Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Konrath's Advice For Indie Booksellers

I just sent out a newsletter to 10,000 people on my mailing list. Some of those people have been on that list since I first started in this biz, back in 2003.

I haven't sent out a newsletter since 2014, so I wasn't too surprised to get this reply from an indie bookseller:

One of the first rules of marketing is know your audience.

It is not the best technique to send an email soliciting orders for Amazon and their related products to Independent Bookstores. This is not the way to win friends and garner bookseller support.

Knowing that you are putting your personal efforts into Amazon guarantees that your titles are  special order upon request only for my store.

Fair enough. I appreciate the response. I also understand it.

But I'm pretty sure this bookseller doesn't understand me. Or the majority of authors who are self-publishing.

I considered replying, but don't see how any good could come from it. She owns a bookstore. She competes with Amazon. She doesn't want to get email from authors who publish through Amazon. If I reply, even graciously, I don't see a way to mend the broken fences she perceives.

Which is a shame. Because I want her store to thrive. And I'd like to help her bookstore thrive. But because I publish my paper work via Createspace and Thomas & Mercer, indie bookstores don't want to have anything to do with me.

This is disappointing. I've always loved bookstores. I’ve signed at over 1200 bookstores in 42 states. I’m pretty sure that’s more than just about any other author.

Then my publisher dropped my series.

Amazon picked the series up, which allowed me to have a real career in this biz. Since working with Amazon, I’ve sold over 2 million books.

Yet, even though I have a lot of fans, the majority of independent bookstores refuse to stock my paper books. Because of my relationship with Amazon. Because they believe I'm a traitor, who has sided with their enemy.

It reminds me a lot of professional sports. Being from Chicago and growing up a Bulls fan, our biggest rival in the 80s was Detroit. The Pistons' Dennis Rodman was the king of all jerks, constantly committing cheap shot after hard foul. What an asshat.

Until he was on our team. Then he was awesome.

For us. Once he moved to Chicago, he lost a lot of Detroit fans.

Detroit shouldn't blame Rodman for the move. The Worm went where he had to go, in order to continue playing. He didn't betray the Motor City for the Windy City. He did what was best for his career.

Right now there are tens of thousands of indie authors. They'd love to be stocked in your bookstore. They'd love to do signings. They're selling very well as ebooks, and I can guarantee some of them would sell well in paper, to your customers.

But first you have to give them a chance. And to do that, you need to stop blaming them for their career choices.

That above email said my books would only be ordered upon special request in her store. I'd bet good money they weren't stocked in the first place.

The above email also took me to task about one of the first rules of marketing. Well, what is one of the first rules of retail? Isn’t it stocking items that customers want to buy?

In my novel DIRTY MARTINI, I thanked over three thousand booksellers, by name. But once I signed with Amazon, these booksellers considered me the enemy, and refused to stock my books.

Is that the way to compete with Amazon? By driving your customers to because they can't find what they want at your bookstore?

Years ago, I made an offer to indie bookstores. That offer still stands. I'd love to work with you. I'd love to help you make money off of my work.

For those too lazy to follow the link, here's some of my TL;DR suggestions:

Remember why people shop indie. You probably got into this business because you love books. And your customers keep coming back because of your knowledge, recommendations, suggestions, and carefully curated selection.

Well, there are over a million books, written by tens of thousands of authors, that you aren't able to recommend or sell to your customers, because they're self-pubbed and Amazon-pubbed and you won't stock them. Your customers missing out on reading new authors, and you're missing out on those sales.

The shadow industry of self-publishing is growing, while legacy publishing shrinks. And now there are rumors that Amazon is going to start opening bookstores nationwide.

If you sell indie books, you can beat them to the punch.

Hold author events. A booksigning still draws readers. But you need to give people a reason to attend other than just a signature. Perhaps an exclusive short story from that author, free to everyone who buys a book. Perhaps a $30 admission includes a book, coffee, a signed t-shirt, plus an ebook download. Give your customers something they can't get elsewhere.

