Book Expo 2018: What’s Trending for Independent Publishers

Javits Conference Center, where Book Expo 2018 took place!

A few weeks ago, I attended Book Expo 2018 in New York City.  It was my first visit in two years, having missed the Chicago show of 2017, and I was struck by the size and quiet on the floor.  The Expo may not have the same value as it used to for traditional, mainstream publishing. However, in the continuously emerging indie publishing industry there is a lot to see and learn.  Here are some of the things I brought back to share with the indie world—authors, publishers, and those who serve them.

1.BISC Book Expo 2018 Bar Codes:  I recently heard from some book professionals that it was imperative to have a price in the bar code on the back of a book.  I took the question to the highest authority on the subject at the BISG (Book Industry Study Group).  His answer was that the bar code is the identifier for the book, generated off of the ISBN and nothing else should be displayed in or on it. He mentioned that there is discussion in the industry about not putting prices on books at all.  What other product comes with a price engraved on itself?

2Independent Publishers Group Logo Book Expo 2018Distribution:  POD (Print-on-Demand) is used by many businesses in the indie publishing world, but this method often makes distribution to brick-and-mortar stores difficult to achieve.  I spoke with several different distributors at Book Expo 2018, including IngramSpark (a POD distributor) to find out how an indie publisher might be able to work with them.  In general, distributors are looking for publishers who release at least ten titles per year.  While there are exceptions to every rule, the increase in small publishers has encouraged companies to be more efficient and choosy about which ones they represent.  A few distributors to mention are: NBN; Consortium; Independent Publishers Group; and Baker and Taylor.

3. Fulfillment Options: Many indie publishing companies are selling books through multiple channels.  IngramSpark/POD is one channel, but you can also order copies in quantity and set them up for fulfillment by a third party.  One of these is Amazon Advantage.  The shopping cart on your site can link to your Amazon Advantage account, which allows you to have copies stored at an Amazon warehouse.  Customers will click the “buy” link on your site and Amazon will fulfill the order behind the scenes. You can still sell on Amazon through the POD channel, and also set up an Advantage account to sell direct.  Amazon Advantage also allows you to utilize many advertising opportunities that can help move copies.

Check back in the coming weeks as I go through my notes from Book Expo 2018 and bring you more insight into what’s going on in the indie publishing world!

Amazon Books? Four reasons why booksellers can remain calm

Amazon Books
From my visit at the Amazon Books location at the The Shops at Columbus Circle.

It is ironic, and for some it may seem odd, that in the midst of decades of brick-and-mortar bookstores closing their doors, a hugely successful e-tailer like Amazon would decide to venture into the concrete bookstore business with Amazon Books.  Or is it?

I have seen the demise of Borders/Waldenbooks, Joseph Beth Booksellers, and the rise and fall of Barnes & Noble stores; the feuds between the independents and the chains when wonderful stores like BookPeople in Austin, TX thought they were doomed; when Costco and other giant stores started selling large quantities of bestsellers at deep discounts, perhaps underselling the competition; and the power of e-commerce, with Amazon presiding over the field.  Every change in the book business makes the publishing community anxious. Clearly, with some businesses succeeding and others failing, there is a need to be able to roll with the punches.  But perhaps if we take a wide angle view of things we might be able to hold onto a few constants that will create paths of opportunity and assure people that although some things look different, the basic precepts of the marketplace and sales still prevail.

  1. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are not dying.  Yes, chains like Borders are long gone and Barnes & Noble may not be able to support a store every ten miles, but independents are going strong.  According to this article on Quartz, between 2009 and 2015 the number of independent bookstores increased by 35%.
  2. E-book sales are falling flat.  Many sources have been reporting that e-books are falling out of their previous favor.  Let’s face it, devices may be convenient but they have their issues.  Batteries lose their charge and if you don’t have an active WiFi connection you can’t download a new book whenever you want one.  And, if you are reading for content, it’s very difficult to highlight sections and go back to them in the same manner as you would mark or dog-ear a page you need to reference later.
  3. Selling in person is better than selling online.  I attribute this principle to the increase in the success of independents over the past several years.   Real readers, who actually support the majority of the book business front and back list, like to be able to browse and get recommendations for books.  They also like to hang out with other like-minded individuals.  The innovations in indie stores that now offer seating, coffee, parties, and more, have brought customers in and kept this business sector alive.
  4. Amazon Books, while competing in bookstore form, is not doing things like everyone else.  Amazon became a huge success online, and it makes sense that it would not try to duplicate what others have already done on the ground.  Why should it?  I recently visited one of their Amazon Books stores, and it was not like most of the ones I frequent. As a reader, I probably wouldn’t shop there on a regular basis.  The main reason was that there was a smaller number of titles available.  For indie presses and authors this was a benefit because the inventory was a more curated list that covered the usual suspects but also featured books from unknown publishers.  And, because curating titles meant that additional shelf space was available, the books were primarily face out, which can be a boon for publishers without a lot of marketing dollars to spend.  I could also forgo the other products that the store had for sale, like coffee makers and gadgets.  These things diluted the atmosphere and were a distraction.

