I reached a milestone today.
In the grand scheme of my writing career, it’s really not THAT important. I recognize that. But it’s awesome.
Today, Midrealm was stocked in two brick-and-mortar stores in Los Angeles.
Both stores offer to stock local authors’ books on a consignment basis. If you don’t already know, “consignment” means that they don’t pay you to take your books. They only pay after the books sell.
For a digital comparison, it’s not dissimilar to print-on-demand. Createspace creates a book for you. But you don’t get paid until it sells.
I decided, along with Z. C., my co-author, to shell out a little extra dough to be placed in strategic locations in both stores, and to be featured on their websites and email newsletters. They sell the books online as well, and if anyone orders them, they pay for the shipping.
Independent stores like this exist everywhere. They almost certainly exist in your town. And you can find ones that will take your book on consignment. It’s a relatively low-risk deal. You’re only out the cost of the books themselves, and if the books don’t sell, you get them back.
However, the amount of time and energy invested in getting your books into these stores is almost CERTAINLY not worth it to most people. I’d go so far as to advise you against it, except for one reason only.
It’s. Fucking. Awesome.
Dude, I can’t tell you how awesome it was to be standing in a bookstore and to see a book — MY book — on the shelf.
It’s entirely a prestige point for me. As long as I recognize that, and I’m okay with it, I’m good.
But there are ways you CAN use brick-and-mortar stores to further an overall marketing strategy.
Almost every author I know wants to do a book signing at some point. Or possibly a speaking event, or perhaps a live reading of their book.
Again, this is often a prestige thing. But it can be more. It can solidify your relationship to your fans. It can attract new ones, if you can figure out how to draw a crowd outside of your regular readers.
I’d say that my most solid relationship with any authors I read is the relationship I have with Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt from the Self Publishing Podcast. I know them, I listen to their podcasts, I occasionally work with them, and I read mostly everything they put out.
But I’ve still never met them in person. If there’s anything that could strengthen the bond I feel with them even more, it would be that.
So holding a live event is a desirable goal for many. But how do you do that?
Many independent bookstores will offer live events to indie authors in their area. You have to pay for them. Both of the stores that now carry Midrealm will do live events, for a cost of $50 and $125, respectively. They’ll also handle all sales for you during the event, for a consignment split.
But is that worth it?
Well, one way to find out is to stock the stores with your books first.
1. Get your book(s) into the store(s).
2. Drive as much traffic into the store to buy your book as you can.
3. Like any good retailer, if your book sells enough, the store will start to promote it for you. They’ll move it to the “Hot New Releases” shelf, or whatever they can do to notify their regular customers of this cool new thing.
4. You’ll start to get new, organic sales from the extra promotion the store is doing for you.
5. If the store is really selling enough to make it worthwhile — and that number can be as low as thirty books or less — consider holding a live event in the store.
Most of these indie bookstores would LOVE to sell thirty copies of ANY one title. They’ve got thousands of titles in their stores, and they’ll only sell one or two copies of most of them, if any. If you can drive your personal sales figures into the dozens, the store will consider you a great local author. And with that strengthened relationship, you can hold a live event in their store and have them promote the SHIT out of it for you.
Make no mistake, bookstores may be a dying breed. The rise of digital readers, plus the availability of cheaper books online through Amazon means that brick-and-mortar stores are finding it increasingly hard to survive.
But also make no mistake — indie bookstore CUSTOMERS are some of the most rabid fans out there. To be totally honest, they’re clinging to an old way of life that they know and love. They don’t want to see it go away. And they’ll grasp at any straw that makes it look like they can sustain it for a little bit longer.
Indie bookstores recognize this. You should, too.
If you can move a few dozen copies of a book through a local store, then promise to have a book signing and live speaking event, that store will promote you like you’re the second coming of Christ.
That can get a much bigger crowd than you can get on your own. Granted, it’s not as big a crowd as you’ll get online. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
When you have that live event, you can PERSONALLY tell people to sign up for the email list that you MUST have if you’re a serious author. That’s a much stronger appeal than even a CTA in your book.
When you have that live event, you can shake a reader’s hand. If they’re your ardent supporter, that will be a memory they’ll treasure forever. Just make sure to remind them to WASH that hand.
When you have that live event, your smile, your inflection, your attitude, all of the things that make you uniquely YOU, will become permanently imprinted on your audience’s mind.
You’re more real to them. You’re not just a name on a cover. You’re a friend.
And friends buy friends’ books.
BARNES & NOBLE
There is one more way to use brick-and-mortar stores to your advantage, and it has to do with Barnes & Noble.
I have a love/hate relationship with the old B&N. I still love GOING to a Barnes & Noble store. But I hate selling through them. First of all, they don’t give you as much love as Kobo or even Amazon. They don’t have things in place to help you as an indie author. They’re clinging to an old, archaic, hit-based business model, and it’s no wonder they’re slowly sinking as a company.
But for all that, there is no bigger brick-and-mortar chain in the world. There’s a way you can use that to your advantage.
Events at indie bookstores are excellent. You’re connecting with real, true, die-hard fans of books. Those people will love you forever if you can worm your way into their heart just once.
But events at Barnes & Noble are on another level. A less personal level, but a much more “legit” one.
If you publish a book through Lightning Source, people can order it through Barnes & Noble. Lightning Source has ties to Ingram, and Barnes & Noble offers the ability to order books from Ingram’s system in-store.
Here’s how I plan to do this (one day).
1. Publish a book through Lightning Source.
2. Find the biggest concentration of fans in one area (for me, this is unquestionably L.A.).
3. Establish a relationship with a manager of a particular Barnes & Noble in that area. Let him know who you are and what you’re doing. The response will probably be a very polite, “Oh, cool. Now if you’ll excuse me…”
4. See if you can extend that conversation. Establish a number with the manager. If you can sell that many books through the store, ask him if you can hold a live event there.
5. Ask all of your fans to go and order that book through that particular Barnes & Noble in that area.
6. Do whatever you have to do to hit the number you’ve established with the manager. It may be as much as 100.
7. Once you’ve hit it, set up a live event in the Barnes & Noble.
8. Beg, borrow and steal a few cameras and some people who can run them with halfway decent proficiency. Film your event. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to edit it into a pretty sweet live event video.
9. Put this up on your website. Make it the focus of a press release. You’re an independent author who just held a goddamn live event in Barnes & Noble. You’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. You’ve beaten the system. Crow that loud and proud from the rooftops.
That is a very, very effective piece of marketing if you do it right.
These are just my thoughts on brick-and-mortar. A lot of that is long-term planning. For now, it’s just totally fucking sweet to have my book on the shelf in a real bookstore. In multiple sections. And in one of those sections, on a shelf that’s adjacent to Game of Thrones.