Start publishing. If you're an indie store beloved by authors, ask those authors for a story to put into an anthology, which you can then publish in print and as an ebook. Or ask favorite authors with out-of-print backlists if they'd like to partner with you to re-release those books. Amazon became a publisher. Why can't you?

I have over twenty book-length works available. If you'd like to publish any of them and sell them out of your store, contact me. I'll give you an 85% royalty, send you my already formatted interiors and covers, and you can print and sell as many as you'd like. Or I can do the printing, and ship them to you signed, and give you the same 40% discount the major NY Publishers give you per book.

And I'm just one author. Imagine doing this with a hundred authors. Your own imprint, selling books the chains don't sell, signed copies that Amazon doesn't sell, for a higher profit margin than you get anywhere else.

Nobody wants to see the Indies disappear. There is a tremendous opportunity here, but it starts with taking the emotion out of how you view self-published authors and looking at it with an eye to what customers want.

What they want hasn't changed. They want your advice about which books to read.

You just need to figure out how you can best serve them in this brave, new world.

Joe sez: I wrote that blog pose five years ago, and it's still ahead of its time.

Not a single bookstore has taken me up on my offer.

But they're more than happy to email me about my lack of marketing savvy.


Joe Konrath said...

And yes, I'll get around to fisking Lee Child's Guardian piece, which I linked to.

But right now I'm going to see AC/DC.

Robert L. Slater said...

I'd like to give props to the most amazing indie bookstore in the world: Village Books in Bellingham. They are doing what you are suggesting. They partnered me in printing my book through Ingram Spark, shepherding me through some challenging formatting issues. Read more here: [] They are carrying my e-books as download cards, signable credit-card like cards that can be used to download ebooks to any device using any major format. [read about them here: []

Village Books has helped me with my book releases, connected with me for in store meet the author promos, written their own hang-tag recommendations. They even accept other local authors books printed by Createspace. They are doing it right.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Isn't that amazing that your post from years ago is still appropriate...! I can see why bookstores are angry and frightened about Amazon as competition. But nothing is going to change there--Amazon is not only NOT going away, it's growing. And the indie written percentage of the market is growing as well.

I'm heartened to hear about bookstores like the one cited by Robert, above. Eventually, B&M bookstores that want to thrive will have to tear down these walls and welcome self-published writers who sell on Amazon. Because at some point we will be so much in the majority that they won't have any choice.

Broken Yogi said...

Interesting article about Amazon's foray into physical bookstores:

Personally, I don't understand why an Indie bookstore would refuse to carry a book by an author who publishes through Amazon. I bet every single book they carry is sold on Amazon also. Why single out Amazon imprints?

shugyosha said...

Excuse my sarcasm, but when writers get 15% and bookstores get 40%, I'll believe they know their business when we start getting bookstore millionaires.

Take care.

Chong Go Sunim said...

Boycotting indie books and Amazon imprints seems like it's going to guarantee that Amazon bookstores will have, for the bookstore lover, a decent amount of completely new, 5 star books that they can't find anywhere else. So instead of hurting Amazon, the boycott give them another unique advantage to exploit.

Alexis said...

Spot on.

We have two lovely but tiny independent bookstores here in Vermont. They are, luckily, independent author friendly (maybe this needs a badge?). But their retail space is relatively small so shelf space is at an ENORMOUS premium. Thus they can only carry best-sellers and other books that will appeal to a wide audience. There is literally no shelf space for smaller niche books. They optimize sales by focusing on the books that will appeal to the greatest number of readers (best-sellers, household names, etc.) because they can't financially afford to do otherwise.

They are gracious enough to be willing to carry my book (a parenting book) but as they have no dedicated parenting book section, nobody will be going there LOOKING for a parenting book. So the whole engagement serves my vanity of being able to see my book on bookshelves (for which I'm GRATEFUL) but is unlikely to sell any books.

