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We are writers, but we are readers first! Many of us grew up in the corners of libraries and still spend our money on books from bookstores, but did you know that it is possible to get your books into libraries and bookstores as an independent author? Mark Leslie Lefebvre gives some tips in today's interview.
In the introduction, I give an update about my thoughts in coronavirus lockdown here in the UK, and I refer to Mary Oliver's poem Wild Geese [Brain Pickings], a quote from Tolkien seen on the canal towpath (my Instagram), and That Discomfort You're Feeling is Grief [HBR], plus Indie Authors and Coronavirus resources updated every day by the Alliance of Independent Authors; and ACX gives an extra 5% royalty for the next 3 months [ACX blog].
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre writes horror travel books and nonfiction for writers. He's a podcaster at Stark Reflections on writing and publishing, a professional speaker, and a publishing consultant at Draft2Digital.com. His latest non-fiction book is An Author's Guide to Working with Libraries and Bookstores.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- Why now is a good time for indie authors to be approaching libraries
- How Overdrive has recently changed in a way that’s advantageous to indies
- How the digital and print library ecosystem works
- The difference between the one-to-one and the cost-per-checkout model
- Tips on earning from the public lending rights system in Commonwealth countries
- The bookstore business model and why discounts are necessary
- Book formats that are popular in bookstores and libraries – here's how to do large print
- The abundance mindset of offering your books in multiple formats
You can find Mark Leslie Lefebvre at MarkLeslie.ca and on Twitter @MarkLeslie
Transcript of Interview with Mark Leslie Lefebvre
Joanna: Mark Leslie Lefebvre writes horror travel books and nonfiction for writers. He's a podcaster at Stark Reflections on writing and publishing, a professional speaker, and a publishing consultant at Draft2Digital.
He's also a regular on this show over the years. Today we're talking about his latest book, An Author's Guide to Working with Libraries and Bookstores. Welcome back, Mark.
Mark: Oh, Jo, it's so great to be here. I'm so thrilled that you continue to invite me back on the podcast. It's like hanging out in a favorite café, right?
Joanna: And listeners generally know both of us by now, which is nice, because we can skip all the preliminaries.
Before we get into the book, you were last on the show in December 2018. Over a year now, so 16 months or something by the time this goes out. You were talking about tips for long term publishing success. Maybe just give us an update since then what's changed for you? Because, of course, you are an author, but you also do lots of other things.
What's been happening for you in the last 16 months?
Mark: Let's see, I got engaged to be married. So it's pretty exciting.
Mark: Personally that was a really fun one. That's a major difference. I don't think much has changed in terms of thinking about long term success. And I don't think most of my long term or larger strategies have changed.
What I have changed personally, is I've doubled down on actually getting some writing done. I left my corporate life at the end of 2017, to strike out and be a little bit more independent. Of course, I couldn't resist going back part-time and helping Draft2Digital, build some really cool things for authors for 20 hours a week.
I think it was it was November of this last year 2019 that I decided to take…so instead of trying to write a novel, I used part of November at least to finish off a book that I had been working on in the Stark Publishing Solution Series, a book on libraries and bookstores.
And what I'm trying to do, and I take this cue from you a lot, as I set out these goals at the beginning of the year, and this is what I plan on doing.
When I looked at my goals from the previous year, I went, ‘Okay, so I had 12 things here and I only did three of them.' But I did 16 other things.
Instead of beating myself up for doing a course correction or changing over the year, I just accepted it. I accepted the fact that I'm going to…It's like when you outline a novel. If you outline a novel, which I rarely do, but when you outline a novel, you have an idea of where it's going to go but sometimes the characters will take you in a direction.
And in the same way that that's important for your writing, I think you may have a goal and your writing or the things that you do may inspire you when you're on the route or you're on a path and you're walking and you plan on getting to this one place.
But you see this branch going off in this other direction, and it's fascinating and you're compelled. Your gut tells you to follow that path.
I stopped beating myself up over following those things or just going with the flow. From a writing perspective, I initially started almost two years ago to work on a book that was going to be my big magnum opus of like my 30 plus years of working in the book industry, what the heck was that going to be called? ‘The Indie's Guide to…'
Mark: Successful. Yes, everything. And three books have come out of that, but I haven't finished writing that book. The 7 P's of Publishing Success came out of that. It was going to be a chapter that exploded and got to be too long.
Killing It on Kobo was supposed to be a chapter then once I hit 20,000 words, I'm like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a book.'
And then even the Working with Bookstores and Libraries was supposed to be a chapter in the book and it just became its own book. I'm not beating myself up for still not finishing the other book. I'm realizing I did three other books because of that one.
I think accepting that is good, right?
Joanna: Yes. And it's funny because I was talking to someone about this. They're like, ‘How do you get ideas for nonfiction books?' It's like, ‘Well, you write a nonfiction book, and then you realize how many more nonfiction books you're going to write.'
