Doin’ the Bookstore Bop – some things you should know

Working with a bookstore can be a breeze or a nightmare, depending on how you’re published and whom you approach.

Of course, you’ve already read my post on how to get store managers mouths watering, so the next step is getting your book stocked for your event…and here is where the differences between bookstores can impact your frustration levels.

Stay with me here because understanding how books are ordered and sold impact you in a big way.

Book Ordering

Ingram and Baker & Taylor

All bookstores order from Ingram and Baker & Taylor because they are the two premier warehouse distributors and were designed for this very purpose. Without a centralized warehouse, bookstores would have to call a jillion different publishers to order books for their stores. Conversely, the publishers would be driven mad dealing with all the orders coming in from thousands of bookstores.

Ingram and Baker & Taylor make life a lot easier for everyone. But there is a rub. A lot of indie stores are working on an even narrower margin than the store chains, so they are motivated to get the best price for the books they order…which means they’re looking to undercut Ingram or B&T by getting a better discount through direct ordering from the publisher.

Two other choices of ordering:

Buy direct from the publisher: Everyone knows the shrinking shelf space isn’t just a science fiction anomaly, so it’s in the publisher’s interest to accommodate a bookstore with better discounts, if they can. It’s a pain for the publisher because they have to keep track of the accounting – and bookstores can take a long time to pay their bills. I have vivid memories of our accounting department tracking down years-old invoices that “somehow got lost.”

Buy direct from the publisher’s distributor:  But what if your publisher has a distribution agreement with companies like Perseus, Consortium, IPG, etc.? This means publishers are precluded from direct selling to the bookstores. This makes things a bit tougher for the small bookstore because those distributors will only do business with stores who maintain accounts with them. Those who don’t have accounts have to pay for the books and shipping costs up front because the distributor doesn’t want to get stuffed with years-old unpaid invoices.

But the important thing is that the authors had their books for events.

And here lies the problem: The small bookstore doesn’t want to pay up front because it’s money out of their till before the books have even sold.

So how does this affect you, the author?

“Can’t Order Your Book”:  The bookstore is running out of options that will best benefit his store:

  • He can’t order from the publisher due to contractual issues with their distributor.
  • He can’t order from the distributor because he doesn’t have an account with them and would have to pay for everything up front.
  • He can order from Ingram or B&T, but he gets a poorer discount.

So what does he do? First, he analyzes how important this book signing is and weighs that against the bother of getting a poorer discount. Will the books sell? How many will he be forced to ship back? Is the hassle worth it, or not?

The next thing that happens is the small bookstore stresses out the author’s by saying, “Sure, I’ll host your event, but I can’t order your book.” He’s made his decision that he can live without the hassle, and pulls the standard cop out.

Beagle pucky.

As a commercially pubbed author, your book has the industry-standard discounts through Ingram and B&T, AND your books are fully returnable. That bookstore manager is telling you a steamy hot one.

This actually happened to one of our authors. He had a huge off-site event planned and had asked a used bookstore if they would act as the bookstore by ordering the books, transporting them to the event, and selling the books.This is nice because all the author has to do is show up and sign books for their adoring fans.

“No problem,” says they. We knew nothing of this event, so I nearly fell out of my chair when our author called two days before the event, in near hysterics at being told by the bookstore that they couldn’t order his books.

Huh?

The bookstore didn’t have an account with our distributor and didn’t want to pay up front, so they blamed us by telling our author it was our fault they couldn’t order the books…which is an absolute lie. He could have bought them from Ingram, where thousands of his books were sitting on their shelves, only he decided it wasn’t worth his time and effort. All our author cared about was having books in time for a huge event.

It was a disaster that should have never happened.

“You could buy back your books”:  Some bookstores want to minimize their hassle-factor by agreeing to host your book event only if you buy back the unsold stock. This is utter craposity.

You should NEVER agree to buy back your own books. They’re are simply removing the expense of having to ship back any unsold copies of your book, while guaranteeing they make money on the deal, with no risk or loss. As a commercially published author, you do not and should not ever agree to this kind of blackmail.

“Sorry, not my problem”:  The simple explanation is small bookstores who engage in this kind of behavior are risk averse and lazy because they’re trying to maximize their profit margin and minimize their effort by making you and your publisher do most of the work. It’s BS, and I’m grateful these kinds of stores aren’t the gold standard.

I have little problem dealing with this, but I do have a HUGE problem when they make it the author’s problem, who risk not having their books stocked because bookstore wants to save a few shekels. And who loses? The author.

