Debbie Young, Commissioning Editor of the ALLi Author Advice Centre blog and advocate of ALLi's #Authors4Bookstores campaign, asks whether it's now time to drop the #selfpublishing tag, following her recent experience in a local bookstore.
Earlier this month, I decided to try to get my Christmas-themed book stocked by bookstores away from my home patch. I already have them stocked in shops where I'm a regular customer and have a longstanding relationship, but hadn't reached out beyond.
The perfect opportunity presented itself. I'd been invited to appear on Talking Books, a programme on community station 10Radio, 50 miles from where I live, and the presenter name-checked a local shop as a potential stockist, providing a helpful introduction. After a positive reception there, I was on a roll, and called in at two further shops on spec, one a small independent bookshop, the other a giftshop that had a small stock of seasonal books.
A Considered Approach
In the bookshop, the sole bookseller on duty was in the middle of serving a customer, so I waited for them to finish, looking appreciatively around the shop in the meantime.
After introducing myself politely, with a big smile, I told him about Stocking Fillers, emphasising the fact that it was currently being featured in regional media, so people might be looking out for it. I presented him with a free inspection copy, along with a professional-looking data sheet featuring the book's vital statistics such as bookseller discounts and availability. (Trade publishing companies, usually operating on much longer timescales than indies, call such things Advance Information sheets, but as this book's a year old, I think of it as a Bookseller Information sheet.)
I didn't ask him to order from me in person, not least because I can't cost-justify the time and petrol money to deliver supplies or to raise invoices for a handful of sales, but as stated on the sheet, he can order from his usual distributor. (This is because I publish via Ingram Spark as well as CreateSpace, in keeping with ALLi's recommendations.)
“Who is it published by?”
The bookseller took the book, clearly liked the look of the cover (recently shortlisted for CompletelyNovel's design award), and said “Who's it published by?” As I answered “a small local independent press”, he flipped it over and saw my “Hawkesbury Press” logo, and seemed happy with that. As its website makes clear, Hawkesbury Press is my own imprint, and most of its books are by me. To say “I'm self-published” when I've got an imprint emblazoned on the cover would have seemed odd, and my answer felt entirely natural and not at all dishonest. (I am, incidentally, very bad at lying, and will tell the truth even when it gets me into trouble.) The bookseller kept the sample book to examine at his leisure, and he will order more if he likes it. I left the shop feeling as if I'd won.
This speculative pitch cost me approximately £2 ( the cost of a copy of the book from the short print run I had done for publicity purposes plus a few pence for the information sheet, printed on my laser printer at home). I'd been passing by the shop anyway and had parked for free, so there were no travel costs.
What's the worst that can happen? The bookseller never orders any copies and throws the book in the bin, or gives it to the charity shop next door, and it raises a pound or two for the local hospice, which is fine by me. Best case, he orders more, puts them in his shop window and sells lots, which means I'll stand a good chance of getting him to take my next book, a collection of short stories on the theme of love and marriage, for his Valentine's Day display.
But my chief takeaway point was this: Was I wrong to drop the self-publishing tag? To me, that day, in that bookshop, it felt like the time had arrived.
OVER TO YOU How do you feel about calling yourself self-published these days? Or are we all indie authors now? (Subtle difference – see Orna Ross's defining post here!)Is it time to drop the #selfpublishing tag? asks @DebbieYoungBN Click To Tweet