I think the same is true with novels. You write you're writing something and you're like, ‘Oh, that's a good idea. But that doesn't fit with this one. So I'll put that in my idea box for later.' And as we know having more books is better than just one book. So I think you're doing the right thing.
Let's get into the book because it's very timely talking about libraries. Let's talk about libraries first.
Why is now such a great time for indies to consider library distribution?
Mark: I'm sure most Indies who are paying attention are familiar with what Macmillan books have been doing. In general, the major publishers have been charging libraries significantly more for the one-to-one licensing, which is they sell a book to the library and that means they can loan that book to one patron at a time.
For Indies, it's indefinite. But for a lot of the major publishers, there's a clause in the contract that says, ‘After 30 people have gotten the book, you have to buy it again.' And they're charging upwards of $30, $50, $80, $100 for these books.
On top of that ridiculousness, Macmillan had decided that they were going to limit it. So not allow libraries to buy more than one copy a book within the first X period of time, like 30 days, 60 days, 6 months, whatever.
What this means for Indies is, not only are these books overpriced and outrageously expensive, but the library can't actually buy more copies.
I would take an example. Lee Child, for example, is with a major publisher. But Diane Capri writes, ‘The Hunt for Jack Reacher' series, which is the only authorized Reacher books in that universe. And Diane's books are averaging about $5 each.
Whereas for a library to buy a Reacher book, let's say it's $80. Well, you can buy almost the entire ‘Hunt for Reacher' series from Diane Capri and satisfy tons of readers at the library for the price of one Reacher book from Lee Child.
And so there's a great opportunity for authors, particularly authors who know who their comps are in the big publishing world. So they're reaching out to libraries and letting them know that this will appeal to those readers.
I'm near Hamilton, Ontario, Waterloo, Ontario. Some of the libraries actually show you the waiting list, where you can see that the library has three copies, but they're all taken and there are 600 people on the waiting list. So you look at those things and you go, ‘Oh, I write in that genre. I can appeal to that.'
The other thing and this is just news, I just had a meeting with a representative from Overdrive, who's a major supplier to the library markets.
Historically, Overdrive used to split their catalog into all books from major publishers and then the self-publishing ghetto. And when libraries would go to search for books, they often would only…it'd be like you normally use Google to search but then you don't go on Yahoo as well. You usually just use your main search engine and you forget to go to the second one if you don't find what you find, right?
So a lot of times Indies were at a disadvantage because if the library was buying from Overdrive and they were looking for stuff they often didn't look in the ghetto, they didn't look in that self-publishing sort of swamp.
But Overdrive, finally after appeal, and this is a shifting change in the library market for Indies is there are librarians that are very fascinated and interested in the amazing stuff that readers are loving, like it's exploding on Kindle, it's exploding on Kobo and Apple.
The libraries are interested in finding more of these diamonds in the rough. And so now just within the last couple of weeks, and this is, what are we, the middle of February when we're recording this, the Overdrive library system is no longer partitioned. It's a master database. Isn't that amazing?
Joanna: It's great.
Mark: From the first time since, well, when it first launched, it was that way and then a whole bunch of crap got in and they got really frustrated. Overdrive had no choice but to partition it. But this is fantastic.
And even from my role in Draft2Digital, we haven't even launched the first major promotion with Overdrive this year. But we've already noticed the sales on their own are going up. So there's never been a better time for authors to be focusing on that library market.
Joanna: That is cool. You mentioned you're in Ontario in Canada. I'm in the UK. You've mentioned Overdrive is one example of a library accessible digital catalog. Explain a bit more because I don't think many people know. I certainly don't know.
Explain what the library ecosystem is like. Is it international? Are there different other databases? What about physical books?
Mark: Oh, for sure. There's so many. When it comes to digital, you have Overdrive, which is major in it. And it's very North American centric, although they are worldwide.
You have Baker and Taylor, which is another one still sticking with digital. You have places like Hoopla, you have Biblioteca. And there's more and more available for digital books for people to get into library systems. There's probably about eight or 10 in total. And that's just for digital books.
For print books, you have the major wholesalers who do print book distribution. And we're talking Ingram, which you can get into most easily through IngramSpark. And then you have Baker and Taylor, which is also a major library market. Not sure what's going on with the merger there but they are two major ones. Those are probably the two best ways to get into most library systems.
Some libraries will actually acquire locally sometimes but they typically are only looking at acquiring frontlist titles. And that's an important thing for authors to consider. Whereas on a major platform like on Amazon, you can regurgitate or resurrect a backlist by putting a new cover on, fancying up the blurb or whatever and just kind of going the whole hog with some advertising.
Libraries, unless there's a hook for a new release in a series or a new book from an author where that author's suddenly hot and popular, they're not really looking at backlists. So in a lot of ways, librarians are major curators.
They have access to millions of titles through these major distributors and wholesalers in both print, digital and, of course, in audiobook too. And I shouldn't ignore audiobooks because the way that I used to get into most library systems is through Findaway Voices.
