A Dirty Little Secret About Book Discounts

Cash register

 

Most of the writers using self-publishing techniques to reach readers know something about discounting books. They know that if you want to make your book attractive to bookstores, you must 1) offer your book to bookstores at a discount of 30% and 55%; and 2) make sure your book is returnable, because bookstores won’t buy books that aren’t returnable.

To date, the only print-on-demand (POD) vendor who’ll allow you do both those things is Ingram Spark (IS). In fact, that’s the main reason Ingram Spark has become so popular: it’s the way into bookstores.

Or so we all think.

But let me tell you a story about a book that a pair of savvy business writers published through Ingram Spark this past spring. We knew we wanted the book in bookstores, so we decided to offer the book at 40% discount. We assumed the discount would be passed down the line to bookstores.

Not so. When we went to our local indie bookstore and looked up the book in the Ingram catalog, the discount offered was not 40%–but 5%.

When I asked Ingram Spark about this at BookExpo last month, I was told that IS books were distributed by Ingram Book Company, a separate entity that took 10% and 15% before offering the book to bookstores. By the time it got to our little bookstore (which doesn’t have much clout in the distribution chain), the discount had dwindled to 5%.

What does that mean for writers? It means that you might as well not try to get your self-published book into bookstores because you’ll never be able to offer it at a discount that’s competitive. You might as well spend all your efforts finding your readers through Amazon.

Personally, I’m very surprised that Ingram has allowed this situation to exist, and that they’ve not been more transparent about how discounts are allotted. (Here’s Ingram Spark’s official statement on why you should discount your book.) As the premiere distributor of books to bookstores in this country, Ingram has a vested interest in helping independent authors sell their books into bookstores. Ingram Spark already takes 45% of your revenue for its POD services, plus an additional fee for printing your book. Does Ingram Book Company really need an extra 10% to 15% for distributing it?

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Goodreads offers authors a new way to connect with readers

Ask a Questiof of AuthorsOne of the most intriguing announcements at Book Expo 2014 was about Goodreads’ new “Ask the Author” feature. If you’re signed up as an author on Goodreads, you can now host your own Q&A sessions, thus making new connections with your readers.

Goodreads beta-tested the program with 54 well-known authors, including James Patterson, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini and Isabel Allende. Now they’re opening up the feature to all authors.

Patrick Brown, Goodreads Director of Author Marketing, offered suggestions on how to get the best out of this new feature. Among them:

• Set expectations early: Tell your readers which topics you’ll answer and when. Don’t feel as though you have to answer every question every day.

• Choose the questions you want to answer carefully, and post legitimate answers to them. You have control over which questions you want to show up on your page. Choose questions whose answers you’re happy to feature on your profile.

• Participate in the Goodreads reader community. Ask questions of other authors and review their books. You don’t have to give star ratings to every book you discuss. Just be thoughtful. Sometimes showing up with a thoughtful comment on another author’s page inspires interest in your own work.

Check out the list of bestselling authors already answering questions on Goodreads. Very impressive.

How To Approach a Bookstore: Tips for Authors

Wendy Taylor, author of No Longer Strangers, speaks at Books, Inc., Palo Alto

Author Wendy Taylor speaks at Books, Inc., Palo Alto. Photo by Rod Searcey

I’m often asked by authors how to get their books into local bookstores. I recently sat down with Tanya Landsberger, manager of Books, Inc., just off the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, to find out how they like to be approached. While her advice might not apply to all independent bookstores, it’s a good benchmark.

How often do you get approached by local authors?
In general, we hear from authors two or three times a week.

We get two kinds of authors. First is the local author whose book is nationally distributed. We may already have the book in our store. If not, we’ll order it either through the Big Seven [publishers] or through wholesalers-Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

The second is the author whose book isn’t available through traditional distribution channels. We may take that book on consignment. If we decide we want it, our consignment deal is a 50-50 split of the revenue. We keep the book on our shelves for about 2-3 months and send a check to the author at the end of that time, along with any unsold books. The only kinds of books we tend to keep in constant stock are local historical titles. They sell well on an ongoing basis.

How do you decide which books you want in your store?
We want the topic to be right for our store and for the local market. If an author who lives out of town approaches us, she has to convince us she has a tight support network in the area. The book also needs to have good design, sturdy binding and high production values-no spiral bounds, except maybe for cookbooks.

What’s the average number of titles you take on consignment?
If we’re just stocking the book, we generally take about 5. If we’re doing an event with the author, then we usually take about 20 copies, and give back all but 5-8 at the end of the event.

Does it matter to you if a book is done through CreateSpace?
It does. We don’t provide shelf space or events for books published under any Amazon imprint-including CreateSpace. We don’t appreciate their business model because we don’t think their model ultimately benefits us and the community.

