Friday, October 26, 2007

Questions a la Ann Landers--Giving Away 55%? Yikes!

Question: Did you happen to ask Linda Keller, the Community Relations Manager with the Dayton, OH, [She shared some of her wisdom in a previous newsletter of mine.] Barnes & Noble what percentage her store expects from the sale of books featured in her store? Locally, the B&N wants 55%. If this is what B&N stores expect, I might just as well give the 1,100 books that I still have in my spare bedroom away!

Even the local Books-A-Million wants 50%. I didn't write my book to make money but to almost give it away isn't something I relish either. No wonder little guys like me have trouble marketing our books . . .

From Lloyd King, author of To 'Nam with Love, a book of poetry
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Dear Lloyd:

I can't speak to any specific B&N location [Lloyd lives in LA] but generally stores want 40%. That's what I've been asked for, at least, and that seems to be the norm. Considering retailing in general, this is a low percent; that's why bookstores also get to return their books. That 55% figure appears to be Amazon's requirement and that of some other online stores.

Having said that, this is not so much a problem involving the bookstores' markup (they, after all, have high overhead and must make a profit to exist!). This is a problem that many self- and subsidy authors make: They don't mark their books up enough (gross profit) to cover the costs of doing business. You know, like a promotion budget, discounts for distributors and for wholesalers and, yes, for their own profit.

Printing books on a digital press (POD) makes it more difficult to be competitive because books printed that way cost more and so it is harder to mark up enough to accommodate these costs and still compete with books that are self- or subsidy- or traditional-published in large quantities on an offset press. Printing on an offset press costs less and less per book as the runs (number of books) increase in size. Books printed in huge quantities in China can cost so little that even with all of the chunks taken by the sales pipeline, the publishers make a hefty profit per book.

So, what do you do if you are already published and your profit margin and retail costs are skewed against you? I'm going to return to a refrain you've heard in this newsletter and in more detail in The Frugal Book Promoter. And here it is:

Bookstores are not the best place to sell books.

That is true of almost any book except those that are destined to be true bestsellers -- the ones by the John Grishams and Irvings of bookselling fame. The best places to sell books are at speaking and teaching venues where the author is the star, conferences where the author speaks, alternative outlets like catalogs and corporate sales, etc. (Again, all these subjects are addressed in your Frugal Book Promoter, so I won't bore you by mentioning them again.).

In your case, Lloyd -- as the writer of poetry -- the best place to sell books is at your own launch (I understand yours was very successful) and at readings -- perhaps at coffee houses and the homes of friends who will invite all their poetry-loving friends and (because of the subject of your book) all those interested in military matters.

If you truly have 1,100 books in your garage, your run of books was much too high for your genre -- poetry. You may still sell them all but it will take time and persistence. Lots and lots of poetry readings and maybe a promotional gimmick or two. Here's an idea for you. When you write your next book, you might offer this one at a discount when people buy the other as an example. Or do what Amazon does. Offer two related books (yours!) at a special price.


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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, 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 other blogs include TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com and AuthorsCoalition.blogspot.com, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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