Findaway Voices I think has at least a dozen different ways that you can get your audiobook into libraries. So does that sort of cover, you know, sort of the ways you can get your books in the libraries?
Joanna: Yes, although you're remiss in not mentioning Draft2Digital as a way to get your eBooks into libraries!
Mark: Of course. And you know what I was thinking about, right? Because I was thinking, well, who does Draft2Digital distribute to? Draft2Digital can get you into Overdrive.
Are we going to talk about the licensing difference between one-to-one and Cost Per Checkout or does that come up later?
Joanna: Go for it.
Mark: Just as an example, because I used to work at Kobo and with Kobo Writing Life, so, Kobo and Overdrive are still sister companies. Overdrive's on the way to be purchased and moved out to a separate company, but that relationship's not going to change. So in case anyone's panicking about that.
With Kobo Writing Life, when you opt into Overdrive, there's the one-to-one license, which I explained earlier. But then there's an additional license which is available through Overdrive as well as through some of the other distributors, that Draft2Digital makes your books available in and that's the Cost Per Checkout model.
The difference between the one-to-one and the Cost Per Checkout is the one-to-one is very heavily curated by the library with a budget. I have $10,000 to spend this month on library books and I want to purchase these books and make them available to my patrons.
With a Cost Per Checkout model tends to look at more at, ‘Okay, I have $10,000. I'm going to take all the new releases and make them visible.' The same way that your books are visible on Kindle, like they're just there, right? There's no curation, they're just published and they're all available however you find them.
And then they let the patrons decide what books they want. And then they may turn that off once the money runs out. But the idea is the difference is the curation where somebody says, ‘I think of the 100,000 books published this month, I think these 5,000 or these 1,000 are the books that patron should have.'
As opposed to saying, ‘All right, of the 100,000 books published this month, have at it patrons. You decide what you want.' The librarians will use that as a way to determine, ‘What are people wanting that we're not showing them?'
So with the Cost Per Checkout model, instead of getting the 50% that you get if you went through Kobo Writing Life or the 47%, you get going through Draft2Digital, Cost Per Checkout you're getting about one-tenth.
So let's pretend your library price is $10. You get either $5 are for $4.90, something change, I can't do math in my head very well. But instead of that, you're getting $1 per check out.
But let's imagine a book club says, ‘Hey, we're going to do Joanna Penn's latest book on audio for authors. And we all want to read it at the same time.' In the one-to-one model. If they all rush down to the local library and ask for a copy and they only purchased one, they have to wait until that person is done with the book and then the next person can get it.'
But in the Cost Per Checkout model, all 30 people can get it borrowed from the library at once and instead of making the one sale of the $5, you would make $30 for example.
Again, it's part of that long term thinking and I learned about the value of Cost Per Checkout actually through audiobooks with Findaway Voices because I have a lot of shorter audiobooks there. And when I was looking at, we're always making my money back quickly and actually paying for these 10,000, 15,000 words audiobooks that would never sell on Audible because of the $15 per month credit system.
I realized that I was making the majority of my money from this Cost Per Checkout system from Biblioteca, and Hoopla, and a whole bunch of other platforms and I went, ‘Oh, Cost Per Checkout is a better long term strategy for earning money.'
So that's something I think that's really valuable to think about when you think about the library market. Don't just think about getting into one system, think about getting into as many systems as possible. And also through Draft2Digital, you have the means to say, ‘Yes, I will allow Cost Per Checkout.' You have to consciously go in and make that change.
Joanna: That's fantastic. Let's just round it up for people.
If you want to get a print book into a library, they'll order it from something like Ingram so we can publish wide. They won't order it from Amazon.
Mark: Oh, for sure.
Joanna: Yes. So you need to publish your print book wide. IngramSpark is the one we recommend. I love Draft2Digital, you know this, but as I've said, it's very North American focused. So their print books won't be I imagine in global library distribution. Would that be fair to say?
Mark: They'll be through Ingram basically. I think of Draft2Digital print kind of like IngramSpark Ultra-light.
Joanna: IngramSpark to get print books and then audio as we've mentioned Findaway. Again, if you're just exclusive on ACX, you won't get your audiobooks into libraries.
And also eBooks, again, if you're exclusive on Amazon, you won't get your eBooks into libraries, but you can get your eBooks into Draft2Digital also Smashwords, PublishDrive also do have some distribution to those services.
That pretty much covers the main ways, right?
Mark: Yes. But can I go back and just say one thing I like to say? People when they look at Kindle Direct Publishing and they see extended distribution in Amazon, I want to remind people that I like to call that ‘pretended distribution' because you feel like your book is being distributed, but it's short discount, nonreturnable very crappy terms for bookstores and libraries. Just remember extended distribution equals pretended distribution!
Joanna: Yes. So those of us who publish print wide, don't click that button. We just publish on KDP and then log in to Ingram Spark and publish there as well.
In fact, I'm doing that right now with Audio For Authors as we record this.
Let's just also circle back on the money, because we all like to get paid.
