Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Getting Books Into Waterstones

The Holy Grail of self-publishing success has to be getting your books into Waterstones—in the UK, at least.

On the face of it, it’s not that difficult. Those nice people at Gardners Books, which supplies self-published books to Waterstones, have a web page which tells you exactly what you have to do.

It seems to be a case of filling in a few forms and sending them in to Gardners, which will then inform Waterstones that a new book has hit their system and is available for ordering.

The terms are pretty stringent: while you can offer any discount that you like, Gardners strongly recommends that you offer a minimum of 57.5% per title, and that you allow your books to be ordered on a sale or return basis. And it’s worth bearing in mind that you won’t get paid for three months after you supply your books, as their terms are strictly 90 days.

But before all you self-published writers cheer and start filling in those forms, remember that none of this guarantees that Waterstones will actually order your book in: you still have to get on the road and sell it in once it's registered with Gardners. And that’s the really hard part. Because getting books into your local stores isn't going to do much for your sales figures. To make a significant number of sales you need national coverage—which is far more than one person can manage alone.


Morris Rosenthal said...


Lightning Source UK also gets you into Gardners, and does it at a short discount, as low as 20%. But the rest applies double, getting listed by Gardners and selling books are almost entirely unrelated. May help on the margins to make the books returnable, but in the end, stores doing special ordering for a customer request often don't care.

The odds of getting a book stocked by stores based after making them available through a distributor are extremely long, at whatever the discount. I had one title stocked pretty widely in the Barnes&Noble chain in the US for a couple years, despite the short discount, but it took the draft on my website drawing a couple thousand visitors a day to get there.


Jane Smith said...

Morris, you can list your book with Gardners at what ever discount you like: but Waterstones is unlikely to buy it unless it's listed at the higher discount that they prefer.

Special orders are a little bit different: if someone pays upfront for a book then most bookshops are happy to take their order so long as there's something in it for them. But what self-published writers really need is to get their books stocked, and on the shelves, so that people can find it. Otherwise how will they know it exists? And if they don't know about it, they won't buy it.

Sally Zigmond said...

I can't speak for other large chains but unless things have changed since I worked for them, Waterstone's will not order a single copy of any book they can't return, even single orders. (and this is without bringing price into the equation.) There are far too many customers who will order a single book and then never collect it for one reason or another. Such books are sometimes very hard to get hold of and cause the person who has to do the ordering more hassle than it's worth and if that book is non-returnable, it's a total loss to the bookshop because they are unlikely to sell it to anyone else.

Jane Smith said...

If I remember rightly, there was a news story about this within the last year or so: apparently a self-published writer phoned a number of bookstores and ordered his own book using someone else's name, and a false credit card number; when the books arrived at all the bookshops not only did he never turn up to collect them, the bookshops found that they'd not actually been paid for them--and they couldn't return them as they were, I think, POD.

I shall give a gold star to the first person who posts a link to the story concerned (because I'm on deadline right now, and so shouldn't even be commenting here).

Marian Perera said...

Is this the story you meant, Jane?

Jane Smith said...

That's the one, Marian--thank you.

What's funny here is that when I typed out my previous comment it originally ended with, "and my money is on Marian!" but I deleted that part because it seemed unfair to put that pressure on you. I should know by now, though, that I can always rely on you!

Marian Perera said...

Thanks. :) I like doing research, especially if it's about writing or publishing.

Anonymous said...

I am now beginning to feel so demoralised as I have submitted my work to YOUWRITEON; it will be published in time for Christmas, i bought the ISBN's and hoped I'd see the book in Waterstone's. This was stated in the contract, are you saying this is actually not the case? I have managed to drum up so much publicity for the book too. My workmates are ready and waiting, so are my family and friends. Anyone have any words of advice?



Jane Smith said...

Bex, I'm afraid I can't give you much reassurance. Your best way to proceed is to contact Ted/YWO and address your questions directly to him, and I do hope he can help you: if you have any questions you'd like to ask me in confidence, you can email me on "hprw at tesco dot net". Meanwhile, here's my very brief breakdown of what's happened here.

As far as I remember there was no mention of books being sold through Waterstones in the contract (but if your contract states that, do email it across to me--I'd be very interested to see it), and I blogged about how the YWO books were going to be difficult to place in bookshops when the scheme was first announced. I think it was implied on the YWO website that the books with ISBNs would be "available" through bookshops, but that's a whole different thing to actually being stocked on the shelves: it means that the bookshops could probably get hold of the books if anyone was prepared to order them, and pay for them upfront. As most people choose books by browsing the shelves, if the books are available through special order only it doesn't result in many, if any, sales. This "available from" is typical weasel-wording from vanity presses, so I was disappointed to see YWO using it.

The books with ISBNs will probably be available through online sources like Amazon but again, most books are still sold from bookshop shelves. And bearing in mind that Ted/YWO organised a big "boycott Amazon" campaign earlier in the year I would find it ironic if he was now relying on it to sell his books.

Meanwhile, Ted at YWO has stated in the last week or so on his messageboard that he doesn't intend to register the books with any wholesaler or distributor--and to be honest, there's no way he can give the bookshops the discounts they require under the contract he's given out: the amount of author royalties, and the way they are calculated, makes it impossible.

Ted has also implied that the books now won't be ready in time for Christmas, so there are going to be quite a few disappointed writers out there.

I'm sorry: I wish I could offer you a way round this, or give you some encouragement. But I, and several other bloggers (have a look at my posts, and at Writer Beware's, for details), made our concerns very clear almost as soon as this scheme was announced and sadly, none of us have been proved wrong.