What about similar self-publishing vendors? Do you feel the same way about books published through Lulu, for example?
They’re fine. We’re just hoping to open the eyes of self-published authors that there are options other than Amazon.

Such as?
Such as Ingram Spark! They’re relatively new. We’re hoping to get authors to consider their services.

How should authors approach you?
We prefer that they send us an email with a photo of the cover and a short description of the book, and then follow up with a phone call. It’s useful if they also have a sell-sheet with ISBN number, price, publication date, and so forth. And they need to let us know: Is the book available through Ingram or Baker & Taylor? Is it returnable? And what’s the discount to us if we stock the book? The average discount offered by the big distributors is 45%–so if it’s 30% or less, we hesitate to order because it may end up costing us quite a bit to stock and potentially return that title.

How important is price in your decision whether to bring in a book?
Well, if disproportionately expensive, say $25 for a tiny book, we’d think twice about bringing it in.

And returnability?
It’s got to be returnable or we’re not interested.

Does it help if the author drops off a book?
Not really: we can decide from the information they send.

What if they want to speak? How should they approach you then?
We’re pulling back on events because there are only a handful of authors who have proven successful at events. The majority, unfortunately, just don’t do very well.

Don’t do very well because they’re bad speakers, or because they don’t attract a crowd?
They don’t attract a crowd. Even the big speakers do their own marketing these days. If an author can convince us that he or she has a big network of followers in the area, we’re interested-but for most it’s hard to tell or they simply don’t have the right amount of draw.

Do you have a shelf for local authors?
We had one, but it didn’t sell particularly well. Every once in awhile we get someone who asks who are the local authors, but not too often–and many folks already know who the Stanford Stegner [Creative Writing] Fellows are.

An Author’s Guide to Amazon: 7 Tools To Help Increase Book and Author “Discoverability”

Below is a terrific summary of practical things you can do to make your book more visible on Amazon.

It comes from the enewsletter of Smith Publicity, Inc.
Kudos to Book Publicist Jennifer Tucker who put together the list.

1. Author Central
Think of Author Central as your “main hub” in the wide world that is Amazon. Beyond creating an author page, which will educate customers about you and your book and display essential information about your biography, blog posts, etc., you can also use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to set up your book for the Kindle if you own electronic rights. Also through Author Central, you can track book sales numbers across the U.S. for the past four weeks to identify sales trends, utilize the CreateSpace platform to publish your next book, and explore Kindle Direct Publishing Select, which will allow you to earn higher royalties.

   
2. Amazon Forums
Amazon offers a variety of discussion forums for authors, which can help you to network with other authors and expose your book to a new audience interested in your genre. You can also learn just by reading other posters’ questions, advice, answers, tips and tools. Feel free to reach out to other authors (who are often avid readers themselves) to ask for feedback on your book, to position yourself as an expert in your field, and to just have fun!

   
3. Amazon Keyword Tags
By using the tagging feature, you can make your book more searchable almost immediately, if done correctly. Check out tags on other books (especially top selling titles!) in your book’s genre and make your own tags accordingly. The more keywords you have tagged, the better readers will be able to find your book within a slew of other books. Fun tip — think like a reader: what keywords would you use to search your book? Also, changing tags each week or every few weeks gets your book in front of new audiences.

   
4. Amazon’s Listmania!
Listmania! is another tool that authors can utilize to reach potential book buyers. Listmania positions your book among other books in your genre by adding your book to book lists, but word to the wise: for best results, make sure to be very selective and true to your book’s genre when choosing your lists.

   
5. Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book”
Just as book excerpts    draw readers in, Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature allows readers to flip through some of your book, with the goal of making them want to read more. This feature also works to prevent negative comments because by previewing the book, the reader has a better understanding of your book’s content. Be sure to have your personal Amazon page set up before you move forward with this tool, as it can take time to be approved by Amazon.

   
6. Amazon Marketplace
Amazon Marketplace serves as a third-party online storefront where you can sell your book alongside the array of other Amazon goods. While it’s a great tool and can offer you more freedom as an author (you can choose to give autographed copies of the book, for instance), authors must be willing to carry a book inventory and must have this inventory already on hand to be set up in the Marketplace. It also requires plenty of time and patience for authors to manage their own online book sales, though many authors enjoy the control that they have over the price of their book and fulfillment of book orders.

   
7. Amazon “So you’d like to…” Guide
With the Amazon “So you’d like to…” guide, you can actually build a guide around your book topic, genre, or specialty, which will position you as the expert of your book or field. This free tool allows you to think outside the box when it comes to book promotion and gives you the option to include your book with other Amazon products, essentially creating a “bundle” of items relating to the “So you’d like to…” Guide topic. Authors can choose to write content about the subject and, within the content, mention that the book is for sale on Amazon.