Contrary to what the bookstore is telling you, this is not “business as usual.” You walk into any established store, and you’ll find most are very happy to handle the ordering issues and host your event.

You are an author, not a store

Authors shouldn’t be in the position of playing storekeeper…that’s for self-pubbed, POD, and vanity pubbed authors. Not commercially published authors. Say ta to any store who makes you jump through these ridiculous hoops. They either want your book, or they don’t. But you shouldn’t be in the position of sweating bullets to accommodate the store when they can easily get your book from Ingram or B&T.

Sales and distribution is your publisher’s job. Your job is to be brilliant and lovely.

You know what they say about Assume, right?

So how do you avoid doing the Bookstore Bop when planning your bookstore events with a small indie bookstore? Do your follow up. If a store agrees to host your event, be sure to ask them how they go about ordering your book.

  1. If they say they’ll order through your publisher, then understand there could be a hiccup if your publisher has a distribution agreement because they can’t fulfill bookstore orders…only their distributor can. Reaction: Panic
  2. If they say they can’t order your book, remind them they can order through the warehouse distributors; Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Reaction: Pity their suckosity.
  3. If they tell you they’ll order through Ingram/B&T, take comfort they are a good bookstore who is interested in gaining extra foot traffic and additional sales, and helping author gain a wider footprint. Reaction: Hug them and tell them you’re their bestest friend.

Last Tip to Save Your Sanity

Two week follow up:  Call the store two weeks before your event and make sure they have your books. If they don’t, then remind them they need to get on it. Call again in a few days to see if they’ve ordered. If not, begin to panic, and talk to the manager.

One week follow up:  Call again a week before your event. If they still haven’t ordered your book, grab the manager by the throat and threaten their ability to breed. Ok, not really. If they don’t have your book, I’d recommend calling your editor and asking them to intervene. I’ve done this any number of times and can often get to the bottom of the problem.

Yes, Virginia, Bandini Happens:  The trick is to plan ahead for snafus because they do happen. You don’t want to plan a great signing event only to arrive and have zero books. This is a horror story that’s happened to almost every author on the planet, and it’s why many keep a few copies in the trunk of their cars. I had this very thing happen at a conference. The bookstore hadn’t brought over enough copies of my book from their store, and they sold out at the conference. They nabbed me and asked I’d brought any extras, which I had. I provided them with more copies, life resumed, and my books sold.

Be the Girl Scout by being prepared. It’ll save you countless sleepless nights, boils, rashes, threats of death and doom, and placing the blame where it doesn’t belong.

5 Responses to Doin’ the Bookstore Bop – some things you should know

  1. Voidwalker says:

    Thank you for taking the time to put this together for us writers/authors. I always appreciate seeing some inside tips on the industry.

  2. tbrosz says:

    I think that last suggestion, having your very own emergency supply of books, is a good one. As an author, I would probably be willing to eat the costs if it saved a signing or two. And who knows when having a few copies on hand might be handy for other things?

    You wouldn’t want to advertise this “safety net,” though. Bookstore owners might decide they can sit back and relax because you’ll come through in the pinch.

  3. I wouldn’t worry about bookstores taking that attitude. For the most part, they’re a great bunch

  4. Lorelei Bell says:

    After Borders closed up doors I knew I would have to crawl to B&N. I was told that everyone who wanted a book would have to pre-order and pre-pay–they would not order my books because “Ingram has the say as to when they will take back books that don’t sell”. I told them the last time I had a book signing I sold 20 books in 2 hours. People were walking out with 2 in their arms, one person bought 3! This didn’t seem to impress them. Meanwhile all these traditionally published titles were sitting out on the floor at big discounts. I was forced to ask people to do this. No one did this, of course, believing that they didn’t have to. So I get an email telling me that no one ordered my book through them, and held the threat of canceling my book signing. I saved them the trouble and told them to cancil and that I would never walk foot in their door. This is no way to treat a local published author. I gave up on book signings. They make me a nervous wreck anyway. I’m selling to people who want them when I run into them. I gave up on doing book signings if Ihave to go through this sort of crud, bumping heads and so forth.

  5. Lorelei, I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences. Sadly, bookstores have taken this stance because they get burned far more than they experience successes. I know it hurts, but self pubbed authors are an unknown quantity. Commercial presses have track records via their longevity and their distribution.

    I wasn’t aware that Ingram calls the shots with respect to returns since our distributor takes care of this…in fact, I’ll ask them because that’s just so odd. At any rate, I have no doubt that you can sell a ton of books by having events that are more in keeping to your personality.

    Thank you for sharing, and best of luck to you.

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