Adventures in Book Publishing, Part 1

To hell with New York publishers. I’ll do it myself. 

No, that’s not quite the reason I printed my own book. To echo M. J. Rose’s article in last month’s Quill, I decided upon a unique way to market my book on the Internet by appealing to my niche market.

What’s my niche? My protagonist is Penelope, my 9th great grandmother who was shipwrecked in 1648 on her first day in America and scalped on her third day. She survived to have 10 children and 502 descendents when she died at age 110 (as the legend says). This tale fascinates every genealogist who stumbles across it (like I did), and obviously Penelope had a lot of descendents. Genealogists tend to flock together on the Internet to share information about common ancestors and to share email addresses.

The e-book route might appear to be the logical companion to email marketing, but my daughter owns a real bookstore, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, and e-books are her enemy. Furthermore, genealogists will want to possess and display a printed copy of a book about their ancestors. I know I do—even if I had to write it myself. And you can’t autograph an e-book.

To start the process, I looked at book selling from the bookstore’s perspective. The retail price of historical novels of 300 to 400 pages in trade paperback is about $15. The bookstore expects a discount of 40% off the list price, free delivery, the option to return unsold books, and a long time to pay for them.

Many “self-publishers,” such as iUniverse, set the retail price but they set it too high—$20 for a book equivalent to mine. Furthermore, many self-publishers concentrate on selling “author packages,” not books.  And they offer none of the terms a bookstore expects. The author can’t even buy them cheaply enough to sell to a bookstore. Thus iUniverse books are seldom found in a bookstore simply because of economics, regardless of the quality of the writing.

Other publishers, such as Lightning Source and CreateSpace, let the author set the price and provide options to get your book into the book distribution system. But those expensive distribution options consume almost all the revenue from selling the book.

Many unpublished writers operate under the fallacy that if a book is printed, every bookstore in the country will carry it. The truth is that it’s a pull system, not a push system. Your book only gets into a bookstore or the hands of a reader if someone asks for it. If the Barnes&Noble corporate buyer asks for it, then all right! Otherwise, someone (that is, you) has to persuade each individual bookstore owner or each individual reader to ask for it. Marketing is the beginning and end.

The third option is to print a bunch of copies, that is, to become a traditional publisher. I found that I could get 250 copies printed and shipped to me for less than $5.00 a copy. At least my economics are reasonable: a bookstore will sell my book for $15 and pay me $9 for something that cost me $5. I once hauled 1400 Nicholas Sparks hardcover copies to a book signing, so 250 paperbacks sounded manageable. Indeed, my stack of seven boxes occupied less space than my body.

Next question: How do I get my book into lots of bookstores?
The answer: I only need my book in one bookstore.
Why: My marketing scheme involves email and the Internet. The Law of Instant Gratification says that if I interest a person in my book, I need to provide a convenient way for her to order it immediately. Most websites have a link to Amazon or B&N. My link is to my daughter’s bookstore; her inventory is also on Amazon Marketplace and B&N Marketplace.

What are the advantages of a real bookstore? The website looks legitimate; they handle credit cards online, collect sales tax, wrap and ship; track shipments; and are in business every day.

Make this offer to your favorite bookstore (assuming it already does a significant volume of on-line business): here’s a box of my signed books; I will direct traffic to your website; you sell and ship the books; quarterly you pay me 60% of the selling price; call me if you sell out and I’ll bring more. 

Pick a nearby bookstore if you agree to personalize the signings because you’ll drive there often, especially if most of your customers are your 10th cousins.

Next time--the details of preparing a manuscript for the book printer.

Jim McFarlane
Author of Penelope: A Novel of New Amsterdam
Available at


Brian said...


I like your site, you have some interesting posts. My site My Perfect Pitch compliments yours, consisting of interesting articles from a published author, plus a free resource of over 1000 traditional book publishers currently accepting submissions. Keep up the good work.

Regards, Brian

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading this. Your relative sounds amazing, and I would like to read about her. Are your posts all on this site?



elysabeth said...

First, Jim, congrats on taking the self-publishing route. Second, I should tell you that createspace isn't as expensive as keeping 250 copies of a book on hand to get into bookstores or wherever you are selling them. Their distribution package is only $25/title/year and this gets you listed with Ingrams (Lightning Source's distribution and the largest in the world), Baker & Taylor (gets you in the educational facilities and libraries) and via createspace's distribution system. They do offer discounts when ordering through the normal channels for bookstores, et cetera but they don't take returns. This is the biggest turn off for bookstores but here is my thinking on it, since most stores are only ordering 1 or 2 copies as needed, then there shouldn't be a reason for a return since they are using print on demand technology.

You need to consider getting your book into libraries as well, especially the New York system since your book is set there. This would be of special interest to genealogists across the nation but especially of interest to those in the New York area, and your book also has some historical information that could be used in schools, especially for classes who focus on New York History, tracing their roots all the way back to the very beginning.

Good luck with all the sales and hope you have success - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of FINALLY HOME, a middle grade/YA mystery (written similar to a Nancy Drew mystery)

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