Vanishing shelf space and self-promotion. (part 3)

I remember in the good old days (6 months ago) when authors on Verla Kay’s blue boards would fret when Borders and Barnes & Nobles didn’t pick up their books.

Why did they worry so much?

Because those major chains not picking up their books meant the slow and terrible death of their first and probably only print run. If a book wasn’t in the major chains, almost no one would see it, almost no one would buy it, which meant no one could read it and love it.

So let’s explore the diminishing shelf space at the bookstores that are left and then figure out what it means for authors and self promotion.

Here’s a quote from Joe Konrath from his post, One more nail in the coffin.

Now, we can debate the health of indie bookstores, and the two remaining chains, B&N and Books-A-Million, but pretty much every account I’ve read says that print sales are down and ebook sales are up. I’m confident the end result is the Big 6 publishing fewer books in print, which means fewer print sales, which is bad for the publisher/bookseller bottom line.

Here’s a quote from Bob Mayer from his post, eBooks as the new mass market paper back and don’t be a Buridan’s ass. (Don’t get caught in indecision.)

The big cloud I’m seeing on the horizon is the growing awareness in NY that they need to revise the way they view the eBook.  It’s not competition for their print sales, it’s part of their overall revenue stream.  I predict we will see a lot more books from the Big 6 priced under $5 in the coming months.  I think there will be more direct to eBook publishing, where the book might never even come out in print.

Kris Rusch in her post, Bookstore Observations comments on her experience at Barnes & Nobles.

To sum up, Kris talks about less books, less authors and less shelf space. I’m sure most of you don’t need to read about her experience to understand what’s happening to bookstores. But go ahead and read it anyway.

And one more by Anne R. Allen in her recent post, What will publishing look like in 2021.

Anne predicts that due to bookstores downsizing their inventory, print will be reduced to gift books, celebrity books, bibles, coffee table books, small children pop-ups, top selling superstar books. (Hopefully this is in the far future!)

I’m adding this link by historical romance author, Courtney Milan. An open letter to agents.

Courtney addresses agents in an open letter. Published authors and unpublished writers alike are talking. We’re looking for answers. Basically, agents need to show how they can make their top selling authors more money than self publishing. No publishing arm. No 15% commission for something we can do ourselves. It’s a must read.

Let’s circle back to the authors who used to worry about their books being in the big chains or not. I think today, authors will be lucky if their books stay in Barnes & Nobles longer than a few months, if it even makes it into the bookstore at all.

So sure, a book appearing in a bookstore would be wonderful – as writers isn’t that our dream? But I don’t think that’s what will make or break a career anymore. I’m not sure the biggest concern should be how to publish. (self pub vs traditional)

  • Writers need focus on producing a book that causes word of mouth grassroots sales, where bookstore sales would just be the icing on the cake.
  • Writers need to seriously think about their plans to market themselves and their books.

What do you think?

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37 Responses to Vanishing shelf space and self-promotion. (part 3)

  1. Sarah July 27, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I think you’re absolutely right that ebooks are the future. The key point, I believe, is exposure and marketing rather than print vs. electronic. An extremely well-researched post, Laura!

  2. Ansha Kotyk July 27, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Marketing is definitely where it’s at. Great books can’t sell themselves if no one knows they exist. At the same time a good book can fly off the shelves if marketed to the right audience.
    Now more than ever writers need to understand marketing technique and run with it.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am #

      Of course it goes without saying that the best marketing is a great book. 🙂

  3. Emy Shin July 27, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    This is absolutely right, Laura. Marketing — especially self-promotion — is becoming increasingly important. I do wonder, though, with every author pouring their efforts into self-promotion, if there’ll be a saturation point where only the best promoters sell while others languish. The equivalent of bookstore’s front space.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      Emy – great point. Promotion doesn’t mean a guarantee of success. We first have to have a great book! And I’m a firm believer of writing the next book is the best promotion. 🙂

  4. Heather Sunseri July 27, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I was in a B&N last week that was bare. They had removed shelves creating a lot of open space. I think it’s because they were carrying so many fewer books. Three of the books I was looking for were not in stock. I was very, very sad b/c I don’t like to read nonfiction on kindle. I like to highlight and write in the margins (it’s not the same on kindle).