So if a library buys a book, as you say, we can set the price in the systems and I normally put mine a little bit higher, but not like $50 or $80. More like maybe $15 for a full length, nonfiction. Would that be okay?
Mark: Yes. Both Draft2Digital and Kobo Writing Life based on long conversations with Overdrive as one of the major distributors. They say two or three times the price, but Overdrive did inform me that librarians will actually go and look.
If your book is priced at $0.99 and then you're pricing ridiculously higher, like magnitudes of 10 or 15 times the price, librarians are going to go, ‘Come on, you're ripping us off.' Because they're people too.
So two to three times the price is usually recommended because even at two to three times the retail price for library price, you're still coming in significantly cheaper.
Now, one of my co-authors, Matty Dalrymple, on a book we just released recently, she uses library prices that are closer to $20. And she's been doing well. Because I looked at her prices, and I go, ‘Matty, that's really high.'
And she's like, ‘Yes, but the libraries are buying them.' Because, again, her mysteries that she writes are still significantly cheaper than the other mysteries that are, you know, $50, $60, $80. So it's still a deal for the libraries.
Joanna: Okay. So there's that one price, there's the Cost Per Checkout, which, again, I also agree with you I think is fantastic.
But also there are Public Lending Rights, which we should mention. Here in the UK, we have ALCS, Authors Licensing and Collecting Service. So if anyone's listening in the UK and Ireland. You can basically load your ISBNs and you get paid for lending so things like library lending. And you mentioned that in the book, don't you?
It's one of those hidden streams of income that a lot of people forget.
Mark: Yes. Most of the Commonwealth countries have it. I think there are 36 countries around the world that actually have public lending rights. The U.S. is one of the holdouts where they don't. Sorry, listeners in the U.S. we love you but…
Joanna: Oh, do you mean for once we have something that the Americans don't?!
Mark: In Canada, we have the right to bear ISBNs! But with public lending rights, and you can Google the term and find out which if your country applies. It is a phenomenal system.
I'll use a traditionally published book, for example. If I have a traditionally published book, I can still register it or a self-published book. In Canada, they now allow eBooks, audiobooks, and print books so you can register all three. And you get something like $30 in Canada.
At least every time they do a random sampling on libraries and if they find your book in stock at a library, they go okay. ‘This is lost royalties for this author and we want libraries to stock Canadian or UK authors,' or whatever, whatever the country right the authors from their home country. And we know that that represents lost royalties.
Now when I sell a book through a traditional publisher, I'll get $2 for that book. If it's in the library, I'll get $30 every time they find it in the library. So I mean, I would have made, you know, $2 off the sale to the library, but then I'll make $30.
And in the early checks I got in the early days because I've been in the public lending rights program for more than a dozen years, I believe, or 10 years, at least. The early days it was, you know, a $50 check or a $30 check or a $24 check. Hey, it's gravy. It's extra money, right?
Last year, just because my bill from March break trip that Liz and I took the bill came in just around the same time that the public lending right check came in. And the check I got from the public lending right, was actually enough to pay for my trip to the Dominican Republic. So it's not chump change anymore.
If you're in a Commonwealth country, and in most countries, I know in Canada, it's between February, so we're in February, right now, February and May is when you register all books published in the previous year.
Joanna: I've just uploaded all my latest ISBNs as well.
Mark: I do not discredit public lending. It's an amazing opportunity for multiple streams of revenue.
Joanna: Let's be clear, my PLR is nothing like a trip to the Dominican Republic! It's another 100 quid. It's another 150 quid or maybe it's 10 quid. It's one of those things, as you say, it's the attitude of, ‘Look, there are all these different ways that people want to consume books.'
Many people use libraries for many different reasons. And one of the great things about libraries, of course, is it's free to the end-user.
And this is why and this is a marketing tip, and I'll ask you in a minute, my marketing tip is, please everybody go to your library and request books by Indies. It might not be your book, it might be someone else's book and also include in your email list, maybe your email auto-responder or something like
‘You can get my books for free in your library, just go and ask your librarian or go into your catalog, and you should be able to find them.'
I've heard from people all over the world now where my audiobooks, my eBooks are in the library, and also, some librarians have ordered the print copies. So that's my tip is we need to tell our readers to go borrow our books, and not just think that's a lost sale because I feel like many authors don't want to tell readers to get books from the library because they don't feel they get money, but we have proved that you do get money.
What are some other ways that we can market our books to librarians or encourage this behavior?
Mark: That's one great way. And another thing Joanna that's really critical, particularly for authors who…I mean, there are a million books in a million podcasts and millions of interviews on how to game Amazon basically, which is what it is. How to game Amazon's algorithms and make money off of Kindle Unlimited but that's the ecosystem we live in.
When you're going to publish wide it's like, ‘How do I sell on the other platforms? How do I do this? How do I do that? How do I deal with the people I've trained to read my books for ‘free' and I use air quotes when I say that from Kindle unlimited? What do I do when they yell at me because they're mad at me and they say, ‘I refuse to buy your books.'
