Friday, June 12, 2009

How Indie Authors, Publishers and Bookstores Could Lick the Recession by Partnering

(This blog features bookstores but most independent retailers could substitute the name of their own store every times the word "bookstore" appears. That's because their are authors who write on any subject imaginable and they are sure to find books that fit any store's product mix. These days the author of those books is more likely than ever to be a keen marketer, too.)

Retailing is in danger. Retailing of books is in greater danger still. We all know many bookstores have failed and many more are struggling. Independent bookstores are especially endangered.

Why then, are so many of these bookstores still adverse to utilizing the power behind their kin--that is the power of indie authors?

A new bookstore opened in my adopted hometown of LaCañada-Flintridge. Brave souls they are, for another small bookstore down the block had just closed out most of their books and reinvented itself into a café. Authors in the area were thinking, “Ahhhh, opportunity! Surely this indie will honor the needs of fellow indies!”

Those authors in my community were wrong. They have been turned away from that new bookstore in droves.

But let me digress. Because I am both author and retailer with some 30 years experience in the retail industry and ten plus in the publishing industry, I wish both bookstores and authors well and know that we are powerful if we work together. I cared enough to write a book that is now available on Amazon. It is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques.

That indie authors were turned away on the basis of the press their books were printed on seems especially sad because the store is just one of many that seem to be operating on the theory that independent authors are all cut from the same fabric. Bookstores with this attitude are missing bets on two fronts.

The first, of course, is that they are missing out on good will in their communities. That is so important for any retailer, large or small, independent or chain. An unhappy author is an unhappy customer who tells other people why she is displeased. That is not good word-of-mouth. A happy author is quite the opposite and possibly more avidly positive because she has more at stake in praising the store and recommending its products.

The second opportunity they’re missing is the open door independent authors offer to profits.

Because small indie bookstores’ gross sales are anywhere from $200 to $1000 per weekday (and that upper figure is generous) they can easily increase their gross by tapping into the talent and energy of authors who live in their areas. By considering independent authors and authors published by small presses they increase their pool of possible money makers incrementally. If they harnessed this potential (particular authors who have the knowledge to promote well which readers of my Sharing with Writers newsletter and The Frugal Book Promoter do) they could up their annual gross profits by anywhere from 5% to 12% and that’s nothing to sniff at--especially if it will carry them through an economic downturn.

Here is the ammunition authors and publishers can use to convince bookstore owners that indie-published writers are profit-powerhouse:

1. If a bookstore had but one reading and signing event a week with an indie author and that author promoted (or the store gave them a handout telling them how to promote in exchange for being featured in an event), the free publicity that store would get would be worth the effort. Figured at about $50 a column inch for advertising space, a four inch article in the local paper is worth $200 alone and most events can bring more press publicity than that, some a lot more,and some may even get some TV coverage. An Armenian poet friend of mine did a signing and got coverage on our local cable TV station that caters to the poetry-loving Armenian community. The venue of the reading was, of course, featured prominently in the segment.

2. If the guest author sells 10 books at $12 with a 40% markup only to friends from their own contact list, that would raise that store's profits for the day by five to ten percent. If a bookstore sponsored readings, signings or workshops on slow weeknights 52 times a year and occasionally (for the authors who showed greater promotion promise) on the weekends, that profit could make an appreciable difference. Perhaps enough to keep the store kicking with energy through the recession.

3. If the store sets up an author-friendly program in which the store stocks five signed books for two weeks after the event and the author sends enough customers to the store to buy those books, the store promises to reorder, that’s like hiring a salesperson in the community--one that the store doesn’t pay a salary or commission.

4. If the store tracked some of the customers recommended to them by the local authors they partnered with they would find that many are people who have never been to their stores, may not even know their bookstore exists. Marketers estimate that it costs anywhere from $8 to $25 in promotion and advertising monies to attract one new customer. These new customers cost the store nothing because that author has already “earned” her event with points one through three.

Let’s factor the small publisher into this mix. What if every small publisher made certain that his author(s) know how to approach bookstores with the benefits of featuring him at a signing. Publishers could do that by gifting their authors with The Frugal Book Promoter or at least recommending it or other books on marketing like Janet Elaine Smith’s PromPaks or John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market a Book.

That publisher could even furnish his authors with templates for a query letters and media kits that would help convince bookstores that events--especially events that feature locals--are underused tools for profitability. Some bookstores like The Literary Bookpost in Salisbury, NC. have been using independent authors’ talent and enthusiasm to provide a community service to benefit their business successfully. There is no reason why--if we educated one another and supported one another--we couldn’t all benefit the same way.

Once the author has the information she needs to assure a successful signing and to sell her signing concept to a bookstore she:

1. Mails her query and media kit to the indie bookstore owner.
2. Drops by, introduces herself, and gives the bookseller a list of how her workshop or seminar can benefit him using information drawn from this article.
3. If the answer is still no, she drops by again with a list of what she will do to promote the event (parts of which would have been in her query letter). How many local people does she have on her contact list? Will she provide refreshments to guests? Does she have media contacts? She may even take the bookseller a copy of A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions. That’s an investment in the future--for the author, for the bookstore and for the community.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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