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


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, Joe. Many people would think that landing the three-book deal and then writing the books and getting them published is the end of the story. When I first started reading your account of this tour I thought what you were doing was extraordinary. Now I see that it's been essential.

MikeH said...

You're in the home stretch now; keep on pluggin' Thanks for the travelogue and the continuing lessons even while you are on the road. My hat's off to you.

You'll probably need to sleep for a month once this is over.

Jean said...

"Remaindered on shelf" may not be great for authors in the short run, but just today, I picked up two books at the grocery store on impulse buys that must have been that -- they were hardcovers in a special cardboard "Bargain Books" bin for $7.99 each.

Both author's names looked familiar, but I wasn't sure. Both books looked interesting, so I picked them up. It could result in more sales down the road.

Anonymous said...

"Tour cost per store: $5.91"

You probably won't read this comment, but I would like to point out that this isn't factoring in the cost in your time. You're spending many hours visiting bookstores, and not writing at all during this time (or doing much of anything else). How much do you think your time is worth?

That still doesn't mean this tour isn't a great idea, but it's something to think about.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Joe, those numbers keep climbing!! How are Sheila and the Sidekick holding up? I hope the three of you are surviving and the energy drinks are chilled.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. I read all of them, and to answer your question, Anders, my time is worth what my publisher pays me for my books.

I'm a full time writer. That doesn't mean I spend 40 hours a week writing. If I did, I could produce about six books a year, which is five more than the market can bear.

Most of my professional time is spent trying to get people to discover my writing. You can write the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows about it, it will fail.

This tour is an investment in my future. You have to plant seeds if you want to have a garden, and a stitch in time saves nine. The time to put in the long promo hours is at the beginning of your tour, to build your name. If it works out, the future will adequately compensate me for the hours I'm putting in now.

Aimlesswriter said...

Sleepless nights here in NJ. I just finished Rusty Nail. Thanks for the nightmares J.A. I handed the book to my daughter and said, "If you don't want to sleep, read this!"
Yikes! J.A. Scary book but I'm glad Jack's mother is okay now...

troy cook said...

Hey, Joe. I wanted to tell you how much your trip, and your blog, has inspired me. I'm now doing a "mini Konrath" and am currently visiting 100 stores to promote my debut novel. Thanks for the push, Joe! I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't been blazing a trail.

BTW, I've hit several stores that you've already been to and now that I know the codes for Borders it's easy to see what kind of effect your tour is having on sales. For instance, one week after you'd been to a store in southern Illinois they'd sold 90% of their Konrath stock. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

Keep it up, Joe.

Troy Cook

Anonymous said...

Joe, I just have to tell you how impressed I am by your ability to keep a positive attitude while on the road for so long. I'm sure you're absolutely fried by now, but you keep on going. And other than a few really depressing entries back there (the hotel room that smelled like a dead hooker comes to mind), you seem to be handling this without totally losing your mind. To the contrary, your recent posts about how this is the best thing you've ever done for your career are really inspiring.

All I can say is wow.

Sherri said...

I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm not even close to needing a pr tour, seeing as how I haven't even queried agents yet, but hopefully I will someday. Someday....

WannabeMe said...

I just found out you're not coming to California! Bummer. Hope you'll come next time!

Anonymous said...

You visited my store tonight in Orlando. It was nice to be able to associate a face and great personality to a book I handle. 1/2 way through Rusty Nail and loving it. Thanks for making my night!

Elizabeth Krecker said...

Very exciting, Joe! Because of the success of your tour, I'm including book signings like yours in the marketing analysis for my book proposal. I'll let you know if it helps!

Thanks for your inspiration!

Tom Schreck said...

Hey Joe,

I ate at Hatties in Saratoga last night and I thought of you.

My wife had three orders of greens.

It really, really smelled like ass

Anonymous said...

Six bucks a store! I'm truly awed. I don't even want to think about how much my tours cost me...

If you're still looking for stores in Mississippi, try Main Street Books in my hometown, Hattiesburg. The owners, Diane and Jerry Shepherd, are wonderful. (Please tell them I said hello.) Hattiesburg is a good-sized university town, with the requisite chains to beef up your store count (Waldenbooks, Bookamillion, and I think they've got Barnes and Noble and/or Borders), but Main Street Books has charm and style. You can reach them at or at 601-584-6960.

Mary Anna Evans

Cheryl said...

Here's an idea for your next tour:

Anonymous said...

Joe, you can always visit the west coast. Put the U.K. and Germany on your list. On second thought, wait until the airport situation gets better.

Anonymous said...

Joe: Sorry that Southern California isn’t on this year’s itinerary. I discovered the schedule change right after the technician finished installation of a metal detector in our entranceway and other security devices throughout the house – hi-tech items sensitive to movement, as well as cameras discreetly tucked in corners.

This all occurred after my husband finished reading Rusty Nail. He said, and I directly quote, “You invited this, this, this… person to stay in our home - have you lost your mind!

Thinking quickly, I threw another book at him and said, “Here, have a Bloody Mary.” A sentry house is now under construction at the top of our driveway. Do I dare give him Whiskey Sour?

Congrats on your circuit. You are an inspiration. Hope to catch you next year. I have three books that need signing.

Anonymous said...

It was awesome to meet you in our Waldenbooks store (in Dutch Square Mall in Columbia, SC!) We hope you will come back and do an official dinner and signing with us :) Thanks for all the coasters and for signing books for us :)