“Hi, I used to rob bookstores.”

Even with that opener, some indie authors have it worse than I do.

Mr. ConsequencesI get a lot of questions about what it’s been like to bring my story to market. I hear a lot of gripes from writers about agents, the traditional publishing industry, and whether or not the stigma of self publishing has decreased with our digital all-access passes.

Being congratulated on publishing a book is cool, though what I hear is, “Congratulations on not being a talker” and “Congratulations on learning what follow-through means.” You see, having come as far as just getting the thing out there is a big deal for me, because for too many years I was incapable of establishing and maintaining a relationship with delayed gratification. Today, I feel it’s important to be a resource for other aspiring authors who are navigating the many choices, pitfalls, and publishing models now available. The following opinions are based on my experience. To some in publishing, they’ll probably show what little I know about the very journey I’m on, but others may find ’em helpful.

Highrise Press_Where Excuses Go to DieWhen it comes to engaging with bookstores and bookstore owners, I couldn’t be more grateful to have a distribution deal through my publisher, Highrise Press. It’s been 60 days since the official launch of Where Excuses Go to Die, and one of my self-marketing duties is to engage local book buyers with regards to purchase and placement. Reactions range from aloof to wary, and from lively to indifferent. But certain choices made along the way have resulted in an advantage I didn’t anticipate, based on the fact that most folks still differentiate between self published authors and those published traditionally.

My book isn’t self-published, nor is it print-on-demand or co-op published. It’s just “published.” Its jacket was designed by a book cover design firm, its layout assembled by an interior page designer. The content has been edited professionally. Most importantly, my book’s title and ISBN can be found in every bookstore ordering system in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Revolution-is-IndividualI hadn’t realized how critical it would be to also sign with a warehousing and fulfillment distributor. As it turns out, that fact matters a good deal to bookstores. As someone who’s now managed to talk his book onto the shelves of several prominent ones, I’ve witnessed first hand what appears to be a lack of employee interest in fanning the flames of the independent spirit.

I’m referring to the coldness that many self published authors experience while seeking relationships with merchants. Writers hit enough walls as it is, so it’s unfortunate when they reach the bookstore stage, having achieved the dream of a retail paperback, and the digital revolution’s fist-in-the-air hospitality suddenly becomes indistinguishable from the aggrandized barriers of traditional publishing. Or does it?

BOOKSTORE PLACEMENT IS NOT GUARANTEED_Where Excuses Go to DieIf your book can’t be ordered through the publishing industry’s primary fulfillment channels (e.g., Baker & Taylor, Ingram), you’ll be pitching a consignment arrangement. And when you call a bookstore to get that dialogue going, chances are you’ll detect the indifference in the employee’s voice as he or she describes the consolation prize that is the store’s consignment program. To hear some aspiring authors tell it, this is the wanna-be shelf where your self published novel will sit for a month before they call you to come and retrieve the unsold copies. It’s a glass-is-half-empty response that can come off like sour grapes without a little foresight. But such scenarios can be prevented in the first place by due diligence, vision, and patience.

Sure, books sold on consignment can seem segregated from the others, and as a result they may not be as likely to fly off the shelves. Nevertheless, having a consignment deal with store owners means the difference between having your title on bookstore shelves and a box of ’em in your trunk. Do your research. No author wants to be the guy who shows up at social events trying to sell books out of his car. Yet that’s how self publishing has typically been looked at by the establishment, and it’s something I thought the digital revolution would mitigate. That’s happened to some degree, but the fact that you can hear this lingering stigma in the voices of store employees can be a letdown for someone who’s worked so hard:

“You’ll have to call back on Tuesday to speak with the buyer. If your book is accepted for placement, it’ll be a 60-40 split between you and the store. Unsold copies will need to get picked up after four weeks. Don’t send a sample; we get 20 a day.”

On the other hand, it’s up to the self published author to both accept and work with the reception he or she gets, based on solid footwork and research; I can only share the choices I made and how they’ve helped or hindered. It’s not a bookstore employee’s fault if a sore loser gets resentful that his print-on-demand crime novel has no retail credibility.

GOAL POSTThere’s no conspiracy here: Too many aspiring authors confuse the popularity of self publishing with a general consensus that traditions are less relevant. Bookstore employees are inundated daily with writers and diary-keepers who act like shelf space is owed to their vanity press paperbacks.

Having a genuine distribution deal gives you a different approach. It allows you to play dumb and ask if, by chance, the store has already ordered your book. As soon as they hear the word “order,” the monotone disappears. “Oh, you’re distributed. So your published-published,” said one  surprised young lady. “I’m sorry. Let me check the computer. Yep, there it is – it hasn’t been ordered yet, but all you need to do is…”

In contrast, one self published author friend recently pouted, “On what mountaintop do these minimum-wage clock-watchers imagine they’re sitting – and from behind a cash register?” I replied, “Hey, at least you’re not opening with, ‘I used to rob bookstores.'”

From where I sit, the faster store owners or employees can find your book’s info on the screen in front of them, the better. Shelf placement becomes a 1,2,3 procedure, and from there discussions of in-store signings and other events can follow. Except for the quality of the book a customer will hold in his or her hands, little else, apparently, matters.

Augustus F. Hawkins High School_Los Angeles CA_Where Excuses Go to Die
A bookshelf more important, for the most important readers: Today, 11/20/2013, was day one of a year-end, semester-closing lesson plan created around Where Excuses Go to Die, for 30 students at Augustus Hawkins High School. When the teacher and students have completed the classroom questions at the back of the book, I’ll be there for a Q&A. It’s a small high school in South L.A. the rest of the world doesn’t care about, but that faculty’s trust is the closest I’ll ever get to carrying the Olympic Torch.