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Independent Publishers Unite!!!

I read recently in Business Insider that Amazon’s strategy for making its brick-and-mortar stores successful hinged on three factors: exploiting big data to tailor the store’s offerings to its local demographic; reducing inventory to only a few thousand titles of proven sales potential; and adding a generous mix of non-book products to broaden shelf interest and boost revenue.

There is nothing revolutionary about what Amazon is doing here. Strategies like Amazon’s are exactly what feisty independent booksellers have been using for years to survive the onslaught of big boxes, high rents, and even Amazon itself. Though they may lack the mega-data that Amazon collects from its vast online sales records, indie bookstores do collect data, are locally owned, and, thus, locally knowledgeable. Indie bookstores have also reduced and tightly curated inventory as they shrink their square footage to lower rents. And, for many years, indies have been selling sidelines, including journals, used books, cards, book lights, puzzles, and other items.

But now that Amazon is adopting these exact same strategies in its own retail spaces, what will save the indie bookstore in the future? Is customers’ loyal rejection of big, bad, corporate Amazon enough? Sure, some percentage of book buyers will always favor their local retailers over outsiders, but if Amazon rolls into America’s top book-buying communities with dozens more shops featuring computer-designed inventories, low prices, and lots of shiny objects to fascinate their customers, the ability of indie booksellers to compete will be seriously eroded.

There is one resource that remains almost entirely undiscovered by indie booksellers, and that might be the key to their long-term survival, if not a revolution in bookselling itself. And that is the hundreds of thousands of books published each year by small independent presses and self-publishers. Currently, these books are almost completely shut out of the brick-and-mortar retail environment. Why? Because the American publishing industry is governed by antiquated systems that were established long before the digital revolution.

To reach bookstores today, books must be printed, shipped to a distributor, and shipped again to a retailer. If sold within a week or two, great; if not, the books will sit on a shelf in the bookstore, taking up valuable space, and producing nothing. If the book sits too long, it gets returned—more fuel, time, and chargebacks to both the retailer and the publisher. Then the book might be too shopworn and subsequently be destroyed, or it may sit at the distributor until the whole process starts again.

We all know how wasteful this cycle is. We all—and I mean all of us in every segment of the industry (except the printers and truck drivers, perhaps)—complain about it.

One negative feature of this system is that very small publishers and self-publishers don’t even have a chance to participate in it. Bookstores generally won’t stock their books because they’re not available from distributors due to their being one-off titles or because their publishers/authors are too small, unknown, lack clout, whatever. There are, in fact, many perfectly good reasons that these books don’t get into bookstores. It’s not that bookstores are ignorant, uncaring, or don’t want them—after all, many of these books are as substantive and well-designed as anything from the Big 5. Booksellers don’t sell these books because it doesn’t make financial sense to even try to sell them. The only way authors can get into some stores is on consignment, but this is obviously not a strategy for broad distribution.

Maybe these publishers should count their blessings that they have avoided the whole wasteful ship-and-return cycle. But the absence of indie books in local bookstores is in every sense a bad thing. It deprives the public of choice. It deprives the publishers of sources of revenue. And, most galling of all, it keeps all the control in the hands of Amazon. Currently, readers who want to find self-published titles have to go to Amazon. And now that Amazon is going local and using the very same strategies as indie booksellers, what is there left to distinguish local booksellers, aside from the fact that they are “not Amazon”?

What if there was a way to make all these hundreds of thousands of books available in the local bookshop?

I think there is. I call it IndieBook. I know my concept is not shovel-ready, but I offer it here as a “thought experiment” for a possible vision of a new future in which book publishers and booksellers can truly support each other and break free of antiquated systems of mutual obstruction.

IndieBook, simply put, is a brick-and-mortar retail environment where real indie booksellers sell real indie books. Not just books from small publishers already served by Consortium, IPG, Midpoint, PGW, and IPS, but books from publishers of every size and scale.

1. The IndieBook physical retail space is community- and consumer-driven, laser-focused on local interests as informed by the knowledgeable store owner and by the store’s exploitation of big data.

Customers in the local area have personalized store accounts that they can log in to at home, or at the store itself. Customers use their account to indicate interest areas, check out new offerings, order books (or e-books or other content), RSVP to events, receive promotion codes, and so on. Many indie bookstores may already be doing this, but these IndieBook personalization systems need to be extremely robust, up to date, and networked in to the store’s own database.

