Last week, I mentioned during a visit to Bernita's blog that I'd just heard a bookstore owner speak about the challenges authors are facing to get their books on store shelves. It was suggested I write up a post about this.
Canada's large bookstore chain, Chapters/Indigo, has finally turned a profit. The reason?
Fewer books for sale and more gift merchandise.
We've all seen it walking into bookstores. The area at the front of the store is filled with cd's, games, stuffed animals, photo boxes - a bizarre assortment of things that really don't have much to do with books.
And almost every outlet here has a coffee shop on the premises.
During a reacent trip to one Indigo branch we were astonished to find that not only had they taken out a hefty chunk of floor space and turned it into Starbucks, despite being located in a mall, but they'd also removed 50% of their magazines.
The rules for independents
The bookstore owner spoke about a number of variables. As a small independent bookstore, they are more particular with what they carry in stock. A local author won't necessarily get on their store shelves if they don't think the book is a good fit for their clientele.
One of the key suggestions was, when choosing a publisher, to find out what kind of distribution they have. Ingrams in the US has a phenomenal reputation, and essentially all the bookstores deal with them. In Canada, Trafford is one of the distribution networks - before you sign, make sure you ask if it matters to you.
Why? If the book comes from the US, it may be more expensive to carry and therefore bookstores are less likely to risk it. This is something I saw happen with an author I knew a few years ago, and they were extremely frustrated by the unwillingness of the Canadian bookstores to carry their book.
Here are the cruel truths for Canadian writers:
A best-selling novel in Canada is one that sells 3000 copies.
10 years ago, the average Canadian-authored & published novel sold 1400 copies. Today, the average is 800.
What is contributing to this? From Jan. 13/2006's Quill and Quire:
"The loss of many independents has been a loss of the best form of marketing, the one literary (i.e.fiction) books rely on the most - word of mouth, handselling, endorsement by bookstore owners and staff."
I know I've experienced standing in Chapters, biting my tongue as someone who clearly hasn't read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe tries to say it's sorta like Tolkein, but different.
Get to know your independent bookstore owners
Why? They have the personal passion to discuss books. They know their books. They're selective about what they carry because they know their customers.
They have to.
Around here, it is the independents that host book launches and author readings. They're very supportive of the local writing community, which means they're important people to talk to.
So draft up some questions for them, or if you aren't ready to query yet and haven't really gotten a handle on the marketing and selling side of the equation, then my recommendation is to just get to know them. Tell them you're working on a manuscript but leave it there. Just take whatever nuggets they can give you and store that advice away.
This store's customers:
40-75 in age, on average
Not into strong forensic detail
Place/Setting/Character is tantamount
Typical reading averages:
1. People aged 20-30 are reading fewer and fewer books.
2. However, people 40 and up are reading more.
3. Fewer books are getting onto store shelves, so people are reading more and more of the same books.
What can we take from this?
I always wondered why some series writers started with characters around 40 in age. Perhaps its because the majority of readers can relate to that? I'm just speculating.
People aged 20-30 are too busy with university, establishing careers, starting families... It's really important you understand your target audience as a writer. There may be subtle and not-so-subtle thing that you do differently in your writing.
This doesn't mean you're catering to the audience at the expense of your art, but I know that if I want my book in this particular bookstore, it needs to go soft on the forensics. Suspicious Circumstances could be a good fit. My other manuscript wouldn't be such a great fit, as it currently stands.
Now, I've taken some of the meat out of this in writing it, because what I learned about covers could make up for an entirely separate post, so I'll save that for next time. As it is, I've ended up with 2 posts again today, but I'm making up in advance for the fact that I'm going to be away for a few days next week.
More on that later!
Have a good one. And don't forget: Leave me a comment with a suggestion for future tip discussion topics. I'll try to cover what's of interest as best I can, and can do some research as well if I think further ahead than Monday night!