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Author Wants To Be Part of the Solution

This came in as a comment the other day; the author, Kevin King, is from the UK and has a self-published book and really wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  What would you say to him?

I have just published my first book, Transformed by Love (the Story of the Song of Solomon). I am also the webmaster for my church. Our local bookstore, which was taken over by Oasis Trust after Wesley Owen folded, has also now closed. Our church leadership were keen, even before the bookshop closed, to have an on-line shop on our website. The software is already in place: but this was postponed, partly to give the bookshop a better chance and partly through lack of a volunteer to run it. The project is still currently in abeyance.

In producing my book my primary concern has been to make it available to bless those who stand to benefit by it. I wanted it to be available free of copyright restrictions, which meant that I was forced to take the self-publishing route. My resources are limited and I am unlikely to recoup my investment in the foreseeable future. To make matters even more difficult, I understand that many Christian bookshops won’t take titles from self-publishers: and even if they do, the bulk of their main display space is given over to the large publishers, who naturally have more financial clout and better publicity resources.

I believe that Christian bookshops are a precious asset that we really do not want to lose. Besides selling books, they serve both as a meeting place for Christians and as a contact point for the unchurched. Part of the solution may be in developing that ‘social centre’ aspect, such as the coffee shops that are integrated into some of them. I think that is a great idea: provided it doesn’t become too up-market and thereby discourage the less well-off.

But my main point is, how can I as an independent author help the bookshops? As far as I can see I have no workable alternative to marketing via Amazon and ebooks. And that means my hands are tied. My contract with Amazon prevents me from offering product for sale at less than their prices. The only way bookshops can get a discount is by ordering from one of the major distributors: but although these do list and can supply my book; they will not actively promote it and may well not even stock it unless there is a demand. And how else can I generate that demand as a small independent author on a limited budget?

I would be happy to accept a reduced royalty if that would help to make my book available to Christian bookshops and in turn help them to survive. After all, what better place is there to publicise a Christian author’s books? And there is potentially a great resource for the church in the independent authors (though I realise that there is also a lot of rubbish and worse out there as well). What we need, I think, is a distributor who is prepared to act as a middleman between the ‘Indie’ authors and the Christian bookshops, without charging the authors a small fortune for the privilege. This could perhaps be done by the distributor charging a small commission direct to the author on their sales. Does anyone know of a distributor who is doing this or something similar, or who might be prepared to consider such a scheme?

Or how else can we co-operate in this? One promotional idea I am working on is to offer one book to a bookshop on a ‘sale or giveaway’ basis. They would be requested to place it an appropriate position to be seen by those looking for books of a similar genre and; if the book is sold within three months, to purchase one replacement copy. If not sold within that period, they would be free to give it away to anyone they chose. (I plan to pilot this scheme in the near future: so if any bookshop owner out there is interested in having a free book, please get in touch. I can also supply a PDF version for appraisal by anyone who wants it.) But the obvious drawback to this idea is that I have to pay for a copy up front: and I can’t afford to do that too much. Can anyone suggest a compromise arrangement that would be acceptable from a bookshop owner’s point of view?

Or can anyone suggest any other approach that might help? I really don’t want my attempts to promote what I believe to be a resource for the kingdom to become a means of undermining the kingdom work of others.

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  1. January 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Interesting; he posted the self-same comment on the UKCBD blog:
    Amazon blamed again: Comment 54636. You’ll find my response in the subsequent conversation…

  2. January 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    // Comment located //

  3. January 13, 2013 at 7:06 am

    A gentleman with a real heart for God and for people. My immediate response is to say that perhaps he is being called to be that distribution point! Often the LORD gives ideas to people and asks them to run with them.
    To his point about bookshop presence: I am a first-book self published author like Mr King. Although I am in Canada now, I lived in the UK for 20 years and can say that as he has a good postal service and a small country, he could go from town to town visiting the Christian bookstores with a single copy of his book. Has he a small print-run to begin with?
    Finally, Smashwords in an American internet e-book company and distributer or e-book. Kevin can read at smashwords.com 3 different manuals and upload his book there and charge whatever price he likes. If he has a blog he can direct folks to his books and they can purchase for a low price. Of course the purchaser would at least need a PC to read it but at least it is a starting place. Perhaps libraries will be supplying e-books soon and if so, he could ensure libraries had his book – perhaps he could ask for 1 pound – and the book would then be available to anyone who uses the library computer.
    Blessings.
    PS: Paul – I think I’ve sourced the problem with my id and I will write from this account. I have several but I know how to alter them now. Thanks for your feedback and for your patience. God bless.

