Home > Uncategorized > Soul Coats: Restoration – How It Was Marketed (Part Two of Two)

Soul Coats: Restoration – How It Was Marketed (Part Two of Two)

On December 7th we introduced you to Calgary author Rohadi Nagassar who shared the story about his book Soul Coats: Restoration, an adult colouring book based on scenes and scriptures from the Bible. At the time I asked him if he would at a future date share his reflections of being an independent author and publisher in Canada trying to get his product into stores. If you missed it, here is the link to Part One.

Some bookstore owners and staff are going to find this assessment hard to read. I could have edited it in a few places, but at each juncture I felt it was important to hear the heart of someone who has done his best to try to work with all of us, and recognize the weaknesses of a system that we are all somewhat complicit in. So what follows is Rohadi’s story in its entirety.

Here’s a story about a new indie publisher taking a publication, in this case my adult colouring book, into the book market abyss for the first time. The story weaves around early mistakes, exposes the scene between publishers and distributors, and highlights how that relationship informs what booksellers purchases, and ultimately what customers buy.

First, let’s go back to late 2015. The rush of adult colouring books stormed the market. Around Thanksgiving I got the idea to create a bible version since at the time there were only half a dozen related titles available in a market selling millions of books. When popularity swelled during Christmas I took a serious look at whether the idea was viable. Step one I bought all related adult colouring books and looked inside. What I saw surprised me—they were terrible. Photocopied or Photo-shopped images printed onto pages to make a colouring book. Even the ‘top’ books were merely using fonts and stock images converted to illustrations. The market generally reflected one kind of book: attempts by big publishers to quickly appease market demand. Some found success taking a utilitarian route. One such book sold 1/4 million units, not because it was beautiful, but because it was both practical, and had the backing of the most critical piece to book success: Distribution.

Despite my disappointment with the quality, it meant opportunity: the market had room for a premium book that focused on beauty. After all, adult colouring revolves on creativity and artistic expression. A beautiful book would stand on its own against the competition (faith based or otherwise). Long story short, I pulled the trigger and turned around production of a book, from concept to printing to bookshelf, in about 5 months. Soul Coats was available well in advance for Christmas, but there was a problem that wasn’t immediately obvious to me as a newcomer to the book selling world, that critical piece to book success: Distribution.

Little did I know at the time, beauty and quality are not major selling points to distributors or bookstore owners, and therefore book buyers. Make something of lasting value that will stand the test of time is a good mantra for any product, but that product (book) still needs to be marketed well, and in the book industry, distributed well as well. In fact, the latter is more important in my estimation. A below average book with great distribution will sell more copies than a beautiful book with great marketing but little distribution.

June is a good time to start raising the profile of a book to wholesale buyers in order to hit the shelf for Christmas. The problem you, as publisher/author, have to overcome or your book is dead, are the gatekeepers of the book industry. Distributors, wholesalers, and bookstore owners, as I discovered, have little interest in the best books, rather they want the books that have the best chance to sell. Makes sense, but doesn’t quality have any value?

Not in my experience.

So what has value? Success seems to revolve around one thing: Volume. For new publishers and self publishing authors distribution is the critical lynch pin to success and getting your book picked up by all the potential distributors will open the door to success. The few wholesale book distributors have a monopoly on serving the physical bookstore, but getting your book there is almost impossible.

For Soul Coats, only one distribution source, apart from shipping out of my garage, was available–Amazon. That’s a problem. Only the consumer, happy to pick up their books at their lowest price, likes Amazon. They are the ‘enemy’ to bookstores, and the bane to publishers who have little control of the never ending fees to sell books on the platform. That means a physical store will never carry your books if it’s distributed by Amazon. But if you want the cheapest method to distribute books, and for some the ONLY method, Amazon is the answer.

This is a critical problem to the book industry: gatekeepers reject books, those books go to Amazon, Amazon’s product offering strengthens, which means booksellers miss books that are not pushed by major publishers. Gatekeeping does serve a purpose to filter through the glut of books, but also creates a system where wholesale books are streamlined by highest margin/profit, not quality. This is why so many books are from the same publishers who push the same authors.

The non-Amazon book industry is faced with the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’. Risk carrying an unknown title, sell less because ultimately the end consumer has been trained to purchase what’s familiar. Don’t add new titles, distributors become purveyors of a monotony of near imitation books. This strategy is proving to be less and less successful for the town bookstore. But that’s not because people aren’t buying books, those numbers seem flat. Consumers are changing their behaviour to shop in a place where they can find both cheapest price and the most titles they simply can’t find at their local store.

Amazon, for their part, will take anything from anybody who wants to pay to store and ship (they are particularly well suited for eBook self-publishers where fees are less and marketing opportunities great compared to physical books).

Despite a cycle in the book buying industry that’s resulted in steady closures of local bookstores, there still exists a stubborn inflexibility from both distributors not named Amazon, and booksellers. The inflexibility by booksellers in both sourcing and selection means they’re caught in a cycle that’s both unchanging and very difficult to survive in. The environment sees bookstores continuously feature a handful of titles from a handful of the same authors, by an even smaller handful of publishers, of which includes an almost exclusive American voice. What bothers me is how many bookstores, and of course customers, don’t really care. What should bother bookstore owners is this environment doesn’t seem to be working for them either.

Booksellers without a connection to their customers will simply listen to what the distributor has to say and in turn will simply push what they’re told can sell—again—the same authors from the same big publishers. To be fair, booksellers want to make money, and face extreme pressure from online selling, which means books that make the shelf are the ones with the highest chance of selling. But that’s not leading to a growth in the local bookstore bottom line. There needs to be a different system (or at least a softening to how books are selected).

So what could be a recipe for success?

To the bookstore owners who are attuned to the needs of their customers and are curators of quality titles (and hopefully more Canadian titles) over salespeople for publisher to top ten lists, I want to browse your stacks. Anybody can go to Chapters to find the top 1% of books, but it’s quite different if the local bookstore begins to cater to a specific niche market, not merely ordering titles, but becoming a leader in guiding customers to find exceptional books. That creates a space for a relationship with customers, something Amazon can’t replicate.

One of the critical pieces of any good business model, is the creation of tribe (customer base) around strong brand. A bookstore is not merely a glorified library or showroom for Amazon. Make it a centre of attention for readers in your community. Think about unique attributes your bookstore can provide a target ’tribe’. (And no, being the last Christian bookstore in town isn’t an attribute.) Is the store a central hub place to foster community building? Does it offer value beyond making hard to find titles available for people who can’t order online? Consider items that enhance the whole reading experience and turn people into advocates for the things your store brings to the community and readers. Increasing the value offered to customers beyond books is a central focus to survive and thrive (adding a coffee machine isn’t the answer).

Those are some ideas, and some cautions in case you’re thinking of publishing a physical book that you hope hits the big time. And if you’re looking for the best faith based adult colouring book on the market, contact me for wholesale pricing. And yes, it will come from Amazon, Parasource won’t take any more colouring books….

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