    Things are changing constantly. We need to be ready.

  5. Stina Lindenblatt July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    Maybe I’m naive, but I think the availability of ebooks is great (for me). I’m still buying traditionally published books (techinically, I’m only buying traditionally published books). But now I don’t have to rely on them being available in the store. I can just purchase them from KOBO. (Too bad I still love the feel of the real thing.)

    This, of course, means I have to know the book exists, which means the author has to promote the book. As a blogging reader, I have no problem with this. I find out about all the great reads through blogs. But what about the non-blogging reader? How else are they going to figure out what’s out there if they can’t peruse the bookshelves. It’s not so easy doing this online.

  6. Louise July 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I’ve always been a big fan of entrepreneurial endeavors and grassroots movements – something to do with growing up in a small community, I’m sure, and also with helping my sister operate her small silver jewelry business for years, where all our sales were done at local farmers’ markets and craft fairs. I actually think it’s kind of exciting that writers are now getting this sort of opportunity with publishing, where before it was so narrow and limited. I’m not jumping off the traditional publishing bandwagon quite yet, but as I shape my novels into something readable, I am watching all these changes with great anticipation of what’s to come.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Stina – This is my biggest concern. If less and less books will be in the bookstores and not for very long, how will the average reader know about them? Yes, as blogging writers, we are aware of the great books coming out. That’s why I think more and more it will be grassroots, unless you’re a big name. I definitely have my concerns. I can see a world where publishers offer publishing direct to eBooks, unless you sell big, and they have online sites where their books are offered? Or in the future I see Amazon having two tiers and the published and the self published aren’t allowed to mix anymore. I hope it doesn’t come to that though.

  7. Donna K. Weaver July 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Great post, as always, Laura. I’ve got a discussion going on my blog today about the pros and cons of self-publishing. Your post is more food for fodder. Thanks.

  8. christine danek July 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    This kind of scares and excites me, mainly because so much is changing, and I’m still working my way to getting published, that I don’t know what to expect.
    I will check out the links you posted. Thanks for the info.

  9. Susan Kaye Quinn July 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Laura, as usual, you are brilliant and spot-on. That open letter … I read it twice and am still absorbing.

    Re: Stina’s comment about how people will find books. I love browsing bookstores. Seriously will drag my husband (a non-reader) on a date night to browse a bookstore. But even I don’t browse bookstores anymore. Most books I hear about through word-of-mouth, which can largely be blogging, but also FB and just friends that I see toting around a book. “What are you reading?” Word of mouth is key, and it’s not contained by medium.

  10. Tina Lee July 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    As far as the average reader finding books, I kind of picture it heading towards recommendation based on other things people buy. I always look at what Amazon recommends for me and I can read first chapters on my kindle. I also pay attention to Goodreads reviews. It is going to be a Netflix type world where we see and choose everything thing from surfing for it online and hearing about its associations with other books.

    That is where the blogging community is going to be very important. It all comes back to word of mouth and having a product(book) that is good enough to garner the word of mouth. And good enough will mean all the different attributes that get a book read, from the vibe of the book to the actual writing of the book. The bloggers will become the gate keepers. The books will most likely get tried by us all but if they don’t make the cut they will not get the secondary buzz that will help the book find the average reader.

    Thanks for the post, Laura. Great discussion as always.

  11. amie borst July 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    great post laura. the industry is changing and it poses some real concerns as well as opportunities for emerging authors. it will be interesting to see what happens in a few years.