  4. January 14, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for your comments. I originally responded to Phil’s post, “Category Killer Claims Another Victim” which referenced “Amazon blamed again as another Christian bookshop prepares to close its doors” on this site. I wanted to respond to both articles, but Phil’s comment here appeared only as a Pingback reference; and as both items were over a fortnight old, I thought it was unlikely to be seen here unless I commented in both blogs. Thank you very much for reposting my comment here, and thank you to Phil and Sarah for responding. I am still keen to hear what folk have to say. One thing I should probably have done, however, was to explain in the CBST blog that I am UK-based; although my book is actually published in the US.

    I opted for a US POD publisher, Virtual Bookworm, because they appeared to have a reputation for only publishing good-quality literature. Also, they could utilise Lightning Imprint’s printing facilities in the UK as well as North America: which made it much easier to service both markets.

    I found Phil’s comments particularly interesting, as he pointed out that the ‘Sale or Giveaway’ idea had already been discussed here under his post, “How to Sell a Book: Radical thinking for authors, publishers and readers.” It was very encouraging to see how close his suggestion was to mine. The main difference was that he suggested the book be sent ‘on spec’ with an offer to either stock it or give it away immediately. That’s a good idea: but POD copies are more expensive than litho: making it a less economic suggestion. In my case I could only afford an initial ‘half-price author’s purchase’ of 100 copies; and only have 50 left, having given away 30 on an overseas trip (the next batch will cost 60% of retail). So my plan is to only send copies to bookshops who have expressed a willingness to display the book in an appropriate place for at least 3 months. The pre-approach and 3 month limit also overcomes the objection raised by a response to Phil’s post that booksellers may not wish to be tied in to a long-term arrangement. The acid test now is, what booksellers are willing to give this a try? I’d love to hear from any who are. Meantime, I’m trying to get together a targeted list of booksellers around the country to whom I can email details of the offer. (Incidentally, this will include a full PDF version of the book, so that they can review it before committing.)

    Sue, I have also asked if God is calling me to become a distributor for others. At present I lack both the resources and trade experience to consider this an option. But maybe one day…

    It now costs £1.10 to post one book by second-class post in the UK, with the cost of packaging on top. But with petrol now at £1.30 per litre, it’d cost £2.50 in petrol alone just to visit my nearest bookshop. And as many shops are staffed by volunteers, you could easily find the proprietor out when you arrived.

    That’s another of the factors killing UK bookshops; if you don’t have one in your nearest shopping town or work area you aren’t likely to visit very often. But, thinking about it, there’s one notable exception: shops where folk with time on their hands regularly visit, such as tourist towns, have a great opportunity. Although prime locations are often too expensive, an advert in a prime spot, with clear directions to a nearby shop and cup of coffee, can be very enticing. (E.g. since discovering Wordwise in Kingsbridge I now try to make a point of visiting when I’m down that way.)

    Thanks for mentioning Smashwords: though in this context it might be regarded as ‘fraternising with the enemy.’ However, the problem lies in the Amazon contracts, which specifically prevent you from selling either ebooks (in any format) or books at prices lower than those offered on Kindle or Amazon, respectively. But at present I am offering the ebook on Kindle for the minimum price of $0.99 (£0.75). Like Smashwords, you can get readers for Kindle on a wide variety of mobiles, tablets and PCs (though not, of course on rival readers). I do plan to launch on Smashwords when I can get around to reformatting the source to suit their input requirements. In the meantime am considering the possibility of promoting the book for 3 months through their Kindle Select programme: but the downside is that I can only offer the ebook through Kindle during that period. (Amazon have these things pretty well sewn up!)

    I like the idea of supplying copies of ebooks to libraries. Kindle already operate their own loan schemes. But will this help Christian book shops? Indirectly, if the book starts to sell really well. But at the same time, it is doing nothing to halt the drift towards online retailing. Do I have any other options?

    God bless,

    Kevin

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