What follows is a slightly modified version of an email I sent to the participants of the Murder We Write blog tour I am currently on. I’m not as sanguine about blog tours as most authors are these days, but I have to say the camaraderie with the other writers (many of whom are with OTP) has been worth the hard work.
The background was that we were talking about people pricing their kindle books at ninety-nine cents. I rely primarily on bookstores to sell my books. I know I’m swimming upstream. And I hear the stream is about to run dry. But that’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it. There are approximately 100,000 mysteries on offer at Amazon and no staff who consult with customers. Yes, you can do a search. But if you’ve never heard of Mike Orenduff or the Pot Thief (and about three-hundred-million Americans fall into that category), the chances of you selecting one of my books on Amazon are slim. But I know that every book I place in a bookstore will sell and lead to more sales. Of course bookstores I’ve never heard of order my books, and I’m grateful to them. Most of those books sell, but some are returned. I can hear Billie uttering a bad word at this point.
However, the signed books I personally leave at bookstores are never returned because I don’t take returns. And every bookstore that has taken a signed book from me has eventually ordered more. In some cases, the order may be for just four books. Other orders have been for as many as a hundred. And those orders repeat periodically. Some stores order once or twice a year. Some order every month.
Earlier this fall, I did a signing at The Bookshelf and Gallery in Thomasville, Georgia. The Bookshelf is an appealing store run by an energetic young couple in a town of about 25,000 that still has a bustling downtown. There was a lot of traffic, and the owners and staff seemed to know most of the customers by name. I sold only three books, but that didn’t disappoint me because they asked me to leave eight books – two of each title. Those are gone, and they have re-ordered. Last month, I placed 4 books at E. Shaver Bookseller, a fine little independent store in the historic district of Savannah. I did not do a signing as it was a cold call, but they were excited about the books and displayed them by the front door before I had even left the building.
Lai and I had reasons to be in Thomasville and Savannah, so placing the books was a bonus. But even had special trips been required, I would have made them despite the fact that the gasoline would have cost more than I made on the books. Those few books are merely a beginning. I see every bookstore signing and visit as an investment.
Some of you have heard me explain my strategy – get books in as many stores as possible and let them do the selling. And since this strategy works mostly with indie stores, the loss of Borders was not an issue for me.
I grew up in an age when talk about personal finances was considered tacky, but I have to mention it to finish my point. I get a 50% royalty on Kindle sales. So if my books are priced at .99, that’s half a buck. But when a book sells in a bookstore, I gross $8.97 (60% of the cover price). I can buy the books for $6.50 including shipping costs if I order in bulk, so I make $2.47 on each sale. It costs me about fifty cents a book to mail them, so I make almost $2.00 a book for every book sold in a store. Traveling to a new store costs money, but once I have secured a retailer, all I have to do is receive the orders – almost all by email – and mail the books. And all the costs of this operation come off my income tax.
And the best part is spending time in all those bookstores.
I know this may not last. Bookstores may go the way of record stores. I figure bookstores are not likely to be here in twenty years, but then neither am I. So I’ll continue to let booksellers sell my books and concentrate my time on writing. And looking for my glasses. And getting up out of a chair. And all the other wonderful challenges that age brings along with wisdom. I think I’d trade the wisdom for a bit of youth.