think so.
~ And lastly, be polite. There are 235,000 of you out there and there are four of us. We will work with you if you follow the rules, but insulting us is a certain way to insure that your book will never be stocked. Actually, that's true of any author, not just self-published ones.
Keep in mind that we've been at this for two decades. We've dealt with hundreds of authors, from rookies to Big Names. We're pleased for you that you've published a book, but then so have 234,999 other people this year, and they all want what you want. What will impress us and encourage us to work with you will be your professionalism, your serious intentions, your concern for what works for those selling your books, and your demeanor. Demanding divas are a dime a dozen. Do not for an instant believe or act as if you are owed a signing because you have self-published a book. We very well may be able to help you sell your books. But you have to believe we know what we're doing, and we're good at it. It'll be worth your time to hear what we say and work with us to our mutual benefit.
We want to be your biggest fans and ally in bookselling; help us out with that.