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Indie Authors Making Retail Sales

Boston Author Event

According to recently released data from Bowker’s, shopping at big box retailers have fallen from 31.5% to 18.7% while online retailer share increased from 25.1% to 43.8%. Independent booksellers are regularly bemoaning the state of the industry accusing Amazon of trying to crush them, even so far as filing a lawsuit against Amazon’s “open source DRM”.

But on March 16, 2013, over 1300 readers stood in line for 3 hours in the near freezing temperatures to buy a book from one of 30 authors, all of whom started out self publishing. The Boston Author Event was held at the august Omni Parker House and was organized by three avid bloggers with help from the attending authors.

The authors foot the bill for the hotel conference room, the table to sign on, and their Createspace books to sell and the swag that they gave away. Three authors who had traditional publishing deals sold books at a different table, facilitated by a bookstore.

1300 readers. 30 authors. Thousands of books sold. 1 bookseller selling only three authors’ books.

There are more author signings scheduled for 2013 at hotels in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. A large author signing event is taking place in Orlando organized by popular blogger Maryse.net. The Book Bash started with about 10 authors and has mushroomed to over 70.

What’s the connection?

Most of these authors are indie authors who are signing books that are becoming collectors’ items for readers says Jillian Dodd, the That Boy and Keatyn Chronicles series.

Signed paperbacks are almost becoming a collector’s item. I’d say close to 100% of the people who I signed books for have already read the stories on their kindle. It’s really more about interacting with our fans. Most successful indie authors are very active on social media with their fans. These book signings are an extension of that.

These New Adult/Young Adult self published authors are digital book sellers first. Colleen Hoover earned a spot at the #1 slot of the NYTimes bestseller list with her self published book “Hopeless” and is one of four indie authors who have sold over a million kindle copies. She saw great success with her first two self published books “Slammed” and “Point of Retreat”. Those two books were acquired by Atria but when Hoover turned down a substantial offer from Atria for her third book “Hopeless”. Hoover is not in search of a publisher and hooking up with booksellers are the last thing on her mind. Hoover is using the tools Amazon (and to a lesser extent Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble) is providing and her own social media presence to connect directly with the reading public.

It is one reason why the constant mislabeling of the New Adult genre and the dismissive attitude toward what these authors are doing in the mainstream press doesn’t bother Hoover. “As long as my books are out there and available, I’m happy,” says Hoover.

Dodd explains that the print book sales at the event are not designed to make the author money, although it can help to ameliorate travel costs. The book signings that are taking place require the author to pay for the signing location, the signing table, pre-purchase books and ship them to the event, buy swag, and fund travel expenses. No publisher is is paying or organizing these book tours. This is all coming out of the author’s pocket. However, even the small markup from the print books can help to alleviate these costs. Authors report selling around 200 copies per book signing, some at the site and many others pre-orders. These numbers vary per author.

Indie authors are often turned away for booksignings at Barnes & Noble and local independent bookstores. Left without a traditional location, these indie authors have combined forces to bring their books directly to the reader. Hoover had her first signing with 14 other authors, all indie, and over 400 readers showed up.

A long time ago, Berkley asked me if I would do two book events in 2013, one with Julie James and one with Nalini Singh, both in Chicago. I agreed. The event with Julie James was originally to be held at a bookstore but now it will be at the Lady Jane Salon in Naperville which is held at a Le Chocolat du Bouchard (we’ll be there April 2). Instead of a bookstore, we are going to be at a chocolate house. Not that I don’t love chocolate and don’t agree that there is a symbiotic relationship between reading and sweets, but does this make any financial sense for bookstores?

With the success of the John Green Carnegie Hall event and the ongoing success of the indie author book signings, it is clear that there is an appetite for physical contact beyond the digital confines of a book. But right now, it is the authors and readers who are driving that and booksellers are being left out in the cold.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

6 Comments

  1. Ellen
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 10:51:56

    My 13-y-o daughter is in what my husband calls “The Cult of John Green.” With her own money (granted, she is not digging ditches for it), she has two copies of The Fault in Our Stars, one Kindle and one hardback that she bought to do marginalia in. She has at least one version of every one of his books, even if it is an anthology with other authors. She has the B&N t-shirt. She is debating getting the B&N limited edition. If she gets it, she will again read it and do more marginalia. The only thing stopping her from getting it is she thinks it looks too obsessive.
    She has gotten his autographed posters for donating to charity. She watched the Carnegie streaming live and then again often. She watches any vlog he or his brother Hank has a hand in, has recommended, or appears in.
    Lizzie Bennett Diaries is a topic of discussion/texting/emoting on a daily basis between my daughter and her friends. They have all read P&P based on their love of LBD. For the most part, they are now rabid Jane Austen fans. I see nothing negative in this. My daughter, again, her own money, bought the P.D. James Death Comes to Pemberly novel just to continue her relationship with these characters.

    These authors know how to get the audience to their message. If the bookstores don’t tap into this awareness, they will be shuttering their doors and the generations after this one won’t miss them. They can sell their books and others’ books with very little effort other than just being themselves and welcoming others to join them in their love of literature.

  2. Darlynne
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 11:32:48

    It appears that the lack of vision exhibited by publishers extends to most bookstores. They would rather have another Harry Potter handed to them (kind of like printing money as a programmer in the days before Y2K–you just had to be smart enough to answer the phone) than take the time and think smaller-but-deeper. No, they’ll sue to stop competition instead of innovating. Oi.

    I can say this, I was a bookseller, and we worked our asses off for small, local authors back in the day.

    Props to the Boston Author Event. If anyone knows about plans for San Francisco, I would be thrilled to attend.

  3. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 11:58:38

    Thanks for the great information Jane.
    These types of author road trip/promos could be as lucrative for indie authors in terms of building a fanbase as it has been proven to be for some musicians. One can only hope that a few publishers won’t be as slow to recognize where this can work in their favor, especially with more major pubs signing indie authors. At least going half on the expenses of these events couldn’t hurt. Hopefully some of the more established indie writers can include those lesser known, and possibly multicultural authors will also get their chance this way.

  4. cleo
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 12:20:35

    Interesting article. Where’s the Nalini Singh event? I’d love to see her.

  5. Jane
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 12:22:25

    @cleo: I hope in Chicago. That’s what I signed up for!

  6. cleo
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 13:02:40

    @Jane: Hah. I was hoping for more details, but I can wait.

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