AUTHORS, PLEASE DO THE MATH! How Much Does it REALLY Cost to Sell to Bookstores?

AUTHORS, PLEASE DO THE MATH! How Much Does it REALLY Cost to Sell to Bookstores?

An author wrote in complaining about the low discount given to bookstores by her publisher for a hardcover, color-interior book. She assumed that the low discount would prevent bookstores from buying her book. The fact is, the discount should be the least of her worries. She should, instead, consider all of the other factors involved that will drain her wallet in her attempt to sell to bookstores.

First of all, paperback color-interior print on demand books are very expensive to produce. Hardcovers are even more so. In order to not only print those, but to also allocate royalties to the author, and give a discount to distributors and retailers, publishers must price those books high.

She could purchase copies at her author discount, which is often higher than the discount given to retailers and distributors, and then sell the books directly to the bookstore, offering them a deeper discount than they could get from her publisher or the distributor. But, when given all the information involved with those transactions, is that something she’s really going to want to do?

A book’s sales potential depends entirely on: 1. the book itself (subject matter, quality of writing, and editing); and 2. the author’s marketing savvy and efforts. Authors can sell more copies marketing directly to readers online than they will when trying to sell to bookstores.

I explained to her the reasons why:

You could spend several hours and lots of money marketing to a bookstore that might buy two or three copies (or only one!). There are more than a million books published each year now. Add those to the best sellers and midlist titles on the market already and there simply isn’t enough shelf space for bookstores to add books for new/unknown authors.

If your book is published by one of the author meat markets, you’re probably spinning your wheels. Publishers that publish anything and everything are known by bookstores (and libraries!) to be churning out garbage, and just having that publisher’s name in your book can doom your chances of selling it to a bookstore.

Some bookstores will shelf a a few books for a local author but don’t expect many, if any, sales because your book will be surrounded by many competing books.

I know it’s frustrating but book buying has changed drastically. Amazon outsells all bookstore chains combined, and sells far more books than any other online bookstore as well.

Amazon began by putting bookstores out of business. Of course, now they’re putting numerous other retailers out of business as well. People want to shop at home. Add free shipping to that convenience and it’s impossible for brick and mortar retailers to compete. In many cities, buyers can even get same-day delivery when ordering online.

I know we authors want to support bookstores, especially our local ones, but they’re actually doing US a huge favor when they put our new book on their shelf, not the other way around. Unfortunately, those books often go unsold. Furthermore, bookstores may require you to accept returns and those returned books may be dusty or dirty, have bent covers and pages, and be unsellable.

It’s entirely up to you but, personally, I never market to bookstores. I don’t want the added expenses of printing up business cards and fliers, driving there, meeting with the store’s manager, imploring them to carry my book…and then negotiating a transaction for perhaps two or three copies, which, in the end, will net me probably around $10-$15 after printing costs. After deducting my time and expense to “sell” those copies to the bookstore, I’m pretty far in the hole. My time can be used far more efficiently to sell far more books.

Having a website with a regular newsletter/blog, collecting online subscribers, and continually marketing my books to them via the comfort of my home is a far easier way to sell, and continue to sell, books. I have sold thousands of copies of my books in this way…far more than I’d have sold if I was pounding the pavement trying to sell to bookstores.


Angela Hoy lives on a mountain in North Georgia. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the President and CEO of BookLocker.com and AbuzzPress, and the author of 24 books.

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One Response to "AUTHORS, PLEASE DO THE MATH! How Much Does it REALLY Cost to Sell to Bookstores?"

  1. Anonymous  June 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    excellent article. Thank you.