1/19/09

The Dead Zone for LDS Books

Hi, uhm. It's me. Still living. My work schedule has been changed so many times over the past few weeks. Gah! Makes it hard to schedule time to do other things. I will probably remain hit and miss here through the end of the month but I'm starting to get things straightened out a bit. I think.

Anyway, here we go. . .

As long as you're not dead (yay!), I have a question about distribution. I've followed the travails of Zarahemla and Parables as they've struggled to get carried in Deseret Book and Seagull stores, and it seems that they all agree that the thing to do is get Granite to distribute you and then voila, you get access shelfspace in those stores. I have some questions on this question:

1. How vital is inclusion in those stores for success? I imagine quite, but what do you think?
Extremely vital. If your book is targeted to the LDS reader, and it's not in either Deseret Book or Seagull stores or on their website, then 90% of the U.S. LDS reading population will not even be aware that you book exists. I call this the Dead Zone.


2. What about their catalogues?
If you buy space in their catalog, they'll place orders and have your book in their store. But they won't let just anyone buy space. You have to be "approved" first. And it's very expensive. If it's your first book and you've self-published, you probably aren't going to sell enough copies to cover the cost of your ad or to move your book out of the Dead Zone.

Another option is to buy ad space in Books and Things. This helps you get into the smaller independent stores, but still, it's expensive and there's no guarantee.


3. Is Granite in fact the best way in that door? How does one go about arranging that?
There's Granite, Brigham Distributing, and a few others who distribute that can get products into DB & S. If you're with them, your chances go up on getting out of the Dead Zone and onto the shelf, but it's not a guarantee. We've had books accepted by our distributor that they have not been able to get DB or S to carry. And believe me, when I say those titles are in the Dead Zone, I mean they are totally dead because many independent bookstores stock what shows up at DB/S and what's in their catalog because they know people will come in looking for those titles.

To get with a distributor—and in my opinion, you should have distribution lined up before you print more than a handful of copies—contact them and ask what their process is for new product. Most likely you'll have to send them a sample book (you can print one through POD services fairly easily).


4. Lastly, what sort of sales are individual publishers doing through their websites or other means? The not-available-in-stores crowd --- are they flourishing?
Flourishing? No. Surviving? Not all of us. Just heard of another small press going down and it breaks my heart. We're certainly not getting rich off our website sales. Because:

1. When a reader wants an LDS book, they go to the DB or S website/store and browse. Most of these readers are not even going to know my website (or Zarahemla's or Parables or yours) exists, unless they Google it and it comes up on the first page or two. Unless you have a specialized niche or you've been able to get a lot of online buzz going, just putting up a website doesn't do you much good.

and

2. Website sales are generally one book at a time, whereas bookstores are multiple copies. One or two bookstore orders for an individual title are often as much as an entire month's website sales.

I hate painting these negative doom and gloom pictures of the industry and your chances of success in it. So let me end by saying this: There have been/are successful self-publishers/small presses. Study them and what they are doing/did to get where they are, then make a well thought out plan of attack to fit your own book.

2 comments:

Sue said...

Interesting. I've been watching the demise of small presses and wondering what it means for LDS publishers. I tend to think we'll eventually see only one surviving LDS publisher.

As self publishing gets cheaper and cheaper, and people get more and more used to developing their own following and marketing themselves (through blogs, etc.), you're going to see more LDS authors choosing to self-publish rather than going with a "runner-up" LDS press - where they'll only make pennies and have to do their own publicity anyway.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I have to think that LDS publishers who offer little support in the way of marketing and distribution are going to become irrelevant.

David G. Woolley said...

In meetings with the operating officers of some of the larger LDS presses, the statistics on books sales have fallen off dramatically in the past five years. Fiction titles have gone down, in some cases, up to 80 percent. With those numbers a press that was barely making it when things were good is going to have a really tough time this year and for a few years.

Doesn't the number of presses reflect the upturn and down turn in the economy. LDS book sales were going crazy in the last have of the 90's and into the new millenium. Older publishers expanded the number of projects and new publishers were springing up everywhere. One of the larger publisher mentioned to me that they had cut their 2008 fiction releases by 60 or 70 percent. The market has gotten a lot smaller in the past three years. And it may shrink even more.

Isn't this really a discussion of how macro economics effects micro economics? Unless, of course, you find that niche.

Just thinking out loud here.