You say, ‘Well now not just people who read only on one single platform which may be the world's biggest bookstore and may be huge in the U.K. and in the U.S. Now everyone can get my books for free at the library including you.'
So you can still get all my books for free through the library system, you just have to go ask. So you can still appease those Kindle Unlimited readers. That's one thing.
The other thing for marketing. Obviously the newsletter is a critical one. Let your fans know, ‘Hey, you can get all my books for free. Go ask for them.' They're in print, they're in audio they're in eBook, etc.
I like to start local. So start local and reach out to the local library and let them know you're a local author because they're curating and it's not just the acquisitions person but the reference librarian who has been my best friend forever.
Almost every library I go to they're the data nerd that loves to know information and loves to gather stuff. So, for example, thinking about your books, Joanna, you not only have the local interest, like the local library in Bath, where you can contact them and let them know you're a local author who writes international books, international thrillers, but you can reach out to libraries in all these different countries because your books are set all over the world. And let them know that this book is set here, this book is set there.
You can use all kinds of local things to promote the book and let them know because oftentimes, people will come into the library, maybe it's students looking for ‘I'm told to read a Canadian author. Are there any Canadian authors besides Margaret Atwood?'
So it's like, we have these authors from Waterloo where I live. And so that's the kind of thing that's really good for the library to know so always start local. But then local can be books that are set in a city and you can let them know, ‘Hey, this is a series I wrote and it set in this and here's why it's set here.'
It's the same thing you would do to share sometimes with the personal touches that you share in your author newsletter. Librarians are humans too. And they like those stories, as are booksellers, right? That those human stories are really what help ultimately connect a reader with your book through those people who do a lot of that curation for you.
Joanna: Fantastic. Now everyone's going to sort out the libraries.
Let's move on to bookstores because your book covers both, which I think is great because they are similar in many ways. And so, again, many authors think that it's enough to publish on KDP print. We briefly mentioned it before.
Can you just go into a bit more about the bookstore business model and why discounts are so necessary?
Mark: Unlike every other retailer in the world, the actual discount that bookstores get on books is actually very minimal. It's like between 40% and 50% usually. In most other retail systems, the markup is 80%, 100%, 300%, whatever.
You can go and buy, ‘Hey, I got this. I got this dress for 75% off plus another $20 off, plus another 20% off. I paid $10 for it.' Yeah, well, they probably paid $1.50 for it initially. So they're not losing money on that sale.
Whereas the margin on books is so significantly lower. You want to see how crappy the margin on books is, go into WHSmith or a Barnes and Noble or Chapters Indigo. I've covered three countries there.
Go to a major chain bookstore and look at how much tchotchkes and knickknacks and gift crap is there. The reason that stuff is there is that the margin on that product is ridiculously high whereas the margin on books is only 40% or 50%.
So when you start moaning and whining, ‘Bookstore is 50%,' sorry, that margin is minimal for every other retailer in the world. But the bookstore model is consignment-based basically and it kind of harkens back to the Great Depression where bookstore said, ‘Well, we can't afford to buy books anymore because we have to write-off stuff that doesn't sell and most of it doesn't sell.'
And publishers came up with the idea that, ‘Oh, well, you can return it for a full credit.' So the one thing Indies can do is you can publish your book, even if you're using something like IngramSpark, you're typically with print on demand, it's nonreturnable. And so it's very unlikely for a bookstore to order your book in.
The reason we poo-poo the idea of Amazon and their pretended distribution is Amazon will automatically short discount it to 20% which makes it not feasible for the bookstore, but it's also nonreturnable. So a bookstore really, really, really has to want that book in there. And they have to really, really, really want your book so much that they look at the other thousand books that are available on the same topic in the same category that are fully returnable and they get a 40 to 50% discount.
With IngramSpark, you can set a higher discount.
There's even cases I wouldn't recommend it because I got burned in 2004 when I first self-published and I made my book fully returnable, because I thought, ‘Hey, I'm a bookseller I know how this works.' It was great. I could call Barnes and Noble and say, ‘I'm going to be there in three months. I'd love to do a lunchtime book signing and I see your downtown location.'
I understood the demographics of the store and knew when the traffic flow would be in, people on their lunch breaks and stuff like that. And it would be great. They'd order in like 10 copies or 20 copies. I'd come in. I'd sign, I'd sell half to three-quarters of them and then they'd return the rest of them. Everything was fine.
Until a buyer at Chapters Indigo in Canada caught wind of my book and ordered over 300 copies to put them in stores across the country. So some of the major stores but they had one or two copies spined. And because I wasn't there signing it was great when the check came in, and not so great six months later when I lost more money on the return than I gained on the sale.
Joanna: I would also say don't do returns. Just don't do it. It's not necessary. As you say, and I think, again, you mentioned it slightly there, but bookstores are not just going to magically order your book and stock them on the shelves, you actually have to be pretty proactive to do that.
