• Zetta Brown
  • Authors! Can't Find Your Book in a Bookstore? You May be Luckier than You Think!
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Authors! Can't Find Your Book in a Bookstore? You May be Luckier than You Think!
Written by
Zetta Brown
March 2011
Written by
Zetta Brown
March 2011

Authors dream of finding their book on sale in bookstores. It's something to brag about, and rightly so! Authors should feel proud to see their work on sale. There's a sense of pride that something you created has made it into the marketplace for others to enjoy.

But what if your titles can't be found in a bookstore? Is that really a bad thing?

Not really if you understood the economics behind stocking bookstores. One reason bookstores are hemorrhaging money is because of a system the publishing put in place waaaaay back in the DEPRESSION ERA that is still in practice today

Can you list 10 ways the world has changed since the 1920s? I can. Perhaps we should give the mega publishers our list. Any list will do.

As you can imagine, the knock on effect of bookstores that lose money affect the publisher, and then the author, but it ultimately affects the reader.

Small and indie publishers really do want to see their authors succeed and get into bookstores, and not just the big chains but the indie shops too, but they can't do it without risking losing huge amounts of money and possibly going out of business. 

Don't believe me? Read this blog post by Champagne Books and see for yourself. Be sure to read the comments after the post too. Learn how one indie publisher tried to help an author get their book in a bookstore...and nearly lose a ton of money because of it. You will find this is not extraordinary practice but STANDARD practice when dealing with bookstores of any size. Sorta kinda puts Borders dilemma into perspective...doesn't it?

And you better believe that in the choice between staying in business or supplying bookstores--staying in business will win every time.

It doesn't take a genius to understand that you cannot run a financially sound business or industry on credit alone. And if you don't know what happens when you place your economic faith in credit, you must have been living under a rock.

The solution lies in the way bookstores and publishers do business together. Leave the Depression Era business strategy back in the 1920s. This is a wake up call for all publishers and bookstores to wake up to a new age, a new millenium, and new business approaches.

Your authors and their readers will thank you for it.

I'm not trying to bash Borders, but they are now the poster child for the lousy business practice that can be found in the publishing industry and therefore, an easy target.

Check out my other post "Borders Should Just Go Bust" and Sunny Frazier's "A Letter to Borders" for two similar, yet different perspectives towards this issue. 

I'm an author and a publisher. I want to see my books in bookstores...but I'm not going to play by these rules. 

Let's be friends

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  • Zetta Brown

    Oooh, Maureen...don't even get me started on stripping covers. And when you think that this has been SOP for DECADES...the billions of books that have been trashed and returned to publishers for FULL CREDIT...and then the countless number of trees WASTED to make it happen?? It makes my blood boil. If people were more aware of this practice, I think they would DEMAND that the publishing industry put a stop to it.

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    Many, many years ago, I worked in a bookstore and was saddened by all the returns that were made. I had to strip off the covers of paperbacks, box them, and send them out at the bookstore's expense.

    The publisher of my poetry collection uses print on demand, which makes so much more sense than the old model of print and destroy to return what's unsold.

  • Zetta Brown

    Book returns kill. And returns DO NOT just affect print books, they are starting to affect ebooks as well. Publishers sometimes get the rep of being greedy, and some publishers live up to it, but in reality, a publisher needs to stay in business--so they can pay their authors.

    Our latest release In Exile is doing well because we've negotiated an arrangement with an INDEPENDENT bookstore store in New Orleans as well as another retailer because we could all agree on terms that didn't put anyone in jeopardy of making a loss. Seriously, if more stores would open up and work with us, as indie publishers and authors, we wouldn't have to lament the demise of local bookstores or lack of choice in what to read if the only place that sells books near you is Wal-Mart and what your library (if you're lucky to have one) can afford to get.

  • Valerie Nieman

    The business model is insane. My publisher has slashed the number of bookstores he's dealing with because he will no longer accept returns - it seems harsh, but he pays to ship the books and then gets most of them back - often in poor shape and unsaleable.

  • Zetta Brown

    @Emily - Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed Oil and Water...  The contributors to the anthology are truly amazing writers. Be sure to tell all your friends and family about it. The first anniversary of the disaster is coming and we need to remind people that the damage remains.

  • Emily Kennedy

    By the way, I bought Oil & Water on Amazon in support of you wonderful, lovely SheWrites authors and our treasured Gulf Coast.  I very much enjoyed it, especially since the stories and poems were so varied.  Yours was a shocker, by the way.  I'm still shaking my head and wondering where in the world you came up with that plot!  Kudos to you for writing a story that gets people thinking/talking and kudos to the other writers as well for their unique perspectives.  I'm kicking myself for not submitting an entry!

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Emily,

    Don't be scared and keep writing. What you're seeing is a culmination of relying on an outdated way of doing business. The way to fix it is for publishers and bookstores to wake up to the new millennium.

    But I'm afraid that if you are serious about getting published, you need to be aware of the realities of publishing, and this is one of them. Many authors hurt themselves because they may make unreasonable demands or have certain expectations without realizing the reason why.

    There are so many small/indie publishers who are willing to get books into bookstores if the bookstores were more realistic in their ordering methods. Instead of ordering 100s of books, selling 10 and returning 90 for refund or credit--just order 10, PAY for them, and retain your profit. If you run out, order more.

    But this kind of common sense is very illusive in retail book chains because they still operate in this Depression Era mode.

    Support your libraries in any way you can. Unfortunately, libraries are usually hampered by government budgets AND a wonky purchasing system that needs revision, but libraries do the best they can with what they got.

    There will always be an audience for books and a need for books. But remember there are 2 halves to the publishing business: the product and the business. Create the product (the book) but don't forget that publishing is a business. If you remember this, you'll be fine :) 

  • Emily Kennedy

    Zetta, I don't want to read these posts because they frighten me!  I am still trying to get my first book published, and I am afraid the milieu is going to be tainted at best--or even destroyed--before I even get there!  How does one stop the trend?  I buy from bookstores & Amazon (mainly because I live in a rural area).  I have an amazing library that I love and keep filling with more books.  I don't know what else to do.

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Janet!

    I love the convenience of ebooks, but I will always buy in print too, because I'm a bibliophile. I don't want to see bookstores go the way of the dinosaur, but they deserve it if they keep to this unsound business practice. I've had favorite indie bookstores go out of business, but I've found a few that stay in business because they understand what works and what doesn't.

  • Janet Ference Writing


    Zetta, thanks for this post, and the links. Yes, it's a hard call. I have a friend who was a devoted employee of a great independent bookstore that went bust a couple of years ago. She's still adamantly against e-books and the brave new world. She recently ran a facebook campaign to ask her friends to throw away their e-readers (if they have one), boycott Amazon, and buy only at independent bookstores. It was hard to respond. I respect her point of view A LOT. I miss that bookstore. I worry about others in town. But I love that I can buy e-books so inexpensively, that a huge assortment of work is readily available for e-readers, and that I can also publish e-books inexpensively. Even the choice between online purchasing of paperbacks or shopping in my neighborhood bookstore has left me choosing to go online. I can't afford so many books otherwise!

    And when I had a literary agent working really hard to sell my work, and I learned the how's and why's that it's so hard for publishers and acquiring editors to take risks, and how this ancient system is failing EVERYBODY, authors, publishers, agents, bookstores, and especially readers, I was shocked and very saddened. That's why I'm now heading into the world of self-publishing, starting with an e-book. What other choice is there today?