  12. Lisa Green July 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    I think ultimately it won’t be a bad thing even for publishers. Look at how much it costs to produce a print book vs. an e-book. As a publisher, wouldn’t you be more willing to take a chance on a debut author if the monetary investment wasn’t as high? Just another thought.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

      LIsa – great point. My question is how will the exposure differ from someone who is self published and making more per book? How will publishers promote their ebook only authors? The advantage used to be that they’d be in bookstores. What will be the advantage? Other than the rep of the publisher and I’m not sure readers care about that. I’m still thinking about it. All we can do is take it day by day and hang on for the ride.

  13. Dean K Miller July 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    This is such a live wire right now, and one I am watching….though by the time I get ready to approach someone, we may be back to drawing on cave walls, which means another revision.

    Enjoyed this post. Everything changes, some things adapt, others die.

  14. Elle Strauss July 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I started writing my blog a little under two years ago and I can’t believe how much publishing has changed in that time. I feel like I’m holding on to a fast moving train from an outside rail. Like you, I’m following the changes closely and trying to keep up.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Elle – Things have changed a lot even in the past six months. It floors me. But it’s exciting too.

  15. becca puglisi July 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Wow. That Kris Rusch post was really interesting. I haven’t bought a book at a bookstore in…years, I guess. The last time I was in an actual bookstore was for a presentation by my niece’s class. I buy all my books, print and e-book, on Amazon because it’s just so much more affordable and convenient. Now I want to go to B&N and see what’s happening in there.

    Laura, thank you so much for compiling all of this awesome information. It’s so important right now to stay on top of this and it’s hard to keep up with it all. So thanks!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  16. Bob Mayer July 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Thanks for the mention and my take is that it’s a great time to be an author if you have choices; ie some or all of your rights. If you are tied up with publisher for all your backlist and for new books, and aren’t a brand author, perhaps not so great a time as there is less shelf space and traditional publishers are far behind the power curve on eBooks.
    It will all shake out and the educated author who writes good books will survive.

  17. Anita Miller July 27, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    I wish we didn’t have to think about this stuff at all, so we could just write, but there you have it. I’m epubbing three MGs while I write a YA that I absolutely love (is it okay to say you love your own work?) and then I’ll evaluate sales on the MGs, see if it would be better for me to query the YA or pub it myself. Things are changing fast…hard to make predictions.

  18. Leslie Rose July 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    I still believe there is visceral magic in holding a book that you can feel when you walk in a bookstore. As a teacher, I feel an actual book is a vital tool to teaching lit. I realize the future is all the kids having a tablet and e-reading and notating by clicking on a highlight, but that makes me sad. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen thirty 10 year olds with their feet up on their desk turning the pages of TUCK EVERLASTING and forgetting about the rest of the world.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

      Anita – My impression is that YA does a bit better than MG in sales but MG might catch up soon. I wish you a lot of success!

      leslie – I agree with you. I’d love to go back to packed bookstores with midlists blooming. I love books. But as a writer, I also need to adapt and change with the industry.

  19. Ava Jae July 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    I was thinking quite a bit about this when wandering the shelves of the liquidating Borders nearby. Less shelf space is going to have to make quite an impact.

    It all seems to point more and more towards e-books. I’m not entirely sure the full effect, but one thing is for sure: bookstores will be much more selective. And they have to be in order to survive.

    Great post Laura! It’s certainly a lot to think about.

  20. Laura Josephsen July 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Word-of-mouth is SO huge. I think all of the books I’ve read in recent times have been because of word-of-mouth.

  21. Lydia K July 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    This is great fodder for discussion. My question is, if there is less shelf space and less authors and publisher so unwilling to take on new authors, then why are writers killing themselves over trying to find agents?

    I think the new paradigm is going to be a giant wave of writers self-publishing; the quality writing/word-of-mouth will pull the cream of the crop to the top of the pile; and the agents/publishers will find their sure things that way.

    My .02.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

      Lydia – Great points! People still tell me to try traditional first, so I’m still undecided. My biggest concern is the combination of less space in bookstores and the loss of erights – forever! So when it goes out of print, I can’t self publish to earn money. And right now, the big publishers are giving very low profit per ebook to the author. Yet, I would still have to do most of the marketing – for pennies!

