Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Booksellers Reveal Secrets to Self-Published Success

Midwest & Rocky Mountain States
By Claire Kirch 

If there was ever a stigma about selling self-published books, independent booksellers in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states have long since gotten over it. Self-published books sell well at most of the stores in the region contacted by PW. The Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., disclosed that two self-published books—Pleased but Not Satisfied by Berkshire Hathaway executive David Sokol, and Five Minute Talks on Life, Love, and Faith by Fr. James Schwertley, a retired Catholic priest—currently are their top-selling titles. More than 10,000 copies of Sokol's book have sold since 2008 (2,000 of them since December), and 550 copies of Schwertley's since September 2010. Orders for both books, which are sold exclusively by the Bookworm both in-store and online, come in from all over the world.

Booksellers agree that the self-published books that sell best are books that are both professionally packaged and aggressively marketed by the author. While several bookstores contacted disclosed that they only sell books by local authors on consignment for a 90-day period, that local connection, while important, wasn't necessarily an essential factor in sales.
"The author is in advertising, and Fall from Grace doesn't have that ‘self-published' look about it," Bev Bauer, the owner of Redbery Books, in Cable, Wis., says about Kerry Casey's coming-of-age novel about five high school hockey players, which has sold 400 copies in her small store. The author lives in St. Paul, Minn., and has visited Redbery only "occasionally."
The biggest success story in recent years of any self-published book placed in Midwestern and mountain state bookstores has to be Blind Your Ponies by Minnesotan Stanley West. West, who lived in Bozeman, Mont., at the time, self-published his debut novel in 1997, after failing to find a publisher. Recalling that he "didn't know any better," he sold the novel, about a high school basketball team, to "every bookstore [he] could find" in that state. "The rings kept getting wider and wider," West tells PW, and the book was picked up by independent bookstores across the Midwest, and then by the chain bookstores. By the time Algonquin Books acquired Blind Your Ponies last year, West had sold 40,000 copies.

Gail White, a clerk at the Blue Heron in Ennis, Mont., tells PW that Blind Your Ponies is talked up to any customer asking for a recommendation. The combination antique store/bookstore has sold over 1,000 copies since 1997. "It's one of the best reads," White declares. Country Bookshelf in Bozeman also reports that the store sold "hundreds and hundreds" of copies of Blind Your Ponies since 1997, and has already sold about 100 copies of Algonquin's reissue, published in January.

"It's one of those books people would read, and then return to the store to buy copies for others," Anna Hjortsberg, Country Bookshelf's manager, says.

Charles Kaine, the owner of Readers Cove, in Fort Collins, Colo., describes Karla Oceanak as a prime example of an author who understands the fine art of self-promotion. Kaine has sold 400 copies of Oceanak's debut children's book, Artsy-Fartsy, since 2009, and has sold 300 copies of the second book in the Aldo Zelnick series, Bogus, in the past year. He reports that he's got young customers "sitting on their hands" waiting for the third book, Cahoots, scheduled for release in May.
"They're an easy sell," Kaine says, explaining that he tells customers the series is "just like Wimpy Kid Diaries, though not as snarky," and that both books also refer to beloved local landmarks, as Oceanak lives in Fort Collins. IPG started distributing the titles through its regular program this past fall, and Artsy-Fartsy was recently named an IndieBound Children's Books Favorite.

Mary McDonald, events coordinator at the Learned Owl, in Hudson, Ohio, has been talking up Terry Sykes-Bradshaw's debut novel, The Awful Truth About Dead Men to other GLiBA booksellers and to sales reps. "It's a hoot, it's fun, it's a good mystery set during a Florida cruise," she declares of the book, which has sold 40 copies in the store since this past summer. While the Learned Owl has a self-published authors section, The Awful Truth About Dead Men is shelved with the other paperback fiction titles.

"When we're fired up about a [self-published] book, we'll mix it in with the regular books," she disclosed, "There's no reason Sykes-Bradshaw couldn't be published by a mainstream press."

Read More at Publishers Weekly

(Article covers all areas of U.S.)

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