Ever since I started writing ten years ago I’ve imagined my stories in bookshops: entire shelves dedicated to my books, with exciting displays in the windows of Waterstones or little notes attached to them saying ‘Highly Recommended’. But it is incredibly difficult for independent writers/publishers to have their books stocked in shops. Even if you produce a high quality product, which book buyers think will sell, as Electrik Inc has with St Viper’s School for Super Villains, there is still the issue of distribution. All the chain retailers and many of the independent bookshops like to buy from wholesalers and want books ‘sale or return’. Wholesalers ask for a whopping 55-60% reduction on the list price, which enables them to pass a fair discount onto the retailers. I understand everyone has to make money and I’m sure they do a brilliant job, but for an individual or a small publisher with a high print cost (a short print run is far more expensive), the financial figures don’t add up. Plus the real sting in the tail is that if the book fails to sell or gets a bit dog-eared and is returned, the printer and the wholesaler still have to be paid. In this case, by me.
I have been putting on a brave face. ‘The ebook for St Viper’s is going to look brilliant,’ I say. ‘Buying books on-line is so easy.’ But secretly I have been feeling glum about not having my book in bookshops. So, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and did something about it. I visited Kathleen, the children’s book buyer at Topping & Co Booksellers of Bath, who was really supportive. She gave St Viper’s to her eight-year-old son who “absolutely devoured it” and, as a result, has offered to launch and stock the book. Next I visited Harry Wainwright, the owner of Oldfield Park Bookshop. He offered to stock the book too. Harry was unbelievably generous with his time and gave me lots of valuable advice on marketing. He reminded me of the line from Harry Potter: “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” He said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask the book industry for help. I took his advice and went straight to Waterstones to see my friend John Lloyd. And he also came up with a possible local solution.
It looks like my fantasy will become reality. St Viper’s will be sold in local bookshops. But as Harry Wainwright said, ‘This is a pilot study to see if there is a market for your book. At some point soon you will have to take it to a national level. That requires a leap of faith.’ I walked home thinking about the challenges that lie ahead: funding large print runs (to bring the unit cost down), warehousing and distributing books, PR and sales on a countrywide scale and how to manage financial risk. For a moment I felt worried, but then I remembered that it’s okay to ask for help.
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