Tim Tresslar said...

Blah Blah Blah writing...
AC/DC?!?! Sweet! I hope it was a great show.

Bev Burrows said...

But what about the bigger picture? The majority of books published today - Indie or Legacy - are available via a multitude of outlets. What does the book store owner in question do? Check a book title isn't available via Amazon before she'll agree to stock it? If I had a book store I would be spending several hours a day harvesting info on authors who write what readers buy, and I'd be promoting them. I'd be sending out updates to my customers telling them both what's coming into the shop AND what else is worth checking out in alternative markets. I would contact indie authors to ask if they would be happy to come to some arrangement if I stocked their books. There must be ways that small bookstores can benefit from the success of Indie authors, and with the market shares between digital and print being the way they are these days I'd be taking every opportunity possible to integrate.

Joe Konrath said...

AC/DC was good. My ears are still ringing.

Joe Konrath said...

There must be ways that small bookstores can benefit from the success of Indie authors

There's a bookstore in Florida that sells indie authors, but asks the authors to pay for the space.

Not a bad idea, but that won't necessarily bring in customers or sell books.

I worked at Crown Books. And I did 8 hour stints in dozens of bookstores when I was legacy published (that means I stayed in the bookstore for 8 hours and pitched my books to customers).

Recommending titles works. I've met so many great booksellers who were wizards at the hand sell.

They could hand sell indies as well as they can hand sell anything the Big 5 put out. And in many cases, the indie trade paperbacks are cheaper than Big 5 hardcovers.

But for a bookseller to do that, they'll have to overcome their Amazon bias, and resentment toward authors who self-pub via Amazon.

I admit that probably isn't an easy thing to do. Sort of like a Chevy dealership selling Nissans.


Sound words Joe. Indie publishing is tough. If publishers want to remain in the tar pits of the past that’s fine. Self-publishing is difficult enough without listening to all the old BS from people who don’t want to educate themselves and grow. I think your offer is extremely progressive and kind considering the expense. I wish I had the sales you do to offer the same option.


I had my book Coffin Kids in PJ Boox in Florida. PJ Boox an 100% indie, self-pubbed books. Is was fun venture. I bought self space but sold very little. From a financial stand point it was a failure but a good lesson learned.

Dora Ali said...

Interesting article about Amazon's foray into physical bookstores:

Diana Stevan said...

Hi Joe, Interesting article. Yes, the stigma of a self-published author remains. I'm hopeful. I believe that the more good self-published books a consumer reads, the more the indie authors' reputation will grow.

By the way, one of your commenters, Dora Ali, don't know if she knows this, but the link she put in her comments takes the reader to Al Falah University. .

shugyosha said...

Mrs. Stevan,

I don't think indie authors' "reputation" will grow much. The only place where it needs to grow is in certain circles with diminishing power.Who does actually care about "indie"? People who _are_ in publishing but who don't want to face the same terms, a level playing field. Publishers and bookshops dazed by Amazon phobia and the old vanity press paradigm. To the common reader "indie" is something applied to Sundance, if that, they reserve their dismissal for genres they don't like.

By and large, I think these attitudes are becoming like someone stepping out of an old manor and bemoaning "Irishmen" as if they still thought Elliot Ness was current news and hadn't heard of a certain Kennedy.

The rest? I think for some readers the ones who need to grow their rep are the Big V. If they keep throwing off midlisters they're going to get an Author Solutions rep, which is a trend that's still there. Good luck bouncing back from that. Among other reasons because average readers will end up noticing they can only publish Snooky, Clinton, old best sellers and fads. And unknowns who won't last a third book.

Take care.

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Jake D. Parent said...

I think these booksellers aren't all that different from the Mystery Writers of America members you write about in your next post, in the sense they would rather cling to their snobby sense of "us" than try to innovate and push themselves.

Ultimately, for both groups, it will be their demise.