2. IndieBook is 100-percent wired, filled with high-touch kiosks.

Some kiosks are for customers to log in to and service their accounts and preferences; others are dynamically curated by booksellers with up-to-minute listings, tie-ins to whatever is happening in the news, whatever band is playing in town, or backgrounders on important environmental or political issues that everyone is talking about. Large, brilliant color screens serve up covers, snippets, and videos with a “buy” button at the end.

3. IndieBook depends on print on demand (POD), the only sustainable technology that makes sense for small-scale indie publishers and self-publishers.

POD reduces risk at the same it expands inventory a thousand-fold. Readers today already can order POD books printed at Lightning Source or CreateSpace, and they can do that at home on Amazon. But I’m talking about stores using devices like the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), which can turn out a finished book on-site for instant gratification (five to eight minutes). A reader can browse their account at home, find the book they want (an obscure title but one that has just been recommended by their favorite blogger), hit the buy button, and, by the time they get to the store, it’s there, ready for pickup. Or pick your own dreamy scenario of how you can unite readers with the indie books they want in a way that none of your competitors can—and deliver them the same day.

An Espresso Book Machine (EBM) at the Brooklyn Public Library.

I’m aware that the current version of the EBM needs work, but if publishing thinks of this as its moonshot, then reliability, speed, flexibility, and cost can all be improved over time. (And there are delicious possibilities. For example, an entrepreneur could set up an EBM hub with deliveries three times a day in a metro area, providing almost just-in-time service but at a cost shared with several retailers at once.)

4. IndieBook is multimedia.

It provides access not just to books, but to e-books, magazines, granular assemblies of cookbooks and guidebooks, movies, music, personal screeds, whatever content the consumer wants—all available for immediate download or print. Reading is not dying, but reading habits are changing. Booksellers must be content providers first, and find those alternative media and sidelines that serve the reading habit, regardless of medium or format.

5. IndieBook is participatory.

The store must be a gathering place for happenings, tastings, workshops, panels, and community actions that provide helpful information and content in a thoughtful, long-form way. Is there a hot-button issue in town? Load an LED kiosk with relevant front- and backlist titles from publishers large and small. Let local writers print up custom copies of their memoirs, cookbooks, and first drafts. Use the EBM to create personalized copies of books at author signings. Indie bookstores are already masters at this sort of thing. But now they can do it with store inventory, on demand and up to the minute, in a scenario that cannot be replicated online.

6. IndieBook is no returns!

Smaller retail spaces mean fewer books displayed. Everything else is available on-demand. Retailers should have confidence in their choices and know their customers: after all, they are locally knowledgeable. So, by all means, bring in the offset-printed bestsellers, art books, and big books with big names with assured sell-through. Otherwise, use POD. But the point is to make everything available, hundreds of thousands of books—not just what publishers are willing to sell returnable with free freight through a creaky and environmentally unsustainable distribution system.

Make no mistake: authors, readers, and publishers are finding that smaller is better. Fewer projects qualify for offset runs. That means more books produced POD by smaller companies serving focused audiences and with no mainstream distribution. Let’s stop punishing them! If we, as a culture, believe that diversity of voices is of crucial importance to maintaining a fair and civil society, then we have to do a much better job of guaranteeing those voices access into our community spaces.

Amazon is already planning its next move—are we? What happens when Amazon brings its CreateSpace technology to the storefront? You know they’re already thinking about it.

Peter Goodman is the publisher of Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, California, and a member of the IBPA Independent Editorial Advisory Committee.

 

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Goodreads Change for Authors

Have you seen the NEW Goodreads pricing for GiveAways? That’s right, authors, giveaways aren’t free promotion anymore!!!

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a)  All Things Editorial, LLC  www.allthingseditorial.com

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Upcoming Event – Reminder

Saguaro Books Author Takeover Event on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/SaguaroBooks

by Saguaro Books

Find out what Saguaro Books is all about and the books we publish

SEPT 30, 2017

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Building Your Author Website in Five Easy Steps

  1. Buy Your Domain

This is where it all begins. Once you purchase the perfect domain name for your author brand — preferably featuring your name or pseudonym — you can really get to work!

  1. Find Your Host

Your domain is your address, but the host is your house. Before you can begin construction, you need to find the right one for you. There are many, including WordPress, GoDaddy and Yola, to suggest a few.

  1. Locate Your Platform

Chances are, you’re not an experienced web designer, which is why you should find a solid, user-friendly platform for your site.

  1. Create Your Website Content

At the minimum, you want an appealing home page, an “About” page, a “Contact” page and a “Books” page (to promote your work).

