Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tour Day 41, 42, and 43

Miles driven so far: 8359
Bookstores visited so far: 415
Books signed so far: 3355
Books hand sold so far: 191
Bookstores remaining: 85
Money spent on gas: $987
Money spent on hotels: $1122
Money spent on food: $371
Tour cost per store: $5.91

I'm currently in Florida, and will be here for the next few days. The goal of 500 seems within reach, and I'm confident my final bookstore tally will be above that.

I'm thrilled my cost per bookstore is under $6. Add the free hardcover I give to bookstores (which costs my publisher around $6 as well) and I feel I'm doing a lot of good for a total cost of $12. Compare that to advertising, or a conventional tour, and this really seems like the most bang for the buck that any author can do to increase brand awareness.

Waldenbooks is still having a computer problem where they can't order my latest book through BITS (though it can be orders through BIPS), but the last few I've visited have had many copies of RUSTY NAIL on the shelves (something I haven't seen all tour), so it looks like they are finally being shipped. Woo hoo!!! As I've preached before, taking up shelf space is essential to finding readers.

Of course, the only sure-fire way to sell a book is word-of-mouth. This can be done by the author, friends, family, booksellers, librarians, and to a lesser extent with reviews, ads, and publicity.

But word of mouth won't lead to a point-of-sale purchase if your book isn't in the store.

Like all sales, the goal is three-fold:

1. Inform consumers that the product exists.
2. Attract those consumers who are interested in your type of product.
3. Make it really easy for them to buy your product.

Writers are lucky in that readers actively seek out books. While nothing beats a solid recommendation, many books are sold accidentally, by a consumer browsing the shelves for something of interest.

Real estate plays a large part in these accidental discoveries. The more titles you have in print, and the more copies of each individual title a bookstore carries, the likelier you are to be discovered. Face out has a better chance of being sold than spine out. The new release tables, the paperback towers, the dump boxes, the end caps, the counter displays, and the staff recommended picks, all get many more looks than the books shelved in the sections. A big stack of a single title subconsciously tells buyers it's an important book that is obviously selling well.

Publishers know this. They pay big money for coop in these prime real estate places. They print oodles of books so bookstores order oodles of copies and create these displays. And there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at play here---more books printed usually means more books sold.

But not always.

I've learned two disturbing terms on this tour. One is called "remaindered on shelf."

When a book is remaindered, no more orders are coming in, and the warehouse discounts its copies to sell at a loss. If you've ever bought a hardcover in a bookstore for $5.99, it was a remainder. Here's how the process works:

1. A bookstore orders 100 copies of a new hardcover. They can order from the publisher at a discount of 42%-50% off cover price, or from a distributor at typically 40% off (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners, CDS, Koen, etc).

2. They sell 60 copies. Then they ship the other 40 copies back and get a refund.

3. After a title is no longer being ordered, the publisher remainders it, selling it at a loss to recoup printing cost. The author makes no money from this sale, but that's not a bad thing--remember, the more books you have 'out there' the likelier you are to be discovered.

4. Bookstores buy remainder titles in bulk for a few dollars a book, then sell them for a few bucks more.

As I understand it, bookstores are fine with buying large numbers of a new hardcover, because they can return them if needed. However, the return process is a pain, and it is costly (the bookstore usually pays for shipping back the books.)

Enter "remaindered on shelf." Instead of shipping back the books, a bookstore is given a partial refund and told to keep the book and discount it 50% off. This eliminates the need for shipping back and forth (which is expensive and time consuming.)

Is this the way of the future? Time will tell.

Another current trend is called "strip and bind." When the hardcovers come back, rather than get remaindered they get stripped of their covers and rebound as trade paperbacks, which typically have a longer shelf life than hardcovers.

Is this a smart way to save some money, or is this a gentle hint to publishers that perhaps they are printing waaaaay too many books?

But therein lies the problem. The more books in print, the more that will sell. So publishers have to print too many, in order to sell a lot.

As long as books are returnable or refundable, there will be waste. If a book is lucky, the waste becomes a remainder, a remainder on shelf, or a strip and bind. Unlucky books go into the pulping machine, which isn't helpful to anyone, unless you're a spruce.

Which brings me back to shelf space. More is better. This involves an element of risk on behalf of the publisher, because a poor sell through and big returns can be a financial disaster. But if the books are good, backlist sales are steady, and word of mouth is spreading, bookstore real estate is the next logical step. Coop dollars for the new release tables, and a high enough print run to justify a bigger discount to bookstores (which is passed on to the reader as a 20% discount that most stores have) will go a long way toward making an author a bestseller.

If you need signed JA Konrath books, look to these fine establishments:

Joseph-Beth Charlotte NC

Borders Morrocroft Charlotte NC

Borders Stonecrest Charlotte NC

Borders Cary NC

BN Cary NC

BN New Hope Commons Charlottee NC

BN Sharon Charlottee NC

BN Arboretum Charlotte NC

BN Pineville NC

BAM Burlington NC

Walden Pineville NC

BAM Salisbury NC

BAM Concord NC

Walden Durham NC

BN Greensboro NC

Walden Greensboro NC

Borders Greensboro NC

Walden Winston-Salem NC

BN Winston-Salem NC

Borders Winston-Salen NC

Aliens and Alibis Columbia SC

BN Forest Acres SC

BN Columbia SC

Waldenbooks Dutch Square Columbia SC

Waldenbooks Columbiana Circle Columbia SC

The Happy Bookseller Columbia SC

BAM 4080 Forest Columbia SC

BAM 275 Harrison Columbia SC

Walden Orangeburg SC

BAM Savannah GA

BN Savannah GA

Walden Savannah GA

BN Atlantic Jacksonville FL

BAM Brunswick GA

BAM Atlantic Jacksonville FL