Malik Sharrieff

How Indie-Bookstores Can Get You a Publishing Deal

Just a couple years after launching Write On Press, a fresh-faced aspiring indie-author approached me seeking help getting published. In our second consultation she told me that her dream was to get a book deal with a major publisher.

After she was certain that I had taken no offence, she asked if I could help her create a strategy to attract the attention of one of the traditional publishing companies.

Here’s the play-by-play of how we made it happen…

Step 1:

We reviewed the authors’ manuscript to get a better understanding of who her target reader was and where they might be found. We discovered that the content we were publishing was attractive to readers who frequented bookstores. Not that a bookstore was the only place this author’s readers could be found, but in this case it was the most readily accessible consumer source.

Step 2:

Write On Press published the manuscript and obtained production services through a Print On Demand (POD) platform.

Once we received the first shipment of 50 units of the trade paperback, the author and I targeted a local independently owned bookstore. We then role-played several potential interactions so that she would be ready to engage the store owner or manager and pitch her book.

Then we called the store and arranged a meeting between the store owner and the author.

Step 3:

At the meeting with the store owner, the author was personable and charming and briefly pitched her book. She kept the book description to about 90 seconds but spent an additional minute or two letting the store owner know that she didn’t want the store to buy her book. Instead, she wanted a consignment deal where the store would receive 40% of the sale price. To sweeten the deal, she offered to print and post her own Point of Sale (POS) materials.

After the store owner understood that he wouldn’t carry any risk or cost, it was easy to get 10 books placed in the bookstore.

Step 4:

We organized a quick email promotion to about 150 contacts in my author’s email list. These were just local family, friends, and associates that she felt would have at least some interest in her book being offered in a bookstore. We crafted a short message stating that the author was so excited that after having her new book stocked on the shelves at her local bookstore, there were only 10 copies left!

That message resulted in all copies being sold out by the end of the week. There’s a lot more to tell about crafting a message to potential readers inside your social circle, but I’ll have to cover that in another post.

Step 5:

At the end of the week, my author went to the bookstore to collect her 60% and restock. The bookstore owner asked her for 50 more copies! Of course, we sent out another email message and made a few social media posts saying thank you to all of the fans who helped to sell out her book at the first bookstore.

Then my author visited a second and third independently owned bookstore to talk to the owners about the success she experienced at the first bookstore. Both stores were willing to carry her books on consignment (one did insist on getting 5 free copies, but she also took 50 copies right away). Of course this gave my author more to celebrate with her social and social media networks and build more excitement.

Step 6:

It took about nine months, and she had to work an eventual total of five small bookstores like a part-time job, but my author was able to get just under 4,000 units sold. In that time, she also published a digital format and sold almost 1,000 downloads. With her popularity growing organically now, it was time to develop the assets needed to move to the next step.

I consulted with her about how to prospect/attract a literary agent (I’ll offer more details in another post). Let’s say that it was much easier to get several agents to reply to her after she included her sales receipts with her letter of introduction and writing sample.

After completing the process of selecting a literary agent and putting him to work, my author received three offers over the next two months for single book deals! These were with smaller imprints of the Big 5 Publishing houses, but hey, it’s a contract!!

I’ll have to relate the story of what happened after receiving the offers in another post. What I really wanted to illustrate in this story is that the book deal offers, the attention of the literary agents, even the willingness of bookstores 2 -5 to stock this incredible book would never have happened if not for the author’s ability to demonstrate that this product had a market that was willing and ready to buy it.

Here’s what this means for you:

Whether you use this particular strategy, a variation, or something else altogether; you have to be able to show in real numbers that your book has a market. Publishers, literary agents, and bookstores are all businesses. In order to get what you want from them you have to show how supporting your dream will profit them.

In the publishing world, a book’s perceived ability to sell is king. Prove to the publishing companies that your books can sell on a small scale and they just might take a chance that your books will sell on a large scale.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below, or suggest strategies that might help others in the community to prove your book’s salability.

Until next time, keep writing!

~Malik

Key Terms and Additional Info:

Consumer Source = that place where your target readers congregate, discuss, consume or purchase books that are in any way similar to yours.

Point of Sale (POS) = Posters, fliers, postcards, bookmarks, coupons or any merchandise (swag) that markets you as an author or any of your book projects. Point of sale items can be sold, but are most often given away to encourage current or future purchases. There is a subtle difference between POS merchandise and sales merchandise, as sales merchandise is either offered for sale or free with purchase (i.e. a free t-shirt with the purchase of a novel). POS is unconditional and sales merchandise is conditional.

If you have any questions, you can post them below and we’ll get you some feedback. Or, you can visit the contact us page and send us a note. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please click the services tab at: WriteOnPress.com to book a meeting with one of our consultants.

Malik Sharrieff

Building Your Publishing Plan

Okay, let’s assume that you have either already completed a manuscript or at least made the decision to write one. It’s critically important that you work out your publishing plan as soon as possible.

Over my years as a publisher and literary consultant for indie authors, I have yet to encounter one that was ready with a publishing plan. So, I would be insanely surprised if you have even heard of the concept if this is your first project.

A publishing plan is for an author what a production plan is for a manufacturer.

After all, once you decided to be a professional writer or indie author, you decided to manufacture literary product for mass consumption. To that end, it’s important that you plan out how you intend to get that product from a single manuscript to the readers waiting in rapt anticipation.

I’ll try to give you a quick and dirty version of what you’ll need to get your plan together.

Step 1:

Don’t wait until after you’ve written your book to start learning what publishing is!

Many reading this will have just finished your manuscript and are looking for publishing options. It isn’t too late to create a plan, but the reality is that you should have created one before you came up with a title.