Of course, your author website isn’t complete until it has a landing page where people can sign up for your “lead magnet” offer (and get added to your email list)!

  1. Start Blogging

The other essential section you want on your website is a blog, which will keep things fresh and attract new readers from all over the web, leading them down the path to your email list.

 

 

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Eight Reasons Every Book Needs a Business Plan to Achieve Success

No matter how you want to publish, and whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you should produce a business plan for each and every book you write and publish—before writing a word of your manuscript. Let me offer you eight good reasons why I believe this is an important practice if you want to achieve success as an author.
1. A business plan helps you hone your message or story into a viable product.
You don’t want to discover after you finish your manuscript that it isn’t marketable. That means no one will buy it—not readers or a publisher. It’s much better to ensure you create a marketable book idea from the start, and then write that book. A business plan forces you to create a focused book pitch, something difficult to do if you don’t know what you are writing about. That pitch offers you, and, ultimately, readers, a clear statement about your book’s benefits, why someone would want to read your book rather than someone else’s book on the same topic or with a similar story. It ensures you provide value to readers in your category and market. If you can’t provide value in the marketplace, you don’t have a viable product.
2. A business plan helps you determine if a market exists for your book.
Before you write your entire manuscript you also want to ensure you know who you are writing for and that you have a large enough market. A large market makes a book profitable. When you create a business plan for your book, you conduct a market analysis and determine how many potential readers exist for your book and where you might find them. When you know there are enough people in the world who might buy your book, and that you can target them with your promotion efforts, that justifies writing it.
3. A business plan helps you produce a unique and necessary book.
Conducting a competitive analysis, another part of producing a business plan for your book, forces you to take a close look at what other authors in the same category have already done with similar books. You can then compare and contrast their successful books to your own book idea. This helps you produce a book that is unique as well as necessary compared to those already published in the category. You surely don’t want to write a book that is just like all the others. Rather, you want to write a book that is different enough to make it stand out from the pack.
4. A business plan helps you create a marketable structure and content for your book.
A business plan includes a table of contents and chapter summaries (or a synopsis—although I suggest all authors produce chapter summaries). If you go to the trouble of doing this and then comparing your proposed content to your market and competitive analysis, you have an opportunity to tweak your book idea further. When you’ve finished this part of your plan, you stand little chance late in your book writing process of discovering you have produced a manuscript that is scattered, rambling, misses the point, left out important parts of the story, or leaves out essential information.
5. A business plan allows you to tweak your idea for maximum product viability.
At this point in the business plan creation process, you can go back to the beginning and rework your pitch to ensure that your initial book idea matches the final idea you have created based upon market and competition studies. You also can recheck the benefits—the value—you plan to provide readers. If your book sounds compelling, necessary and unique after you make any final changes, you’re ready to begin writing. You’ve crafted a viable book idea.
6. A business plan offers you an opportunity to plan for success.
Whether you self-publish or land a traditional publishing deal, the promotion plans you implement before and upon release of your book determine your book’s success (how many copies it sells). That’s why every book’s business plan needs a promotion section, which is actually a plan of its own. Since promotion needs to begin the moment that light bulb goes off in your head, it makes sense that you should start planning how you will promote your book before you even begin writing it. To do that, however, you need to have done your market analysis.
7. A business plan helps you evaluate your readiness to publish.
If you plan to self-publish, you could do so at any time. But that doesn’t make it the right time. Traditional publishers determine if nonfiction writers are ready to publish by evaluating the size of their author platform, the built-in readership they have created by increasing their visibility, reach, authority, and influence in their target market. Author platform can help fiction writers land publishing deals as well. And platform helps all authors create successful books. A fan base, or a large, loyal following of people who know you means a higher likelihood of selling more books upon release. As you create your business plan, you should analyze the size of your platform and determine if now represents the best time for you to release a book.
8. A business plan helps you determine if you are a one-book author.The more books you write, the more books you sell. When you write a business plan for your book, you take time to consider spin-off books, sequels and series. This can be important if you want to create a business around your book, brand yourself, or attract a traditional publisher.

The Bottom Line:
A Business Plan Helps You Produce a Successful Book
All eight of these reasons can be condensed down to one: Creating a business plan for your book helps you produce a successful book. Without creating a business plan prior to writing your book you risk producing a manuscript—and later a published book—with no market value. That means it won’t sell many copies. If you do produce a business plan for your book before you write it, you have a high likelihood of producing a viable—marketable—book idea. That means when you actually write the book and publish it, the book will sell—to publishers and, ultimately, to readers.

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