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.