Saturday 8 November 2008

Selling Books To Book Shops (Part II)

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.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Jane. A quick thank-you for taking the time and effort to share this information with us - I appreciate you don't have to do this but I am pleased that you are.

I have to say the information that is being shared by YWO to us is limited and I am hoping that is down to inexperience or a simple case of keeping costs as low as possible.

All I really know is that the book is being published by Legend and YWO in some sort of partnership and that the printer is Lightning Source. Excuse my lack of knowledge but does that make Lightning Source the wholesaler?

Jane Smith said...

Andrew, you're welcome. It's what I blog for.

To answer your question: no, that doesn't make LS the wholesaler: they are the printer, nothing more.

A wholesaler keeps books in stock, and when books are ordered by bookshops ensures that the right books are sent to the right places. it also ensures that returns are received and accounted for. Printers just print the books as the publisher tells them. And distributors are a whole other thing: they help with sales, too. It's advisable to never publish with any company that doesn't have a good distribution deal in place (either through their own sales force, or one that's hired in).

While you're welcome to ask any questions here, I really don't see why YWO can't answer them directly, and that troubles me. Meanwhile, you're welcome to email me if you have any questions about publishing that you don't want to discuss in public.

Dominic Took said...

Good blog post, pretty accurate, I do have full experience of this however, so I will tell you how it's done.

It's fairly easy for starters, remember that key traits in great achievers need to be shared by those of you wanting to be a successful self published authors. Determination is ONE key element of a great achiever, there are others. So first of all, for god sake, don't give up at any stage.
Waterstones seeing as they may as well have a monopoly these days, are a good one to use as an example. So here's how you do it, get in touch with Waterstones head of accounts and ask them to give you a form which will let you fill out your books details. When you get this form, called a Waterstones/Gardners Trade Form (Or there abouts) you'll be able to set up a wholesale link for your book between Gardners and Waterstones.

Don't forget your links, You -> Wholesaler -> Store or Independent -> Electronic Point of Sale system or EPOS.

You send that form to Gardners, wait patiently and they send it back to you, then you send it on to Waterstones. That should be correct if I remember rightly, it has been awhile since I last did this. Then your book details will appear on the Waterstones system and your books can be ordered by any customer. Jane does point out that the system has internal ranking for certain books (E.g. those with limited stock, those self published, etc) and trust me if they know your self published it doesn't always help when it comes to getting it into stores, but it depends on who you are dealing with.)

With all that done, all you have to do is send your books to Gardners, one by one unfortunately (Or as a series if you get several orders at once - Lucky things!) with an invoice and after that, you will get paid royalties owed (90 days remember, 60 for Bertrams?).

Or of course, if you believe COMPLETELY in your book. (I go through this for good measure trust me) if you KNOW it's the best it can be, if you KNOW it's flawless grammar or there abouts. Send it to the head buyer at Waterstones and ask them if they would take it into core stock for you (Trust me if only 500 people from YWO did this, I'm sure you'd want to be the first one, so bare that in mind).
Wait patiently for a reply.

Those are the steps and if you SEE them as easy, they become easy. If you liked this comment PLEASE visit my website Dominic and maybe even check out my book The Storms of Acias.

Good luck,

Dominic Took
A Meeting of Minds - THE Literary Forum for Staffordshire
A Meeting of Minds

Jane Smith said...

Dominic, thanks for that very helpful post. I have covered some of that here and here, but it's always useful to have someone else confirm what I've written!

What you've missed, though, is that it's the PUBLISHER who has to register the books with Gardners, because the publisher is the one who sets the prices, the discounts, and the sales terms.

That meanst that YWO is going to have to register all the YWO books itself: the writers concerned can't do it for themselves, as these are not self-published books.