Saturday, November 24, 2007

Getting stocked in book stores

During my travels across the worldwide web, I have had several authors contact me to ask the secret of my success and how they can get their books stocked in as many shops as I have. I have therefore decided to write a short article about it on here, for the benefit of not only those other struggling authors, but also those who are considering this path. While what I have to say applies primarily to print on demand authors, who it has to be said do face unique challenges, the principles are neverthess the same no matter which type of book you have written.

Here then goes ....

In order to get stocked in book stores in the UK (or any other country for that matter), you first need to have an account with one of the major wholesalers or distributors that they obtain their titles from. It is also preferable that the books are actually stocked by one of the wholesalers (Gardners and Bertrams/THE group being the biggest players in the UK).

There are 2 ways that book stores will obtain books from such wholesalers -either as a special order, where copies are obtained direct from the author or publisher, who sends them to the wholesaler, who in return sends them to the shop concerned. The second way is where the books are actually stocked by the wholesaler in their own warehouse and they fulfil all the orders direct. Wholesalers though are quite choosy as which titles they take on board - they expect all titles stocked by them to be available on terms of at least 55 percent discount (15 percent for them, 40 percent for the book stores) and also on sale or return. POD titles are not normally available on such terms, typically being available as a special order on 40 percent discount (25 percent to the stores) firm sale basis. Stores then are often reluctant to stock such titles, unless they are local interest.

Gardners books were actually the original print on demand pioneer in this country, although they no longer offer that particular service. Once Lightning Source opened a plant in the UK, they could not compete and so closed that operation down, concentrating on their wholesale arm. I was exceptionally lucky in that because my publisher, Authors OnLine Ltd were the first POD provider in this country, and Gardners only print on demand customer, believe it or not, they have a longstanding relationship with them that enables certain titles such as mine to be taken on as stock items. There are only a handful of such POD books in the whole country that are available in this way.

The 3 major book chains in the UK are WH Smiths, Waterstones and Borders. I have not approached Smiths as yet, as most of their stores tend to stock mainly fiction with very small mind, body and spirit sections. Paul who is one of Richard's more succesful authors, who helps other authors with publicity is going to contact them for me in the New Year. Waterstones though are easier to get into than most people think. The guidelines from Gardners website say the following:

"Waterstones buy all their books from small publishers via Gardners." Note that this is not totally true, as they do use other suppliers as well. "In order to sell to the Waterstones branches it is necessary to register with Waterstones, via Gardners. To do this please contact Justin Hutchinson by email and ask for a Waterstones Trading Application Form (alternatively you can call Justin on 0208 996 3477)."

The print on demand author does not though have to fill in any forms, since their provider will have already done this. All you need do then is contact Justin, who will verify that your book(s) is/are acceptable, and then he will email you a spreadsheet of contact details for all stores. Then all you need to do is get ringing ! Justin is very nice and easy to talk to and he will also contact stores to iron out problems on your behalf - several have tried to tell me that they do not deal with Gardners, and he intervened on my behalf and put them straight! He is a useful man to know then!

Note that some branches may ask if they can order direct from you, as the author. It is not Waterstones policy though to do this, and I advise you not to, since you may have problems getting paid! It is always preferable then to ask them to order from Gardners or another wholesaler direct. The beauty of the Waterstones system as well is that once a store has ordered copies of your book, when they sell, and stocks are exhausted, it is automatically reordered, so you don't have to keep ringing to see if they need more ... Having said this, there does seem to some way of by passing this system, as at least one branch has not re ordered mine, but had to be reninded - gently of course.

Borders are not so easy to get into. You need to send a copy of your book together with the usual information (information sheet, reviews, sales figures if appropriate, press coverage, press releases etc) and a detailed marketing plan - this part is very important as they do not take on titles that are unlikely to sell and it is your job to show them that are going to work hard at finding and/or creating that market - to their New Press Department attention Claire/Dorindar to Stillerman House, 120 Charing Cross Road, London WC2 H0JR, telephone 0207 379 7313 email

After that you can telephone their stores in the same way - they don't supply you with a list though so you have to get all the details off their website. This is easy enough though, since they are all listed on there anyway, and broken down into various areas - i.e. London, south east etc. They only have about 80 stores anyway compared to over 300 Waterstones so this is a doddle in comparison .... The other way to get listed with them is of course to get booked to do a talk or signing at one of their stores as I did. Be careful though that they do not list the book as local interest as it is likely to end up the wrong shelf and other stores further afield may be reluctant to order because of that ....

It is easier than you think then to get accepted by these stores, but the hard work begins after acceptance, as you have to get out there and tell the stores about your book persuading them to order. Nevertheless, this is something that the serious self published author has to grit their teeth and get on with. The key is to know your market, understand how the supply chain works and be professional and courteous at all times. I personally aim to ring at least 10 stores a day, which I have been doing for the past 3 months. So far have managed to get stocked in almost one third of Waterstones stores and several Borders and independents, so it is worthwhile. After all, even if they only order only 2 books apiece, that adds up to several hundred sales over a couple of months ....

