This autumn we will be inspiring you every Sunday with success stories from our membership around the world, and by this we mean success in the broadest sense, not just in terms of sales.
To kick off the new season, I'm delighted to bring you fascinating insights into a success story that is great news for indie authors of all kinds: a groundbreaking indie-author only bookstore, founded, owned and curated by ALLi Partner Member and indie author Patti Brassard Jefferson. Located in sunny southwest Florida, P.J. Boox is the first brick and mortar bookstore to sell ONLY books by indie and small-press published authors from around the world. All of the books are displayed face out in the 1600 sq ft store, and authors whose books are stocked are paid 98% of their sales every month!
Patti kindly took time out for this in-depth interview about P.J. Boox, surely every self-published author's dream store!
What's different about your store? – in terms of stock, display, customer base
As you walk into P.J. Boox, you know straight away that it's different than any other bookstore you've ever seen. We have all been trained as readers to expect rows and rows of book spines in a bookstore and this is laid out much more like an art gallery! Every one of the books we carry is displayed face out, ready to catch the reader's eye and intrigue them to get the book in their hands.
Since we work directly with independent and small-press published authors, we have the ability to form stronger, more personal reader/author relationships. Most of our books are signed, which readers like, which makes what we sell more intimate than what is available at the big box stores. We also can put authors and book clubs directly in contact via video conferencing (Skype, Facetime, etc) which is something that the big box stores can't do.
It's really all about the reader experience.
Our location in Florida gives us a pretty diverse readership. We have our snowbird crowd, of course, but we also have a college down the street so, basically, we have the same sorts of readers as most other bookstores.
Why did you feel the need to open an exclusively indie store – does it not smack of positive discrimination?
Perhaps, but many (if not most) independent bookstores have niches of sort: used books, Christian books, LGBT books, mystery books, children's books. In this age of Amazon, offering something completely different, whether it is a specific genre or focus or unique opportunities or services, is strategic to creating a loyal customer base. While almost of all of our books can found on Amazon, the readers do not necessarily even know to look for any of them.
As an indie author myself, I understood the struggle to reach readers and tried to figure uncommon ways to get my books into retail.
I opened the Gulf Coast Bookstore in April 2015 with a partner as the first answer to the challenge. The GCB is still currently home to 54 local authors. Once word got out about that store, I got a lot of interest in doing it on a larger scale.
We do understand that our niche – indies – still has a small stigma to it with some people. We work hard daily to dispel that myth by offering a beautiful layout of books and picking and choosing the best books we can find.
I have had readers come in with a specific book or specific traditionally-published author in mind, and since I subscribe to the Miracle on 24th Street school of customer service, I give them directions to BN, the textbook store two blocks away or the Christian bookstore two blocks in the other direction. Of course, once I know what sort of genre they are interested in, I can also make suggestions that they browse those books here before they leave. Some times that has resulted in a sale, sometimes not, but it usually results in the customer at least taking a look around.
At this point, we are not really set up with any of the distribution platforms so to order a traditional book for a customer would basically be me, going to Amazon and buying it just like the customer could do. I would certainly entertain that as a courtesy if an internet-challenged customer wanted help, but I'd rather not dilute what we do.
How did early customers respond to your business model, and how has their feedback helped you refine your offer?
I don't think anyone feels threatened by us at all! If anything, we are an oddity that other booksellers are watching to see if it all works. The people who seem most inspired to imitate are other indie authors who want to duplicate in their hometowns what we are doing here in Florida. I think pop-up versions of the Gulf Coast Bookstore – with its “local authors only” model – are already happening. I think its definitely something that will catch on and if existing bookstores start opening themselves up more to the income potential of working more with the indie industry, we are going to see something wonderful emerge.
Do you feel this is a model that could take off further afield, or is it a good fit only for certain communities and catchment areas?
The P.J. Boox model (or the smaller Gulf Coast Bookstore model) would work just about anywhere that there readers.
Make no mistake, it is still a business and, as such, the business owner should know their audience, demographics and be dedicated enough and savvy enough to run a business in general.
In 2014, the statistics from Bowker indicated that over 1,200 self-published books enter the market place every day. Every. Day. Clearly there are more than enough books to fill stores like P.J. Boox around the world.
Indie authors are entrepreneurs, so it stands to reason that stores like P.J. Boox will start being a new part of the book industry and give the readers more options.
What are your plans going forward? – more books, more stores, more events?
Yes, yes and yes! Of course we would love to have multiple locations and be able to sell more books by more authors. This first ten months has been a learning and growing process, and we are still working out a lot of the process. There really hasn't been a blueprint of any sort to follow. Little things like finding the right POS for the store were challenging because the usual bookstore software is designed to integrate with Ingram and other distribution channels. We were looking for something that would allow us to manage inventory in a way that authors could track sales online. It took months for us to get that tweaked, and we are still making changes.
In the coming months, we will be be focusing more on our author events in the store and aligning ourselves with existing literary events so that we can give our authors a lower cost option to participate. Co-opting the local and regional events will grow as we expand our footprint, and as we are able to open in other markets, that reach will also expand.
One of the most brilliant parts of being an indie author is that, while writing is fairly solitary, the community of which we are all a part is incredibly supportive and helpful to other indie authors. We seem to naturally want to work together. We see P.J. Boox as more than just a bookstore, we are striving to build an author community as well.
How have other booksellers responded to your approach – are they inspired? threatened? quietly imitative?
I don't think anyone feels threatened by us at all! If anything, we are an oddity that other booksellers are watching to see if it all works. The people who seem most inspired to imitate are other indie authors who want to duplicate in their hometowns what we are doing here in Florida. I think pop-up versions of the Gulf Coast Bookstore, with its “local authors only” model, are already happening. I think it's definitely something that will catch on, and if existing bookstores start opening themselves up more to the income potential of working more with the indie industry, we are going to see something wonderful emerge.
Finally, at risk of inundating you with submissions, what do you look for in the books that you stock, and how should authors approach you to ask for their work to be considered?
If an author is interested in getting their books into P.J. Boox, they can go to www.pjboox.com and read the author information that is in the footer under the heading “Be A Part of P.J. Boox“.
What we are looking for:
- Professional cover design
- Professionally edited
- All genres
Bonus points for:
- Award winners
- Active on social media
- Good reviews (They do not need to be all 5 stars but we look for any red flags like “good story but definitely needed an editor/proofreader”)
ALLi members are entitled to 20% off basic author space instore – just log in to the ALLi membership website and click in the “Other” section of the “Discounts and Deals” page to find out how to claim your discount.
Patti Brassard Jefferson is an award-winning authorpreneur, illustrator, multi-medium artist, bubble-blower, tiara model and bookstore owner. She owns exactly zero pairs of socks, daydreams about tropical bike paths and lives with her 2 rescued mutts and 1 rescued husband. She is a Partner Member of Alliance of Independent Authors, a board member of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association and the first honorary Business Member of the Friends of the Fort Myers Library.A #bookstore case study to inspire #selfpub authors everywhere by @PJBoox #Authors4Bookstores Click To Tweet