  22. Margo Berendsen July 28, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    A great collection of links. More good stuff to think about. I worry for our local Indie bookstore, I sure hope it survives.

  23. Stacy July 28, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    It’s funny you posted this today, Laura. My mom and I were just talking how part of the appeal of traditional publishing is holding your own book in your hands. That’s something we’ve all dreamt of.

    But realistically, it’s becoming less likely, and I’m actually okay with that. If I still choose to go traditional, there are digital publishing houses out there that provide many of the same services as the traditional big six, but without the overhead of print copy. And some of these don’t require an agent. Of course, that aspect has pros and cons of its own.

    After bringing up the self-publishing issue on my blog yesterday, I realize now that if I self-publish, I need to have several books ready to go, and I’m not there yet. Just one more thing to consider in the murky equation.

  24. Leigh Moore July 28, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    I guess I’m thinking now that Borders is gone, and only B&N is left as a big-box retailer, Amazon and ebooks are becoming more and more a force to be reckoned with… and to think about for us authors. Interesting times~ :o) <3

  25. LynNerd July 28, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    Thanks, Laura, for this post. I don’t know how you’re keeping tabs on all of this, but I’m sure glad you’re sharing it with us. I’m going to read those links now.

  26. Traci Kenworth July 28, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I think e-books are the new wave of the future but I truly will miss holding a book in my hands, and all the promise held inside the pages. Not that I think e-books aren’t just as exciting, there’s just something about the feel of a book you’re about to read. I read the other day, it’s believed hard books will vanish and the paperback survive at cheaper prices to compete with e-books. I have a feeling that’s true. But it’s all good: I’ll read a book by an author I like on or/and off line.

    • Laura July 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

      Traci – I agree. I love books. Even if they are hard to store when you have too many of them! I can’t bring my ereader on vacation b/c of sand, water, food, and kids!

  27. Karen Strong July 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the links Laura. Very informative.

    Life as we knew in publishing is definitely gone. What’s in store for the future is really unknown though.

    The good news is that people will always be looking for stories so writers will still be needed but the bigger question is how these writers will “break” in.

    This scares a lot of writers for sure — because it IS so unknown but I think writers in the long run may have more of an advantage in the future if managed properly. The well-told story will be heard — if released under the “right” circumstances.

    Instead of the publisher determining what’s hot — with their big bucks promotion and access to shelf space — it will be mostly grassroots — which can be good and bad for the writer depending on how that’s handled.

    Self-promotion is definitely in a writer’s future. For sure.

  28. Stephanie Faris July 29, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    Honestly, eBooks have leveled the playing field a lot. I am more likely to buy a book because people are recommending it on their blogs…and I’m most likely to get it from Amazon if I am going to buy it (and not check it out at the library). Of course, the books that get the most buzz ARE the ones put out by major publishers…so it’s still the same, but shelf space at bookstores no longer seems to matter at all. Strange how quickly that changed!

  29. Marcia July 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Trying hard to keep up with all this and my head’s kind of spinning.

    I agree with both your points. I’ve never been much of a grapevine or grass-roots person, so it’ll be interesting. I do get most book recs online…but I also like far less of what I’m picking up than ever before. I thought it was me, and the fact that I read like a writer, but I’m beginning to wonder if the word-of-mouth system isn’t working for me.

    I still believe an awful lot of wannabes are going to throw an awful lot of half-baked stuff out there, and as a consumer I’m not interested in rifling through the slush pile. I think review blogs will spring up, a few biggie blogs will rise to the top, and that the way we “make it” in the future might be to score a review with a prestigious review blog. For sure the emphasis has to remain on learning craft and writing the best book you can; many who fall by the wayside will put the emphasis on marketing instead. When the #1 importance of writing an excellent book changes — then stop the world, I want to get off.

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