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Taking the Hachette to firm sale

Writers Guild strike in America is intensifying - apparently an unnamed Hollywood studio has lost a $3 million contract because of it to make a film - that will teach them to honour writers a bit more won't it! I am afraid I do not have much sympathy for these people at all, who get rich on the backs of my colleagues across the pond and give them absolutely sweet fa. It is about time these people realised that contrary to popular belief, they need us far more than we need them .... Without writers they would all be out of business fast.

Support from the strike though seems to be coming from all quarters. USA Today reports that motorists driving past Universal Studios on Tuesday afternoon (yesterday) were treated to a cavalcade of stars almost as impressive as the Golden Globes ceremony. These stars were picketing in support of the Writers Guild strike which is now in its 9th day. As long at the strike continues the actors after all cannot work either, and they too are losing money. Mind you, most of them can afford to ...

The entire cast of Brothers and Sisters were there along with Executive Producer and writer Greg Berlanti as well as Matthew Perry from Friends and stars from The Office. Tonight show host Jay Leno rode past on his motorcycle to add his support and Ben Stiller walked down the hill from Universal Studios where he has been directing comedy show Tropic Thunder with a week of shooting still to go. He said, "As a DGA, SAG and WGA member, this is a very tough time. Movies that are in production get affected because no script changes can happen. We had to make sure any rewrites were done before the strike, but changes happen every day. So, I'm saying right now, if this movie's not funny enough next year, it's because of this strike. The writers have always been the ones who didn't get respect. In a way, I wish all the unions could have gone out at the same time, because it would have sent an even stronger message. Studios need to take this seriously." Good for him ! Perhaps writers in the UK should get together and refuse to allow their books into the chain stores until we get a better deal as well ...

This may not in fact be necessary, since environmental issues seem to be coming very much to the forefront in publishing this week, and one of the most overriding issues is of course the vast amounts of books which are pulped each year as publishers print far too many of them. Publishing News reporrs that the book trade's cross party Environmental Action Group, which is chaired by Penguin General MD Helen Fraser has agreed a target for the industry to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% by 2015. The group also believes that environmental initiatives should form part of the criteria for publisher and retailer of the year categories at the British Book Industry Awards, as organised by Publishing News, and also the Bookseller Retail Awards.

A working party is apparently satrting to look at issues such as transport, packaging and paper, as well as perhaps more cruciallym, long term issues connected to the supply chain, in particular, returns.

Last weeks Publishing News reported that the UK's largest publishing group, Hatchette Livre has released an ethical and environmental policy in which it has pledged to start selling its backlist consumer titles on a “firm sale basis”, in consultation with its customers (for this read book sellers) by the end of 2008. The policy document explains as I have said so many times, that the printing and multiple transportation of books that may end up being pulped is both costly and environmentally damaging and they are committed to reducing this practice. They go on to say that the estimated cummulative saving in terms of printing, paper, processing and transport will be in excess of one million books a year.

By the end of 2009, the group also hopes to have moved most all its trade publishing onto Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper, and to have made major progress in the same direction for their educational and illustrated publishing. The policy will be introduced gradually across the company's UK publishers starting with Little Brown at the beginning of 2008 and then other UK publishers, including Headline, Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder Education and Orion. I wonder how many of these backlist titles will then be maintained via print on demand. It will be interesting to see what happens here.

The response from book sellers, according to The Bookseller has been mixed. One more enlightened soul indie bookseller Clive Keeble, says that he hopes other publishers will follow suit, as the current system of sale or return is 'archaic and wasteful'. He goes on to say that it is poor business to expect others to subsidise one's business. I like this man and must find out what book shop he runs so that he can stock my book!

However, other booksellers expressed misgivings about what it would mean in terms of range. Waterstone's are said to be circumspect, stating that while they are committed to investigating ways of reducing returns, they had to ensure that any action the industry takes does not threaten specialist booksellers' ability to stock and sell deep range. That is rich I must say, since it due to the business activities of the chain store demanding more and more discounts so that they can have 3 for 2 promotions and so on that the majority of independents are going out of business in the first place!

The downside is that it may lead book sellers to be more wary of stocking back list titles, including mine. As Sheila O'Reilly, owner of indie Dulwich Books says, book sellers have two ways of buying stock - from wholesalers or direct from publishers. If they buy from the publishers direct they get less discount, usually with sale or return; if they buy from from wholesalers we get more discount and the right to return between 5% and 10% of the previous three months' sales. What this in practise means is that they have to have a 5 percent error rate. If firm sale comes in across the board, such book sellers then will be a lot more cautious about ordering such back lists (and books like mine) that do not have a provemn sales record.

Is is fair though to expect as Clive Keeble said, others to subside your business. Personally alhtough I take Sheila O'Reilly's point, I think not. Nobody else has a 5 percent error rate written into their supply contract, so why should book sellers be any different?