In my case, I've had, for example, at speaking events, the bookstore at a literary festival will order the books of the speakers or a bookstore the other week was doing a self-publishing event and ordered some of my books into their store in Michigan, but they actually ended up contacting me directly and buying them directly off me rather than through the catalog.
So that was interesting because they said they couldn't get a steep enough discount so could I sell them just with a bit of a tiny margin, so I ended up doing that myself. But just so people know I'm in the UK, the bookstore is in Michigan. I just ordered them myself off of IngramSpark and shipped them straight there.
Mark: Oh, perfect.
Joanna: Yes. But, again, you can't do that. Oh, actually, it's funny because I did say to them, ‘Look, it actually would be about $5 cheaper in total if I order it from Amazon,' and they said, ‘No, we don't want you to do that.'
Mark: ‘We rather pay more than use…'
Be aware that there's also a political angle to having your books wide.
Mark: Oh, for sure. Here's a way around the return. Sarah and I were both at Novelists, Inc. in Florida last year. And I was excited because one of my traditionally published books was on the bookstore shelves because I wrote about Haslam's Book Store.
So obviously, they always keep a copy in stock because it goes to Jack Kerouac there. But I was excited. And I was like I always go in and I signed copies and I chat with the owners and whatever. And sometimes hear if there are new sightings of Jack.
But Sarah was in the mystery section and three of her self-published titles were in stock. And we went over and talked to the manager and he said, ‘Oh, That's because customers requested them and so we thought we would carry them.'
Now, Sarah actually did make her books returnable, fully returnable. But there's a risk. Like if a bookstore is going to order one or two copies the risk of returns is not that bad. I almost had a coronary when I see, ‘You made them fully returnable. Are you crazy?' because of what happened to me, but it's very rare that a chain bookstore is going to buy out a big whack load of them.
Although if it happens, you're toast, which is why I still recommend don't go with returns. But here's a way around it. When I go to do an event, even it's traditionally published sometimes and I want to make sure the bookstore has enough stock, what I'll often do and this is because I do a lot of in-person book fairs. I do a lot of Comic Cons because my ghost storybooks and my thrillers and horror, they tend to sell well to that crowd. And so I do a lot of those in-person events.
I'll offer to the bookstore you know, ‘If you order my book, I know it's nonreturnable, but you get a full discount on it from Ingram. What I will do is I'll buy out your remaining stock so you're not stuck with it,' because you think of the bookstore as a business. They need to pay the bills. ‘But could you please give me your staff discount?' And that's often like a 30% discount or even if it was a 20% discount.
That way, I have stock at a price where I'm going to make money when I resell that book directly at different author events and the bookstore's not stuck with it and they still make a little bit of margin and they don't have to mark it down and they don't have to be stuck with it.
And nine times out of 10, as long as you have a decent relationship with the bookstore, they're willing to accommodate that because they look at it and go, you know, ‘It's a pass-through sale basically. Whether or not people show up for this loser at his book event, we're still going to sell copies.'
Because you've got to remember it's a lot of work for them to do an event. It's not just the buying the books and putting them out, it's any of the advertising they do, putting up printing posters, putting them up, moving furniture around in some cases where they have to, are adding it to their newsletter.
It is quite a bit of work for them to put on an event. You have to remember from their perspective, right? They're doing the event because they want to bring people into the store and they want to actually sell books. That's the goal.
Joanna: This is why I fundamentally think authors get this wrong is because they are thinking about themselves. It's natural. We're authors, we want to make money by selling our books.
But when you're thinking about libraries and bookstores, you have to turn your head around to another perspective, which is this is a business. The bookstore is a business and the library also has revenue that comes in and they have expenses and they have to pay their bills and everything.
If you as an author think about it from their perspective and see what you can do to make their life easier, then it's going to be far more effective. And the events are really interesting because in Bath here we have one of the independent bookstores Toppings is famous for its events.
It basically has author events several times a week, every week and I can see that their business model is mainly down to events and then the book sales they get off the back of events.
And also, another thing they do, which is brilliant, is they do signed hardbacks that they cover in cellophane. They're sealed hardbacks that are signed. So they're premium edition hardbacks signed and then sealed in cellophane. So you can see the cover and everything but they're like a premium product.
I wanted to ask you about this. Most indies will do a paperback now, but I'm now doing large print and hardback editions. But I've heard from some listeners that they do hardback large print as well.
Mark: Oh, wow!
Joanna: I know. And then, of course, you've got audiobook.
If we want to get into libraries and bookstores, what formats are appropriate?
Mark: I think hardcovers and large print are critical because there's a demographic that…I mean, every book is a large print book, but there's a demographic, a huge majority of readers are still not reading eBooks but they may want large print. So that's critical.
And, again, you're standing out, as you've said multiple times on your podcast. And I hope listeners are paying attention to you. They should.
You're going to stand out because very few people have an audiobook, very few people have large print. The hardcover and you've got to remember this. Libraries want people to read. So bookstores have to sell books and make money. That's an in and out kind of thing and the tenants have to pay the rent. That kind of thing.
