On book returns & book tours

By Midge Raymond,

Most people outside of publishing don’t know anything about the concept of book returns, but for those of us in the industry, it’s a constant topic of conversation. Either we’re bemoaning the number of books that are returned (usually not in salable condition), or we’re wondering whether we’re missing opportunities by not allowing returns.

So, what does the term “returns” actually mean in publishing?

Thanks to a Depression-era tradition that encouraged booksellers to take books on credit and return any unsold copies, books can still be returned to publishers by booksellers, unlike nearly every other consumer product out there. Despite the fact that we’re no longer in the midst of the Great Depression, the tradition continues. For the booksellers, it means they can take a chance on books without having to sell them; if they don’t sell, they can simply return the books and not have to pay for them.

For publishers, particularly small presses, it’s a bit more complicated. While the Big Five publishers are better able to absorb the losses incurred by book returns, it’s not as easy for the little guys. Publishers are expected to cover the return shipping, and books often arrive in damaged, unsalable condition, which means not only a tremendous amount of waste but losses for both publisher and author. It’s especially difficult for small presses to stay in business with such losses, which is why so many small presses (like us) can’t afford to take returns.

Yet we’ve found ways to work with both authors and booksellers to make sure that our titles are visible and available to readers. Sometimes it means offering free shipping; sometimes it means asking authors to take extra copies because the bookseller prefers to under-order; sometimes it means selling our books to bookstores one book at a time. While most booksellers initially do balk at the idea of no returns, we’ve found that many are also happily willing to work within our parameters to support the authors in their communities.

As more authors publish with small presses (as well as self-publish), there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to bookstore events. After all, the goal for both author and bookseller is to sell out — so whether you’re with a small press, a Big Five publisher, or self-published, these are good tips for authors to keep in mind.

  • Work with indie bookstores to gauge the number of books you’ll need for an event. Ask the events manager to collect names for a free registration, and sent out e-invitations with RSVPs so that the bookseller can try to order just the right amount (studies have shown that one in four attendees buy books at author events). Always bring extras of your own in case.
  • Promote your event! Many authors are under the mistaken notion that it’s a bookstore’s job to bring in the crowds — yet many booksellers don’t do as much promotion as a new author may need (also, they can simply return any unsold stock without losing a penny). So if you want to avoid returns — and especially if you want to avoid facing an empty room — be sure to go the extra mile to promote the event: in addition to alerting friends and family and sharing it on all your social networks, send announcements to local media, get your event into community calendar listings, create a flyer that the bookstore can post — and most important, ask the bookstore how you can work with them to make the event as big and successful as possible.
  • Hold your events in cities in which you’re confident you can draw a crowd, either via friends, family, and colleagues or by the topic of your presentation.
  • If the bookseller over-orders your book, offer to sign them and ask if the store will hold onto those extra copies and work on selling them rather than packing them up and shipping them back the next day (which is often exactly what happens). If your publisher doesn’t take returns, you can buy back the books at the publisher’s discount and sell them at another event.

Managing returns is helpful for everyone involved — not only does it behoove authors and publishers, but it limits the vast amount of waste in publishing (the carbon footprint involved in shipping books back and forth, the destroying of unsalable copies) is good for the planet, and it’s worth everyone’s time in the long run.

Your Author Website: Build or Rent?

By John Yunker,

Your author website is your virtual home on the Internet.

Every author should have one, even if you also have homes on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

That’s because you need a home that is truly your own. A home that Google can index and make easily findable. A home that you control separate from platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

You might be thinking: “But Facebook makes it so easy to make yourself at home! Why bother with a website?”

It’s not an easy question to answer because so much depends on the author. The path you take is going to be largely determined by the following:

  • Your technical ability (or desire to learn)
  • Your budget
  • Your desire to go beyond website templates to create a completely customized author website

With these criteria in mind, I find that there are two general paths one can take regarding their website: Building vs. Renting.

Building a custom home (website)

When you build your home, you will probably need to hire an architect (web designer) to create the home according to your needs. The designer can often also host your website and manage it on an ongoing basis, charging an ongoing fee. This is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed, particularly if you have no technical ability and no desire to bother with web pages and HTML code. But you also need a budget — some web designers will charge $3,000 to $5,000 to create a website. And you’ll also need to pay an hourly rate for text changes down the road. If you want to have your own blog, for example, you will need to think about whether or not you want to pay someone to do this for you instead of you learning how to use WordPress and doing it yourself (it’s not as difficult as it may seem).

What does a custom website look like? Check out this one.

I should stress that even custom websites are often built on standard templates or design frameworks. So a web designer is still often using an underlying template, even though you may not notice it.

Renting a semi-customized home (website)

Now let’s say you don’t want to spend a lot of money. I first urge you to see what’s available for you to use cheaply. You would rely on a web hosting company that provides a template for you to use. You might want to check out:

SquareSpace
SquareSpace offers templates. Here is one that I think can work as an author website. You can start a free trail with no credit card.

