One of the common gripes that self-published authors have is that bookshops won’t stock their book. Even though the title is properly ISBN-registered and available through the usual bookshop ordering process, the stores won’t buy it. As a self-published author myself, I’m going to say something that might surprise you: Fellow authors, there’s a good reason why it has to be this way.
I’ve heard it argued that indie bands get respect but indie authors don’t, for some reason. The argument appears to have a ring of truth, but when you look under the surface, it’s not valid. Imagine there was an internet business in place where any tone-deaf moron with a guitar and microphone could upload his songs, have CDs professionally mastered, and have them sitting on the shelves of HMV. Imagine, as a shopper, what it would be like going into the store and seeing a mixture of industry titles and self-made titles all sharing the same shelf-space. Imagine buying something new, getting home, putting the disc in your player, then hearing something that makes you walk out to the tool-shed for a hammer. Think I’m kidding? You’ve obviously never watched American Idol? Remember all those people in the early episodes who thought they could sing? Remember how you howled with laughter while Simon Cowell voiced his disgust?
Don’t get me wrong. I hate most of mainstream music anyway. Any intustry that can make people buy a song containing the refrain “A Pizza Hut, A Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut” has little to commend it. But ask yourself, would you honestly want to walk into a record shop and be confronted with every American Idol reject’s material in addition to what’s already there? I don’t think so. And you can be sure that the record shops would be quick in changing their stocking policy to eliminate those rejects, before they lose the majority of their customers.
Well, this is the gift that the POD (print-on-demand) companies such as iUniverse, AuthorHouse, LuLu, etc., have given the world of would-be authors: the ability to publish regardless of talent. You can bet that for every talentless singer who thinks he’s the next American Idol, there’s a talentless writer who thinks he’s the next Fiction Idol (if there were such a thing). Certain self-published titles do catch my attention, though, and I usually consult Google for reviews. My favourite comment was from a reviewer who referred to an apocalyptic horror novel (which shall remain nameless) as “a grammatical Armageddon.”
So, when it comes to self-published authors trying to get shelf-space in bookshops, the industry-savvy owners have the good sense not to bite. And you can understand why. Will you say amen, brother? Because I will. Even though I am about to use Lightning Source to self-publish my next novel, I will say amen.
How does a self-published author win, then? You find another way. With Ulterior, I found a way to cheat the system. I didn’t use the print-on-demand business model. Instead, I became a publisher, and I had enough money saved to pay for a print-run of 1000 books. And I made a success of it. This time, I recently invested all my savings in moving house, so unfortunately I have little cash to spare. This time I’m going to use POD. Heaven help me.
That said, I’m interested in experimenting with the idea of selling books online direct from the author. No publisher cut and no bookshop cut. I had moderate success with this approach during the final batch of sales of my first novel. This time I’m going to try and make online sales the bulk of my sales. Bjorn Lynne is a successful indie artist whose sole distribution channel is his own website. And why did I buy a couple of Lynne albums? Because I listened to his free tracks, and I thought they were terrific. I’m hoping the same approach will work for book-selling. I’ll mirror Bjorn by making it easy for the reader to determine whether my material is his cup of tea. I’ll give away some free stories and free excerpts; I’ll accomodate the reader by offering audio downloads as well as text. And with each new release, I’ll build on my existing fanbase.
If you’ve been waiting for Chion, you’ll be glad to know that I’m on the final sprint for the finish. And I’m doing nothing but Chion until it’s ready and released. No side-projects and no lazing about. Typo-detection, layout and cover-design are all that remain unfinished.