Big Box Bookstore, You’re acting like an indie!

Yesterday evening I had a meeting at a local big box bookstore with their Customer Experience Manager. There were several notions I had that were wrong, or more precisely, the world’s changed for the better for indie authors, and have become more complicated for some traditional ones.

I was shocked, because that “Big Box Bookstore, you’re acting like an indie!”

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I can’t say enough about personal networking. I grudgingly went to a local Steampunk society meeting a couple of months ago, and each month it’s gotten easier. They are a great bunch of people, and it’s good for me to get out. To my surprise, on Tuesday of this week, one of the organizers came over and handed me a business card. “I was at an Indigo [think Canadian Barnes & Noble] store, and talking to this woman. I mentioned you, she wants to talk to you.” The woman is the Customer Experience Manager, let’s call her Jane.

I emailed Jane yesterday afternoon and introduced myself, and how I got your info. A quick back and forth, and I booked a meeting with her yesterday evening. We met for about 20 minutes, and I learned a lot in that time.

Sell Your Soul to get in, … or not

To get into Chapters/Indigo (the big box store chain here in Canada) there are only two ways that I’ve been aware, that you could get in. One is through iUniverse, which seems to ask for an arm, leg, liver and then for the pleasure of about $4000, will allow your book to be listed and send you 20 printed copies (no, I’m not kidding). Some people go this route, I didn’t because… I’m crazy that way. The other way is to be with a traditional publisher or a big enough small press, or going through a distribution house like Ingram, which only now seems to have become a potentially viable option (and we’re currently looking at that).

Consignment is King

As an indie author, I’m used to independent book stores, like the awesome Owl’s Nest Books, taking my books on consignment. I get about 55% of the sale if they make it, and they can return the books they don’t sell. Their ‘risk’ is giving me shelf space that could go to something else, so low on their part.

What I didn’t realize was that Chapters (and I’m sure this is happening throughout other bookstore chains as well) is that they are enabling these Customer Experience managers to deal with local authors, allowing each store or region to have a different feel and set of content. This is a good thing for us.

Now here’s the funny thing. I learned yesterday that there’s a lot of traditional publishing companies, and iUniverse INCLUDED, that are no longer accepting returns, i.e. “Pay On Delivery.” This particular Chapters store no longer accepts POD publisher books. So those indies that went with iUniverse, or those traditional authors who are with a publisher who is require P.O.D.? They are not getting stocked in the store.

It turns out that this particular Chapters has several traditional authors who are buying copies of their books from their publishers, and then doing consignment just to get on the shelves! How twisted is that? Yet another thing to think about before you think you’re trading your soul to a traditional publisher for success. You might just be giving your soul away for nada.

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Another thing I didn’t expect to hear from Jane was that she’s really keen, if she likes a book (and she was excited to read mine after I pitched them to her and showed her the books) she will recommend it to other stores, libraries, etc. I would be “in their system” and as she said, she’ll push me to the limit of the overhead I want to manage (i.e. I’d have to be dealing with each store directly, and managing getting books to them, but am I going to let that limit me? HAHAHAHA not a chance).

Jane walked me around the Kids section (where her focus is) and the surrounding area (where she is also responsible) and showed me where she’s positioned all the other consignment authors (indie and de-traditional-izing authors). I was really impressed. In her own words, “I put them in strategic locations because these people help make our store better.” One location included on the counter in the Kids section.

Big Box store, You broke my thinking!

A big box store, thinking and behaving like an independent bookstore really surprised me. Clearly there are a lot of indie authors doing this, but why hadn’t I heard about it? Thus the reason for the post! Obviously not everywhere is doing this yet, but if you ask at enough locations of your local bookstore chains, you might be surprised. You’re Big Box Bookstore, might be acting like an indie!

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