I got the distinct impression that the Amazon Books location was trying to market to Millennials, which is a big “buzz” word for everyone in any industry these days.  The funny thing is that I meet a lot of younger people who fit this bill, and the ones I know who are real readers prefer the same traditional bookstores I’ve loved forever.  Maybe rather than believing we need to rethink everything we’ve ever known in this business because of change, we should try to anticipate, adapt, and remind people of the core elements of books and buying books that many people share.  It might eliminate some of the hysteria so we can all get back to business (and reading of course).

Have you been to an Amazon Books? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter.

Publicity 101: The Niche Audience

niche audienceniche. niCH,nēSH/ adjective. denoting or relating to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialized section of the population. (Google Dictionary)

It often happens that an author will come to us with one goal in mind — to get a New York Times Book Review. This is a great long-term goal to have, but many times it is clear the author hasn’t done his research.  Otherwise, the author would know that the NYT will rarely consider an independent book for review and has a strict policy on not accepting self-published titles. Even though there are many self- and independently-published books, many major outlets still feel some aversion to them.

The good news is this: self-published and independently-published authors don’t need the NYT to review their books in order to gain traction in the book community. As an independent author it is crucial to understand that while a review with a wide-reaching magazine or newspaper could be helpful for exposure, it is important not to brush off what could be your niche audience (or audiences).

A niche audience — or what the dictionary calls a “small, specialized section of the population” — can really help to raise awareness of your book. Think of it like different sections of the bookstore: there’s the Science Fiction/Fantasy shelf, the Mystery/Thrillers shelf, Biographies/Memoirs shelf, the spirituality/religion shelf, the self-help shelf, the women’s fiction shelf, the regional/local interest shelf, and the business shelf. Where does yours belong?

Once you know in what section your book belongs—let’s say it’s Mysteries & Thrillers—you have the opportunity to dig deeper. Is your niche audience political thrillers? Is it cozy mysteries? Is it hardboiled mysteries? This is where you can really explore where your interested and loyal fans are, because these niche audiences actually have media outlets, bloggers, reviewers, communities, and book clubs of their own. Many of them even have their own conferences that you can attend to meet like-minded thriller, cozy, or hardboiled mystery book lovers! If you’ve written a thriller, why not reach out to the group of people that you know have a built-in affinity for thrillers and dark mysteries?

The word “niche” means small and specialized, but when you get down to it you’ll find that there could be hundreds, or even thousands, of people who are in these communities. Hundreds of thousands of people read books in the mystery genre every year—and they may not necessarily read the New York Times Book Review to find their next favorite reads.

So sit down, take out a piece of paper and pen, and think about what your book is about and what your niche audiences could be. You’ll be surprised at how many you might be able to find and how they will be able to help you build your writing career.

Looking for information on book reviews? Check out our post on some of the do’s and don’t’s when seeking book reviews.

You can also read more about book publicity in Claire McKinney’s new how-to guide, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?

Publishing 101: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Book Production

book production cmprOn the heels of my post about selling and the little guy, here is some information about things I’ve learned about the book production process from publishing on my own.  I’ve worked with many independent authors and have tried to help them through various parts of the book production process, including getting an editor, a book designer, jacket designer, etc.  But there is nothing like experiencing a process first hand to find out how things REALLY work.