So, manuscript in hand or not, you need to wrap your head around what the publishing process is all about. Here’s a definition from a publisher:

Publishing = all of the processes necessary in order to take a raw manuscript and convert it into a finished literary product ready for distribution to a target consumer group.

So depending on your publishing strategy, this may include:

  • Pre-press activities like copy editing, manuscript review, formatting, generating cover art, test marketing, etc.
  • Press activities like converting the press ready manuscript to digital file formats ready for distribution as ebooks or for production as trade paperbacks, hardcover or treated for audiobook production.
  • Post-press activities like test marketing, establishing distribution and sales channels, marketing activities, public relations and advertising, and etc.
Step 2:

Now that you know most of the tasks involved in the publishing process, you’ll need to get a handle on who you are as an author.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I want control over the publishing process?
  2. Am I willing to learn the necessary skills to manage these processes?
  3. Do I have a budget necessary to outsource these tasks to a qualified vendor?

The answers to these questions will let you know where you are on the indie-author continuum. On one end is the complete indie-author and on the other end is the traditional publishing path.

If you need to control the process, your publishing plan will lean more toward independent publishing. If you want someone else to take your work and handle everything but the writing, you’ll want to lean more toward traditional publishing.

The closer you get to the traditional end of the scale the less it will cost you in money up front but the more you will have to sacrifice in control and royalties. At the other end of the spectrum, you spend more money, time and effort but all of the rewards are yours alone.

Knowing yourself is the only way to choose the right publishing path for you. Also, know that as you grow through your career as an author, you publishing plan will likely change as well. In fact it might change from project to project!

Step 3:

Once you’ve got a handle on the process and your own disposition, it’s time to strategize how you will attack these tasks in a way that fits who you are as an author and as an individual.

It is absolutely possible for you to do everything yourself. It is also absolutely possible for you to get a publishing deal with a major publisher. However, most of us will realize quickly that we fall somewhere in the middle of the indie-author range.

This means that for every publishing task you encounter, you will need to look at two or three (or more) strategies and decide which one fits you, your situation and your budget best. Keep lots of notes on what you are doing, what worked and what didn’t. You’ll really appreciate the intel for your second project.

Final Thoughts:

As I said earlier, it is absolutely possible for you to get a book deal with a Big 5 Publisher. However, possible is not the same as probable. If this is your publishing plan, understand that there will be trade-offs and sacrifices that you will need to accept. Understand that this plan is not a bad one (it’s been around the longest), but it will require you to do a lot of additional tasks to get the attention of a major publisher.

Don’t be surprised if your particular plan takes time. At one end of the spectrum the time could be measured in hours; at the other it could take months or more than a year. The point you need to take with you is that this is not a trivial part of your profession. Take the time you need. Get the help and support necessary. Learn everything you can to support your level of professionalism.

Remember that being a professional writer, contracted or independent author is a vocation not a vacation, take the journey seriously and respect the process.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below, or discuss your past publishing plan(s).

Until next time, keep writing!

~Malik

P.S.:

If you have any questions, shoot us a note at the contact us page.

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The Affects of Covid-19 on Traditional Publishing

I want to talk for a minute about why publishing is in so much trouble right now.

Its way more complicated than most people seem to think. First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies mean physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third. Selling books is a very long and complicated supply chain. Ignore editorial — writers and editors can work at a distance and electronically. It really starts with the paper.

Storing paper for the big presses takes an enormous amount of warehouse space, which costs money. Printers don’t store a lot — they rely on a “just in time,” supply chain so that when a book is scheduled to go to press, the paper is delivered to the printer. Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China; nothing, for the last three months.

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Some of the paper comes from Canada. Guess what the Trump administration put a big tariff on at the beginning of the year? Yup, paper. So, we don’t have adequate paper supplies. Then consider that big printing plants are not “essential businesses.” There are only a couple printers in the US that can handle the book manufacturing business. One of them shut down last week. Covid-19.

We started rescheduling books like mad to deal with that. But supposing we had paper, and a printer and bindery, the books have to be shipped to the warehouse. Again, that’s non-essential movement. The freight drivers moving books? Staying home, as they should. Not all of them. I hope they remain healthy, because dying to get the latest bestseller to the warehouse doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Now consider the warehouse situation. Traditional publishers maintain huge warehouses. Lots of people are working there, bless them, but it’s putting them at risk. There they are, filling orders, packing boxes, running invoices. Giving those boxes to the freight drivers who take the books to the bookstores and distributors. Again, truck drivers risking their lives to bring books to the bookstores.

But think again. The bookstores are closed. The distributors are closed . No place open to deliver the books to. Some bookstores are doing mail order business, bless them, but they aren’t ordering very many books from the warehouses. Amazon isn’t ordering very many, either — because they have (correctly) stopped shipping books and are using their reduced staff to ship medical supplies and food.

So the books that distributors and sellers ordered months ago are not being printed or shipped or sold. And because of that, they aren’t making any money. And because of THAT, they are not ordering any books for months from now. Plus they aren’t paying for the books they got from publishers in February and March. Cash flow has ground to a halt.

Now, audio books….turns out that people mostly, almost 100%, listen to audio books while they commute to work. Sales of audio books collapsed about the Middle of March. Fortunately, there isn’t a physical supply chain there, so theoretically that business can restart immediately upon resumption of commuting. So given all the above, it’s not a good time in the publishing industry. The damage is going to last for a long time. The effects will be felt for at least a year to come, even if we do go back to business as usual in May. Or June. Or July…..

Oh let’s be real. We won’t go back to business as usual until there is a real vaccine for this corona virus.

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