I’ve made no secret of my opinion of the YouWriteOn publishing scheme: but now that some writers have signed up to it, how can they persuade bookshops to carry their titles?
Before they even consider phoning their local store, it is absolutely essential that the writers concerned find out two things: which wholesaler or distributor the YouWriteOn books are going to be listed with, if any; and what the sales terms are. This isn’t something that the writers can arrange for themselves: it’s a publisher’s job to find a wholesaler willing to take a list on; to ensure that all titles are listed correctly; and to set the sales terms (I’ve already blogged about how self-publishers can get their books into Waterstones but in this case, YouWriteOn is the publisher and so is responsible for getting this done).
These wholesalers are essential because booksellers have accounts with them, and prefer to buy their stock from them. They are unlikely to be willing or able to buy books direct from YouWriteOn’s website. And booksellers will ask what the sales terms are: they need to know what they’re going to have to pay for a book before they buy it, so that they can be sure of covering their costs and making some profit on each sale; and they need to know if they can return the copies which don’t sell, because that will directly affect the number of copies they’re prepared to buy, and how forgiving they’ll be if the discounts are low.
Sales terms can be a bit tricky: I’ve heard of a few instances where bookshops have taken self-published titles at discounts as low as 35% off the retail price, but that’s rare in my experience (although I’ll admit here that I have little direct experience of self-publishing, so if anyone wants to add their comments I’d be grateful). Discounts of 45-60% are more common (Waterstones is unlikely to consider a book with less than 50% discount). And most bookshops will expect the books to be supplied on a sale-or-return basis, so that if after a couple of months the book has not sold, or is getting a little shelfworn, the retailer can return them at no cost.
Now, if YouWriteOn isn’t planning on paying a wholesaler to handle their supply-chain, then the bookshops will have to either order direct from the YouWriteOn website, or the writers will have to supply them. I’ll be interested to know how YouWriteOn intends to handle bookshop discounts in this case, as the contract makes no provision for author discounts, which is going to make it economically impossible for the authors to supply bookshops direct at the discounts they need.
Once writers know where bookshops can get hold of the books, and what the sales terms are, they can start selling: and that’s where the real work starts. A post or seven about that will soon follow.
(You can find Part I of Selling Books To Bookshops here.)