The author next door: Stocking self-published books
Kelsey Oldham talks to booksellers about stocking self-published books.
Most Australian bookshops acknowledge that stocking self-published books is important—in theory. In practice, however, store policies are often opaque or ad-hoc, and whether or not a book is stocked is dependent on a number of factors that can vary wildly from author to author—including design, subject matter and price. Unfortunately, despite best intentions, a lot of the time self-published titles have trouble moving for a number of reasons, including a lack of publicity and marketing support. However, both inner-city and regional booksellers seem to be having success with a particular kind of self-published book—those by local authors.
Melbourne’s Brunswick Bound has a strong focus on local self-published authors, as does Collins Booksellers in Thirroul, New South Wales. National franchise Dymocks is also committed to supporting Australian authors. However, Dymocks acknowledges that the logistics around national coverage are difficult to organise when it comes to self-published books. The solution to this, according to Dymocks general manager Sophie Higgins, is for authors to approach their local shops first. ‘When a self-published author is already stocked in a local Dymocks store they can then show success and early sales, which is helpful in making decisions about stocking more broadly,’ says Higgins.
Both Brunswick Bound and Collins Thirroul prefer to stock local self-published authors over non-local self-published titles. ‘Being local is the selling point for us,’ says Collins Thirroul owner Amanda Isler. ‘We find it difficult to say no to a local, and we are slower to take up books from elsewhere.’ Brunswick Bound’s Megan O’Brien adds that being a member of the community means that local authors are in a unique position to promote their books. ‘[Local authors] have participated in not only reading at but also attending and promoting our events through their networks,’ says O’Brien. ‘In many cases, this support has been invaluable.’
In Brunswick, local authors are backed by both their bookshop and the community. ‘We try to support local writers as much as possible, including hosting a monthly event series that highlights local authors, promotion of local authors books via our window and social media, and by stocking self-published books by our local authors,’ says O’Brien. She notes that although stocking self-published and locally produced books is more work for the shop than ordering stock through traditional channels, ‘We have had some great success with our local authors of self-published books and have formed some wonderful partnerships with many of them.’
A common piece of advice for self-published authors is to try their luck by cold-calling. However, for bookshops such as Collins Thirroul this is actually not ideal. ‘I have found it frustrating in the past when authors arrive unannounced and often ignore the fact that the store and/or manager is busy,’ says Isler. ‘One tip for authors is to ask if the store has time to speak, introduce themselves and say that they would like to send an email or pop in [to chat] about their book.’ O’Brien echoes Isler’s point—an author who is already a familiar face in a shop is already at an advantage. ‘If I were to advise a self-published author about how to approach their local bookshop, the first thing I would advise them is to ask themselves if they are already a member of their bookshop’s community.’
This feature story first appeared in Issue 1 2019 of Books+Publishing magazine, your inside view to the Australian and New Zealand book industry, celebrating 100 years in 2021.