Indie publishing has seen a lot of press recently. There was E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, (which caused some confusion for teen novel Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, a mix-up that has sitcom-subplot potential); the recent New York Times article about kids self-publishing; and in the endless news stream about how the publishing industry is undergoing various sea changes, indie publishing usually gets a nod if not the lead.
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Independent booksellers have been onto the indie-publishing explosion for a while. For years, they’ve managed and sold books that didn’t have any Big Six marketing dollars behind them. I talked with a few indie booksellers about trends they’ve seen recently and advice they’d give self-published authors. (Here’s another article I recently wrote on the same topic.)
A few years ago, about 40 self-published and traditionally published authors attended the Northwest Author Fair, an outdoor event with panels and signings, hosted by Bob's Beach Books in Lincoln City, Ore. “We capped it at 50,” says owner Diana Portwood about this year’s crowd. “At the rate it was going, we were going to hit 85 this year and 100 next year.” She said that the size of the audience has grown along with the number of authors. At this year’s fair, she expects several hundred attendees. Her goal is for each author to sell at least one book, and many sell a lot more than that.
Portwood will buy at least one copy of a professionally bound book from any local author. She suggests indie authors approach their local booksellers before going to press. “You have to study up on what to do before you commit,” she says. “Talk to a couple of different bookstores and ask them what they’re looking for with packaging. For example, you’ll want the title on the spine. And talk to other self-published authors.” Blogs by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Rusch’s husband, Dean Wesley Smith are worth checking out, she says.
Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo., bases the structure of their consignment program on what’s called publisher co-op—ad money supplied by the publisher to booksellers for use in marketing, advertising and displays. So self-published authors can, like publishers, pay for the expertise, advertising, prominent placement and events available at Boulder. The bookstore doubled their stocked self-published titles in the past four years.
“We have about 200 active consignments right now,” says Liesl Freudenstein, who manages consignments at Boulder, which posts resources online for indie authors. “I see more of a continuation of trends that started a while ago. More professional bindings, slicker covers—that sort of thing. Everyone seems to be more professional, bookstores and authors alike, and I feel that we are working together better.”
Freudenstein recommends that authors not skimp on a good editor and that they support other local authors. “Our most successful authors make a lot of effort to reach out to the community and it shows.”
Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver launched the Tattered Cover Press to meet the growing demands of their local indie authors. “I think many changes in self-publishing mirror the changes in the publishing industry in general,” says Katie Schmidt, Tattered’s local author coordinator.
“Certainly there's a lot more activity in the direction of digital content, but an exciting development for us has been the new interest in print-on-demand self-publishing.” Tattered Cover Press uses an Espresso Book Machine, as do many other indie bookstores, including McNally Jackson Booksellers, Harvard Book Store and Village Books, to offer all-in-one book printing and binding services in-house. This is in conjunction with their Rocky Mountain Authors program, an extensive consignment program for small presses and indie authors.
Schmidt says that Tattered is proud to work with their local self-published authors, and the Rocky Mountain Authors program feeds a need for local writers and readers. “It gives authors access to a well-known retail outlet for their work, and it provides customers with content that, in many cases, they're not going to find anywhere else.”
The way to reach more customers is “to be as business-minded as possible after the writing of the book ends, if their next goal is to sell the book,” Schmidt says. “If you want to open a jewelry boutique, you'll need a business plan, a pro forma, a chart that balances your expected costs with your expected revenue, some legal counseling, and a lot of marketing and development. It's no different for an author selling a book.”
To build the current momentum of indie publishing, Boulder’s Freudenstein says to show some love for all things indie, both booksellers and authors. “Every author loves to see their book in an actual bookstore, and that is just not going to happen if we don't work together.”
Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor at Kirkus.