Monday, 26 March 2012
In self-publishing there are a lot of decisions to be made - book cover design, font design, who goes into the acknowledgments, who to dedicate it to, which printer to go with...the list goes on and on.
Most of these choices are made by a process of elimination, research or talking to people who have more knowledge or experience than you do. And a lot are made with the bottom line in mind - what will sell the book? What will make my book catch someone's eye?
There was, however, one decision that I wasn't expecting and when the time came to make a choice I didn't do hours of research, speak to someone higher up the food chain and (deep breath) I didn't spare a single second's thought for the bottom line. It was the decision of whether or not to accept returns.
Should be simple, right? Accept returns and bricks and mortar stores are more likely to stock your book, it will also be more likely to be stocked by distributors - making the whole distribution area of things much more streamlined and efficient. Don't accept returns and bookshops are unlikely to stock your book on the shelves - they will still do special orders but, since the distributors are unlikely to have copies immediately in stock, getting orders filled will take longer and most customers are unwilling to wait 2 weeks to get their hands on a book these days.
I decided NOT to accept returns.
Before you wonder if I'm a sandwich short of a picnic, lacking in the marbles department etc. etc. let me explain; I worked for a long time in a book shop. I LOVED it - what could be better for a book-a-holic than being hip-deep in books every day? I still love going into bookshops and libraries for that quiet energy that they have, all those books just aching to be read, the stories just waiting to draw you in and fill a few hours, days, weeks of your life with another world, another life. And then there's the smell. Go and get a book...it's okay, I'll wait here for you. Any one at all - it doesn't matter.
Okay, now flick through a few pages and inhale. Smell that? There's no other item in the universe that smells like that - hours of blood, sweat, tears and coffee have gone into the creation of it, many more hours have been spent designing how it should look, the size it should be, the feel of the paper that it should be printed on. It may be an inanimate object but for me, each and every book is ALIVE and waiting for you or I to come along and read it.
Now, knowing how I feel about books let me explain to you one of the painful things about book selling - RETURNS. I don't mean the laborious picking of each book from the shop-floor, although I won't deny that there were times they seemed determined to hide from us. I mean the actual act of returning the books to the publisher. Each publisher was (and I assume still is) different - all had different requirements. Some (mainly the academic publishers) wanted the books returned as they were received - in mint condition if possible. I could deal with that. Others wanted simply the title page returned and a small number wanted the backs of the books sent back. That's right - either rip out the title page or rip off the back. The rest of the book was unimportant and was to be pulped. Unimportant. Not. Worth. Returning.
None of us enjoyed doing this - it felt like killing books.
Now, I could have authorised returns and arranged for the returns to be sent to me but I would have had to handle the expense of this myself and I just don't have the money to do that so as far as I was concerned the only way to deal with it was to say 'no returns'. Does this mean I've lost sales? Maybe. Does this mean that the bookshops aren't stocking my book? Yes. Will this be a decision that I live to regret? No. My daughter once described my book as my 'third baby' - I think I snorted and told her not to be ridiculous but she was right because it's precious to me and every time someone buys a copy I'm delighted that another one has found a home and a reader. It's the whole point of a book, isn't it? To be read, I mean.
Damn. Now I've guilt-tripped myself into hitting a bookshop and liberating some paperbacks!