A few basic things I found about the book production process are:

  1. It doesn’t cost a fortune to hire a decent jacket designer.  You do need to make sure the person you work with can do the kind of jacket you need produced, but my designer has done fiction and non-fiction and I’m happy with his work.
  2. Copyeditors are not that expensive and a must for a professionally produced book.  Twenty-five dollars an hour, folks.  If you have the next version of War and Peace, I’m sure that will rack up the hours quickly.  For my book there are many sections, fact checking items, and other things that took time even though it’s only 175 pages.  Still, not that pricey and very important to do.
  3. It will take at least a month from the time you finish the book to the time you are able to submit your files to your printer/publisher.  This is even a pretty tight time frame and doesn’t allow for vacations, family emergencies, your ability to make the changes the editor sends your way, and anything else you can think of that will hold you up.  I was clear about the direction my book was taking, and in advance of the copyedit, two people I consider members of “the grammar police” read and critiqued it for me.  That saved me time with the professional editing process.

As I continue this journey, I will try to provide things I’ve learned that may be helpful.  If you want to send me questions directly, you can do so at claire@clairemckinneypr.com or on Twitter @McKinneyPR.  Thank you for reading!

P.S. The last Amazon listing I checked in reference to my book said “9 copies left, more on the way.”  I guess that’s a good thing.

Publishing 101: When the “Little Guy” Struggles to Sell a Book

Ingram vs Amazon Self Publishing 101 Claire McKinneyIt’s hard for a person to figure out how to publish, market, and publicize her work on her own, and it is even more difficult to simply make the book available for sale.  Among all of the e-retailers out there, we know that Amazon ranks king in the world of online sales—which is where most of an indie publisher’s books will sell.  If you go through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, you will have a much easier time of getting your book on their site and available without too much fuss.  If you decide to start a new business and imprint, like I did, and choose to go through the Ingram platform IngramSpark instead, well, that’s where more problems can occur.

It can take a month for the information about your book on Ingram to be completely reflected on Amazon.  Ingram sends it in an instant, but Amazon goes through a process that takes time.  During this period your book might be listed as “out of stock”, “ships in 2-4 weeks”, “ships in 2-5 weeks”, or nothing much at all.  I’m okay with that, because it’s common knowledge if you read all the print, fine and otherwise, on Ingram and Amazon.  I also know from working with authors, that this is a standard. 

What I don’t understand is what’s happened to my book since its publication date, which was June 6, 2017.   Since then it’s been listed as “ships in 2-5 weeks”, “out-of-stock”, “ships in 1-2 weeks”, and lately with a random future availability date that Amazon pulled out of a hat.  My first line of defense was to call Ingram.

Here is an approximate run down of what happened with Ingram:

Me: “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t understand why my book, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?, isn’t immediately for sale on Amazon, especially given it is a print-on-demand title.  Theoretically it should be available almost immediately with shipping being the only issue.”

Ingram: “Hmmm, well I don’t see anything wrong with your account or what we sent.  You know, Amazon sometimes will hold individual customer orders for POD and submit them all at once.  This is why the book may not listed as available.”

Me: “What?! You mean if someone orders my book, the order could be held with several other titles ordered by different people until Amazon feels like sending them over to Ingram?”

Ingram: “Yes, that’s possible and we have no idea of why Amazon does that.  In fact, we have no idea of how or why Amazon does what it does and we’ve given up trying to figure it out.”

Me: “Right, and they won’t tell you why because it’s an algorithm thing or something like that.”

Ingram: “Correct.  But, you do have your ‘BUY’ button, that’s a good sign.”

Me: “My ‘BUY’ button?  You mean they could take that off whenever they want?”

Ingram: “Yes.  And again, we don’t know why they do that, but we get a lot of calls from authors who have that problem.  There isn’t anything we can do except send the title information to Amazon again and hope that jars something for them.”

Me (thinking): This sounds like the kick the vending machine way of getting results, but what do I know?

Me: “Well, thank you for your help.  I understand you are doing what you can.”

Ingram: “Good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.  Since I published the book to help people who need a resource and can’t afford to hire a publicist, and because I have a day job, I can let some of this slide without worrying about missed sales opportunities.  But what about writers who are expecting to earn a living, or are currently earning a living from their books?

I’m hoping that the more titles you publish the more influence you have with Amazon and the more seamless the process gets.  For now, I can only say keep an eye on your BUY button and watch what happens with other titles you know.  Maybe there is an order to this that we aren’t aware of, kind of like the universe.  On second thought—Amazon-the universe—I hope not.