Sunday, August 9, 2009

Authors Behaving Badly - A Bookseller Tells All Part 2

Kris Neri, award-winning author, writing instructor, and bookseller offers more advice to authors from her multi-pronged perspective.

Welcome Back Kris! How about sharing some more tips that will help an author work with a bookseller.

First, don't tell people where they can buy your books cheaper online.
Don't treat a bookstore like it's a free swap meet.

A surprising number of authors have discovered that they can make more money selling their own copies of their books direct to the store's customers. We learned that the hard way, when an author seized a moment alone with a customer to sell her own copy of her book for cash, rather than the ones we had stocked.

e're still surprised by how many need a reality check.

A bookstore has fixed overhead expenses and also invests a considerable sum into every store event. Naturally we all hope for good sales during the event, but when it doesn't happen, that doesn't justify the author trying to pick a few bucks from the bookseller's pocket. All that guarantees is that you'll never get another signing at that store, and that your books will be shipped back immediately, robbing you of the sales of those signed copies might have garnered after the event. Well…you get the idea. Authors should display the same level of courtesy to booksellers that they show in every other area of their lives. And if they aren't polite and considerate — they should learn how to do be.

Please understand that most of the authors who visit our store are great! They're considerate, fun and they see booksellers as their partners in the book-selling process. But the numbers of rude, thoughtless authors are higher than I would have imagined.
Wouldn't you think that, if they aren't naturally courteous, they'd be more practical? It's hard to get published, hard to stay published. Why sabotage the efforts of the people who stand between you and your readers? Some days I think it would just be easier to sell "Authors Behaving Badly" videos on late night TV.

How do bookstores order books?

Large bookstores with staff assigned to ordering will often order directly from publishers, but usually that’s means placing large orders from the major presses, to maximize their discounts. In small stores like ours, in which the owners have to do all the ordering, most books are obtained from wholesalers.

We get the majority of our books from Ingram and Baker & Taylor, as well as a couple of regional distributors of regional books. We avoid ordering books directly from small presses and other sources for a variety of reasons. The discounts they offer might not meet our breakeven point or they might have punitive minimums. They also might not take returns, or might require the bookstore to keep the books for a very long time (sometimes as long as a year) before accepting returns. But it’s also a matter of time and energy.

For instance, we have twelve author appearances in a given month, it’s more efficient if we can get the books we’ll need for that event from one or two sources, rather than twelve. Getting them from our usual wholesalers means we write our usual two checks per month to those wholesalers, instead of twelve individual checks. When we have to order from so many different sources, there’s a chance that some will fall through the cracks. We’ve also learned from experience that some small presses either don’t answer calls or emails, or, despite assurances, they don’t send the books until weeks after an event. Sometimes they’ve promised to send them with the authors, but when the authors arrive, they don’t have them because their own publisher never sent any stock to them.

And since all bookstores order more books for event than they think they’ll need, so they don’t sell out, ordering from the same wholesalers means only returning one-to-two boxes of books, rather than having to pack up and ship twelve different boxes, which involves greater expense. I can tell you in our store, we’re more likely to give those excess books more time
on the shelves if we get them from our usual wholesalers than if we order them directly from publishers because we know we can return them to our wholesalers at any time. With small presses especially, we need to return them at the time the bill is due, usually in 30 days. We’ve learned from experience that we simply won’t get the promises refunds if we pay first, and then return books.
If a book is not available through the major national wholesalers, or from a reliable press we’re used to dealing with, there’s a good chance that we’ll ask that author to provide the books herself, at the standard discount, or we simply will refuse to host that event.

Signings require an outlet of time and money, and there’s a lot that has to be done on the part of the store to make the an event successful. If publishers make it too hard for stores to get books for events, stores have no choice but to refuse those authors. Wise small press authors take things into their own hands and make their own stock available, and not rely so heavily on their publishers.

Thanks Kris for more great information authors need to know so they don't end up in your "Authors Behaving Badly" video.

Kris Neri is the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award-nominated author of the Tracy Eaton mystery series, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN and DEM BONES' REVENGE, and the forthcoming REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE; a standalone thriller, NEVER SAY DIE, and a short story collection, THE ROSE IN THE SNOW: TALES OF MISCHIEF AND MAYHEM.

In fall ’09, Kris Neri's first book in a new supernatural series will be published, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE. Kris has published sixty short stories, including two Derringer Award winners. She teaches writing online for the Writers' Program of the UCLA Extension School. Kris Neri is co-owner of The Well Red Coyote. bookstore in Sedona, Arizona.

And for those near Sedona
Don't miss the
Sedona Book Festival
October 2-3

in the parking lot of The Well Red Coyote Bookstore


  1. As a former retailer I may have enjoyed this more than authors will. Still authors need to know how to avoid ticking off bookstore owners. So I put it up on my Twitter and Facebook. Hope it drives some traffic.
    BTW, Kris. You might be interested in my newest book, A Retailer's Guide to In-Store Promotions. It was launched at the National Stationery show and even talks a little about utiizing authors for profit...which I can see you are doing.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

  2. I am always eager to read helpful information on authors' conduct, how it can be honed, and how best to present oneself to agents, bookstores, editors, et al. Thank you; I am filing all of this away to draw upon in future endeavors.

  3. Hello. I saw this because Carolyn Howard-Johnson Twittered it with a link. I don't ever want to be an obnoxious author and I definitely want to befriend booksellers and make their job easier and their profits higher, so I'm glad I saw it. So much of this seems to be common sense and just being polite.

    I do have a question, though. When you ask the author to bring her own books, what is the discount you ask for? I'm looking at independently- (self-) publishing a book and I'm struggling with how to price it. I want to make sure I make at least a small profit per sale even at the deepest discount. It would be helpful to know what discount stores will ask for.


  4. I enjoyed this article on the inner-workings of an independent bookstore. It's to a writer's advantage to heed this advice!

  5. Wow! You do 12 author appearances a month at your store? That's great. Thanks for sharing the insider information about booksellers. Information is knowledge, I always say.

  6. Thank you, Amber, for using my two-part blog. And thanks to all of you, both this week and last, for your comments.

    Carolyn, I'll watch for you book. We carry your Frugal Book Promoter.

    Dianne, nearly all bookstores will ask for 40%; that's 40% for the store and 60% for you. That's usually the store's break-even point. They won't make any money on it, but they won't lose money, either. Self-pubs who seem knowledgeable about discounts tend to be treated more professionally by booksellers, as opposed to those who want exceptions made for them or who argue about it. I've heard of stores asking for more, but it's rare. But there are definitely instances of booksellers behaving badly, too. If you hit one of those, just move onto the next. Most bookstores will consider a self-pubbed book, as long as they think they can sell it, and as long as the discount is fair to them.

  7. I'm a bit late to the party, but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your articles. Good information. My publisher doesn't yet offer books through a distributor, so I can see that will be a problem. But I'd have no objection to a forty percent discount. As a former store owner, that seems reasonable.

  8. Kris,

    Not sure if you remember me, but I interviewed you for First Draft about a year ago. Thanks for this very helpful article reminding authors how to conduct themselves when working with booksellers. It's also a good reminder that using honey works much better than vinegar, and to be considerate of others cost and time. It seems like people often forget that you are doing a service for them.

    I look forward to visiting your store in person someday! I miss Sedona. I used to live in Munds Park and enjoyed the ride down into the red rocks.

    Ann Charles