Wix
You can create a free account on Wix as well — I’m not a huge fan of the templates.

My advice, whichever way you go:

  • Use photos selectively. Keep the focus on text; photos can add to download times.
  • Make sure the design is “responsive” — so it will adapt to mobile phone screens easily.
  • You’ll probably want a blog included, so you can easily add “news/events.” You could even have your news/event links simply go to the blog. This is a big question: How active do you want to update the site?
  • Finally, if you hire a designer, make sure it’s “work for hire.” You want to own that website so you’re able to update it, change it, etc. Designers sometimes will charge quite a lot for minimal updates or changes.

ACP is headed to New Zealand and Australia

By John Yunker,

We’re excited to once again be headed Down Under to meet with authors and readers.

We have two events planned that all are welcome to attend:

 

Christchurch, New Zealand

Writing about Animals: Literature’s evolving relationship with the animal kingdom

November 10th, 3 to 5pm

At the University of Canterbury

New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies

Engineering Core Lecture Theatre, Building E12

 

Perth, Australia

Sunday Session

November 26, 4 to 5:30 pm

At the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre

 

If you have any questions or would like to meet us along the way, please contact us.

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor JoeAnn Hart

By Midge Raymond,

Many thanks to JoeAnn Hart for sharing her insights on the writing of “It Won’t Be Long Now,” included in Among Animals 2

joeann_hart_200

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I was driving along a highway and saw a black plastic trash bag in the middle of the road that must have blown out of a truck. Before I realized it was just more trash in the wrong place, my first thought was, What is a seal doing so far from shore? So the story that came out of this moment was “It Won’t Be Long Now,” where a seal is washed onshore in an estuary, far from where it should be.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: I started with the image of the washed up seal, and a woman seeing it from a window in her house, thinking at first it was a black plastic bag. While originally I thought I might write the story as magical realism, where the seal was found hundreds of miles from water, it evolved into a piece of realism. I wanted the reader to understand the problems that real-life sea mammals have with plastic debris in the oceans, since the seal is where it is because it is all wrapped up in fishing line, dying. At that point, I had to do a little research on harbor seals. Even though it is fiction, you can’t play fast and loose with science. To seem real on the page, it has to be real with the facts.

Q: Which writers inspire you?

A: For non-fiction, I’d like to write as beautifully as Annie Dillard and as smart as Rebecca Solnit, both of whom do a better job with the natural world than almost anybody else. For fictional inspiration I return to Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Q: The story involves a sick child who must limit her access to the outdoors. How does this need to distance herself from nature affect her?

A: We are all so distanced from nature these days, to our detriment if not our lives. Children, especially, need to have hands-on experience with the outdoors or they won’t know what there is to lose. The child in the story yearns for animals, but she knows them only through stuffed toys. When the seal arrives in her backyard her mom won’t even let her stay to observe it for fear of an asthma attack. She is literally allergic to the outdoors. She’s sent to the mall with her grandparents, but that comes with its own health risks. There’s no escaping what we do to the environment.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

A: I want people to think before they throw anything away, since it all goes downstream and into the oceans, where even something as thin as filament becomes a lethal weapon to sea mammals. Any damage to the ocean is damage to us.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I’ve been working on a full-length play about hoarding with strong environmental themes.

Q: How familiar are you with harbor seals?

A: In the winter, all sorts of seals hang out in Gloucester’s harbor (they summer in Maine). I see them on my walk and call to them as they sun themselves on the rocks. They always look. They probably think I’m crazy.

amonganimals2

On typewriters, technology, and keeping up with the times (or not)

By John Yunker,

Our General Manager, by nature of living in a household full of them, is well aware of what a typewriter is.

But there is a whole generation of humans out there who have absolutely no reference point for these ancient devices.

They simply did not grow up with them. This was especially evident at the Wordstock book festival, where we had a typewriter on display — children under ten years old stared at it in wonder. Most of them had to ask what it was.

For context, I remind myself of what I thought when I first saw a telegraph. I wondered: People actually used this thing to communicate?

Which leads me to one of the core challenges of writing literature these days.

With technology changing so quickly, you can have a novel you began three years ago suddenly feel dated by the time you complete it — not to mention by the time you get it published. If your novel has a land line and an answering machine in it, it’s going to feel like a period piece. If one of your characters doesn’t have a cell phone or doesn’t text, the character will need to be of a certain generation, or you’ll have to explain why he or she is so technologically behind.

It’s not just about cell phones or texting.

What about tablets? Instagram? And, God help us, Facebook?

It’s getting more and more challenging to write contemporary novels that remain contemporary for a few years after they’re published.

But then again, what’s so bad about period pieces? Not to mention the fun you can have with characters who buck the trends — those without cell phones, those who have never been on Facebook. I admire these people in real life — the ability to remain disconnected.

Which means, I suppose, that though I have the cell phone and the Facebook account, I’m a typewriter person at heart.

PS: For all you other typewriter people, check out our notecards. If you’re a writer and a typewriter person, check out our special holiday bundle.