With a library, they pay their rent by circulation. So it's kind of like we want people to check these books out and take them out and bring them back and take them out and bring back. We want that. But the more that that happens with the paperback, it'll wear out a lot faster than a hardcover.
Hardcovers are more durable. It may be an extra $10 for the library to buy a hardcover or $5 or whatever the price difference is, but it'll probably last almost twice as long.
So when you have a hardcover you suddenly become that much more appealing to libraries and you become more appealing to collectors.
When I was at Kobo, I'll never forget this one stat that had been done early on in the days of eBooks, when eBooks were a 600% rise year over year and all the growth.
We had learned based on demographics and studies we had done with customers that people who were reading eBooks were buying twice as many print books as they used to. The eBook is a replacement for the mass market. The fast read, I just want to get on a plane and I want to read a fun thriller mystery and get it over with.
But then when you want the actual physical object, and you're going to spend extra money. You've already spent on the eBook, maybe having that beautiful hardcover on your shelves as a collector is maybe that for book buyers as well, that may be a thing.
So as you go to your Amazon page and you go, ‘There is Joanna's book and there are five different versions available minimum, so I can choose what's best for me.'
And so again, the way an author should think about the library, think about at the bookstore, think about the consumer.
What does the consumer want? And give them as much choice as possible. I think that's a really good long term strategy.
Joanna: Coming back to the hardback again because I was never convinced and I think it's partly it was my time of life because I've been quite minimal for many years and then we bought a house and now I'm ridiculous. I've listened to a lot of audiobooks now, super, super audio listener and if I love an audiobook, I buy the hardback.
So now I'm starting a library of nonfiction. I pretty much only keep nonfiction. Sorry fiction writers. I'm buying these hardback, as you say collector's editions, in order to remind myself of those books or to find quotes later on or whatever. And so, again, this multiple format thing is very powerful.
And something that I think many digital-only authors forget that readers want things, the other thing is on secondhand bookstores, it was Dean Wesley Smith who convinced me on this. He basically said something like a second hardback book will go through seven people in its lifetime.
Because a paperback book often, as you said, gets kind of tatty and you don't want to gift it. Whereas if you enjoy a hardback, but you don't want to keep it on your shelf, and you might pass it on to someone, it's going to make it through far more people.
It becomes marketing, which is kind of cool as well. So these are some reasons to do all these different editions. Of course, remember people, we are not suggesting if you're just starting out that you go and do every single edition under the sun. But just consider.
Mark: It can be expensive and time-wise, right? But it's a good long term strategy. And again, it's funny, I tell people to do it and I've done it very rarely. So I'm still behind, right?
Joanna: I'm a paragon of virtue! I now do every new book in those five editions.
Mark: And you're doing something very professional that I think it sets you up in yet another way as a consummate professional as you're often releasing all of them roughly around the same time period.
Joanna: At the same time.
Mark: ‘Oh, the audio book's coming out six weeks later,' or anything like that. You're doing them altogether, which is fantastic.
Joanna: And it's funny, I was thinking about that today because just before we were speaking, I'm uploading the audio files and I'm proofing the print copy. And I'm like, ‘I can't see why publishers can't do this for authors. I really don't understand why this is not possible.'
99% of publishers are not putting books out in all of these formats at all the same time, mainly because they don't use print-on-demand, I assume, so they just don't bother.
Mark: It's also a legacy historic. And this is the windowing that you see even on eBook pricing. When the eBook price first comes out, it's this ridiculous hardcover sale price. That's because in traditional publishing, hardcover would come out and then a year later, the trade paperback or the mass market would come out.
That was so that the most expensive addition could have a chance to go through Christmas, which is the most bookstores bleed money all year round and then make money between September and the end of December.
There were bookstores that I managed, where we bled all year and then we made all the money for the whole year.
Just like the 20% of books make, you know, 80% of the profits, those three months that last quarter of the year is where most bookstores actually turn a profit and enough of a profit to make up for the loss the rest of the year.
So publishers got into the habit of wanting the most expensive version available for Christmas, the best gift-buying season of the year. And so that's where this silliness of windowing comes in with digital.
Joanna: Let's be clear, it's crazy in this day and age because to me, the moment I hear about a book or if a book I really want to buy that's coming out, it's a novel and it's only available in hardback it's not even on Kindle or eBook edition or audio and I'm like, ‘Seriously, I'm not going to buy a £25 hardback for this novel I want to read, but I want to read it. If it was there as an eBook, I would have bought it already.'
Mark: But this is the same reason why Macmillan is boycotting libraries.
Joanna: They don't want readers to read.
Mark: They want to prevent them from buying a less expensive version because they believe it will cannibalize it as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, here are all the versions. Go for it.' And it's really hard to get over that because you're thinking about 100 years legacy.
Joanna: It's a scarcity mindset, isn't it?
Mark: It really is.