More worrying, book sellers may start to demand higher discounts to compensate for this loss, whihc is a move that small presses would strongly resist. Chris Rusbhy, Director of Bertrams, the UK's second largest wholesaler made the point that it is all very well to have green credentials, but there would be a saving that goes along with that, and book sellers should be able to share that saving. They are though missing the point - yes there would be savings in terms of less books being printed, but the books that are printed still have to shipped to the wholesaler, packed and then shipped off again, and this costs the same regardless. Personally I think the book sellers are just being greedy - I mean my book cost me nearly £5000 to write over 5 years, during which time I was not earning money elsewhere as I was writing full time. As it stands, who gets what can be broken down as follows:

book seller £6.00
print costs £4.06
wholesaler £2.25
me £1.60
publisher £1.08

This is why I would strongly then resist such a move and why I see parallels between this and the Writers Guild strike, since it is about the writers right (write!) to earn a decent living wage from doing what they do best. Call me old fashioned, but I believe the lions share should always go the person who created the work and not the one who is selling it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writers Guild revolts !

Those who have read my book will know that it is heavily influenced by an American science fiction television series entitled Babylon 5. This was written and produced by one Michael J Straczynski, who these days is one heavyweight writer. He is apparently working on a new film entitled Changeling, to be directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie. You don't get much more heavyweight than these two. His own website though details a bit of a hoo ha which is going on at the moment Stateside with regard to the Writers Guild - the US equivalent of our Society of Authors.

It seems that their members are going on strike in protest at proposals put forward to stop payment of what are referred to as residuals. These are the small fees which authors are paid each time a film of something that they have written (or other such similar things) is sold or borrowed. It is not a large sum - something like 4 cents - but if you happen to have written a popular film, then this can add up to quite a considerable sum. Unlike public lending rights, there is no maximum payment.

It seems that in America as in Britain there is a popular misconception that writers are rich. In only wish that this were true! In actual fact we are one of the most poorly paid group of people you can imagine. Most of us have to supplement our income with other part time occupations - teaching for example, or in my case as of tomorrow, working in retail. And those who work in publishing think they are badly off for having to do unpaid work experience in order to get their lucky break !

Sure there are some writers who do extremely well - Jeffrey Archer, and JK Rowling - but these are few and far between. At any given point in any one year, around half of all film and TV writers are unemployed. Sometimes this may be because they are not very good, but most often it is because they are between commissions. You have to find a buyer for the movie (or book for that matter) that you have spent six months (or five years) writing - I hasten to add at your own expense. This is the way that publishing works though, whether you write books, films or whatever. You produce or write the product, sell it and only then do you get paid.

A residual then is like an author's royalty. Screen and script writers are paid them each time their work is shown on television. They are how such writers survive between jobs, and only fair when one considers how the network or studio itself makes money from the authors work. If nobody airs your show or re-runs the film or show that you have written, then there is no residual, it is as simple as that. After all, if the network isn't getting paid, then they can't pay you either!

This then is why last week, 90 percent of Guild members voted to down tools and go on strike - and quite rightly so. This though is the tip of the iceberg, for it is about far more than just residuals, but also about the writers right to be acknowledged as the creator of the work. Under the new proposals residuals will not be paid for what are termed as 'new media' which in practise means shows that are broadcast on Internet radio or television, it also means that NO credits will appear in advertising - so the writer loses the right to even be acknowledged. Stuff that for a game of soldiers ! The proposal entirely eliminates the requirement that writing credits appear in advertising and publicity, even if the names of others - such as producers and directors - are included. The Guild response is as follows: For years the MBA has provided that the writer receive parity in advertising and publicity. The Guild will never accept this proposal, which is an insult to writers and demeans their contributions. Hear, hear !

I don't know where this will end then, but like the debacle with Eagle Publishing that I mentioned the other day, it is one to watch, and yet another sign that the tide is turning. Studios and TV networks would be wise to remember, like a certain person at Foyles, that without writers to create these works in the first place, they too would be out of a job. Without us, the people who actually write this stuff, they would have no reason for being ....

On another note, I see from The Bookseller that Waterstones are to close their first ever store in Old Brompton Road, London. It seems that the store was taken on a 25 year lease which is about to expire, taking the 12 staff with it. Every effort though will be made to deploy them elsewhere within the company. I will a note not to ring that branch - last time I tried they would not answer their phone anyway, and so I gave up and moved on to other branches who would.

Fortunately this week they have quite a few of these. In the past week I have worked doubly hard, knowing that my return to work was imminent and I would have the same time to concentrate on this essential activity. This week then I have secured orders from Bromley Glades, Birmingham New Street, Cambridge, Enfield, Chester, Guildford High Street, Gateshead Metro Centre (I am delighted at this one), Gower Street, Greenwich, Ealing, Hastings and Hemel Hempstead Riverside. I have lost count of the total number of shops then which are now stocking me, but with the run up to Christmas, it must be well over 80 by now. This is not bad at all, since it means that before this is over with a bit of luck, I will be stocked in almost a third of their total branches.

The article in this months Writers News should help - I have not seen it yet myself, but hope to get a copy this afternoon. Dinner is calling though, so I better go and see what needs doing in the kitchen - the delightful smell of chopped onions is wafting towards me as I write !