How to Sell a Book: Radical thinking for authors, publishers and readers

THIS POST EMERGES out of a conversation in the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers facebook group, in which we were discussing (amongst other things) the pros and cons of authors self-publishing v/s going with an established publisher. It’s a tough call for authors in the present economic climate, especially if your book doesn’t quite fit into a clearly-defined niche; and it’s a tough call for publishers: faced by the choice of investing in a debut work from an unknown writer or a new title from an established writer with a good track record, what would you do?

And if you’re a bookseller, how do you decide what to stock? Is the extra admin involved in stocking titles from self-published authors or smaller publishing houses really worth it? Is it better to wave them away, to tell them to go strike a deal with a distributor/wholesaler?

When I was running the bookshop at LST (a distant memory now) my approach was simple: if I thought a title from a small publisher / self-published author was likely to be of interest to my customers, then I’d take it, but initial stock had to be either 100% sale or return or 100% see-safe, carriage paid both ways by the supplier. It generally worked well enough — yes, there was some extra admin involved in dealing with small invoices and parceling up returns, but no big deal really, and I’d encourage any retailer to give it a go. Remember this, people: The Shack started off as self-published — by helping out a small publisher / self-published author in this way, you could be giving the next ‘Shack’ a kick-start!!

So far, not so radical; however…

For Authors and Publishers: Here’s a challenge for authors and publishers: do you believe in your book? Do you want to see it on booksellers’ shelves? Then start the ball rolling by sending them a complimentary copy and tell them it’s theirs to sell or give away; but if they opt to sell it, then when — when, not if! — it sells, they have to use the proceeds of the sale to buy another copy (less whatever your trade discount is, of course). Cost to you: one book + p&p; but potential winnings … who can say? And a straight win for them whether they sell it or give it away: either money for nothing or a happy customer gets a freebie and — another win for you — tells their friends about the lovely book…

It’s a risky strategy, of course: I can hear all the objections and questions already after so many publishers and suppliers have had their fingers burnt and worse in the last few years in the SPCK-SSG/STL-Wesley Owen/Living Oasis fiascos; but as someone far wiser than me once observed, faith is spelt r-i-s-k. If we, as Christ’s disciples, aren’t willing to trust one another, aren’t willing to live out our faith by taking such risks, then what hope is there for the rest of society? And what, exactly, is the point of running a Christian business? What message do our business relationships convey to the rest of society?

For Booksellers: Now the challenge for booksellers: would you be willing to take part in such a scheme? Would you be willing to accept complimentary initial stock from authors/publishers on this basis? Not sale or return; not see-safe; but sale and restock when sold or give away — to commit yourself to not simply relegating the book to a back room or obscure shelf somewhere but actively supporting this vision?

For Readers: And last but not least, a challenge for readers, for those like me on the outside looking in, watching the demise of bookshops around the country and wondering what we can do: adopt an author, a bookshop and/or a publisher! If there’s a book you’d like to see on sale in a particular bookshop, go to the author/publisher and pay for them to supply it to your nominated shop with your compliments.

Imagine, if you dare, the difference this could make if enough of us did it: not just me, not just you, but your friends too, the members of your church.

The future of Christian bookselling is in our hands, my friends: let’s seize the day!

4 thoughts on “How to Sell a Book: Radical thinking for authors, publishers and readers

  1. I don’t see this as all that different to the 100% SOR. scheme we currently use, and which works quite well for us.

    The problem of course with this system however, is what happens if that copy doesn’t sell. What if it takes perhaps a year to sell, and as a retailer, we are now committed to buying another copy of the book?

    What happens if the book is brought by a customer and we reorder it, only for the customer to return it a week later in line with our returns policy? Now we have two copies of a book which already took a year to sell.

    Or what happens if a supplier comp’s me more than one copy of the book, more copies than we have space to store if it doesn’t take off?

    We usually ask for multiple copies of books from local and indie authors books, as they sell better that way, and we can make them more high-profile, but if the author doesn’t do the groundwork, and the book doesn’t take off, we can then still send them back to the author.

    It’s an interesting idea, but not one I think we would be looking at right now. I think that the 100% Sale or Return deal we already offer is more flexible and beneficial to everyone.

    I will, of course, always accept a comp copy of anyone’s book to review and consider stocking, but cannot guarantee that doing so will result in sales going forward.

    • It’s sell or give away, Luke: if it doesn’t sell after whatever period you deem appropriate, you just give it away. The difference between this suggestion and regular SOR is that the sale of the first copy funds the purchase of future copies; and if you’re worried about a customer returning it, you cover your back by waiting whatever period you deem appropriate.

      … and hopefully any publisher who decided to pursue this line would contact the retailers they want to work with first rather than send stock out willy-nilly…

  2. Very late to comment I know, but I really like this idea Phil. I’ll do it with the next book I publish. ( and can’t resist the plug: my next book will be more on how to deal with domestic abuse in a Christian context – everything apart from the divorce dilemma).

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