Joanna: Whereas we have an abundance mindset, which is more books out there or more platforms in more formats in as many languages as possible, in as many countries as possible means we will make more money.
Mark: For sure. I think I'm glad. It's good to be able to see why they're so insane. Understand that it's not just because they're stupid, it's because just like you've conditioned your readers to read your stuff for free and then they get mad when you start to charge money for it.
It's the same thing as publishers have been conditioned that this is the way it works and this is the only way to make money so it's really, really hard. I think it takes a number of good examples of publishers doing something bucking the trend, like the deal that Mark Dawson just signed right with…trying to remember the name of the really awesome publisher that is doing the…
Joanna: Wellbeck I think. [The Bookseller]
Mark: Wellbeck. Amazing. I'm so excited to see this because no advance but a 50/50 split with the author. No major publisher would consider that. That's ridiculous. Why would you do that?
Joanna: For print only. We should be clear.
Mark: Oh, for print only. And leaving Mark to do what he does best in digital. So I think publishers like Wellbeck that are willing to buck the trend and try something new and behave.
You think of Bookouture, yes, they got bought by Hachette but they're still operating as an independent. They still have the Indie mindset. The price points are low and their release strategy is fast. And so that's an example of a traditional style publisher that has different model. And there haven't been enough of them for other publishers to learn.
Joanna: Although Bookouture is interesting because of course they definitely don't produce large print or hardback or even audiobook edition. Their books are digital-only.
Mark: They're more like mass market, but I mean, obviously they trade paperbacks when they're in print.
Joanna: I guess just to sum up our episode before I ask you one final question. What we're really talking about in this show is about thinking a bit more like traditional publishing because we want to get into libraries and bookstores, but also not to be sucked into the way of doing things that have always been done, but to do things differently in a way that benefits us and also benefits libraries and bookstores and also benefits our readers. So I think we can do all of those things.
It's a pretty exciting time, right?
Mark: It's never been a more exciting time and it keeps getting better.
Joanna: You're waiting for the hammer to fall.
Mark: Exactly. Because you always have to think about that, right? But there's like, ‘No, no, there's yet another. Oh, go keep going Macmillan. Keep doing that. Okay. We're good.'
Joanna: ‘Keep doing your thing.'
Mark: ‘You keep doing your thing. I'll just provide readers what they really want.'
Joanna: Exactly. Okay. So a final question. Circling back, you go to a lot of the conferences and you're interviewing people on the podcast, you get Draft2Digital, you do these wonderful Q and A's every month. And I always tweet them when you and Dan and Kevin do the Q and A there, which is fantastic. You interact with a lot of authors.
What do you think is top of mind right now for 2020 or things that you see on the horizon that we should be considering?
Mark: Audio is still growing phenomenally. I think you and I both know I'd rather be part of the disruption than be disrupted. So I've embraced AI voice.
I have a voice double, you have a voice double. We want to leverage that and be able to license ourselves, rather than have someone just take it and run with it. I still think one of the key things.
Embracing technology, embracing new ways of telling stories and audio is going to bring more opportunity than ever before in other formats and all that diversification that we're trying to do.
The key thing to remember is nobody can write your book, nobody can write the book that you're writing, nobody can tell the stories you're telling in the exact same way with your own unique personality and perspective. And don't lose sight of that human connection.
This is critical. This is why you can get The 7 P's of Publishing Success, you can get the computer AI for $0.99 because it didn't cost me that much to create. Or you can hear me or you can actually hear me breathing or you can actually hear the pause. Well, obviously it's been edited and cleaned up so that you don't hear a lot of uh's and stuff like that.
But the human connection is why we're storytellers, that human connection started with sitting around the fire and sharing stories about the hunt from the day. That human connection is something that only you can bring in a beautiful way. So let's not lose sight of that in terms of long term.
No matter what technology we embrace, no matter what storytelling form we embrace, that still makes you unique and your book and your story unique.
Joanna: Fantastic. Right, so where can people find you and your books and your podcasts online?
Mark: You can pretty much find everything I'm up to at markleslie.ca. I'm active on Twitter, I'm active on Instagram. Liz says I share way too much so be careful. But that's markleslie.ca is where you can find most of the links to the podcast as well as my social media.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Colin Coles says
Although I’m a UK author much of your ideas/comments/ advice translate to UK authorship. My first responsive readers were American. A romantic thriller – Dancing on the Beach by Sam Grant became most popular read category on a United States site. This was at a time when I was struggling to find a UK readership. A local book store stocked and sold four of my books, but was unable to pay for them. I sold a number of maritime copies via a good review in a magazine. They sent the orders and I posted copies. They did pay me a year later. You could say that was a win! Have been selling a few copies at book events, but with coronavirus that’s ended.
My sequel novel to Galactic Mission is progressing really well at present. Hope to publish this year. Thank you for your useful insights/ advice with regard to promotion and marketing.
Write under Sam Grant, Author name in UK.
Sam Grant, Author Facebook