Jun 20 2017

Peeved About Books

As a bookseller for a huge retail corporation, I have been working with buyers (readers) and authors since 1988. I have encountered all kinds of peeves from my customers and peeves from my authors over the years. I have included only a few of the most common peeves that I have met over 30 years.

“The book sucks.”

The bookstore…where readers come to buy books.

Customers will come up with all kinds of reasons to get their money back for book purchases they have made. One of the most common reasons that I have heard is that the book contains “flaws”. So, let’s define a “flaw”. Generally, it is a book that is torn, dog-eared, sliced, diced, stained, smashed or tattered in some way or another. I have had customers who wanted for their money back because the book they purchased was from a self-published author who was selling their books in the store. There is a ceiling to helping a self-published author promote their book (or books) in the store. I remember one author who sold 50 books in 2 hours. That same day, I had 29 returns of the book. The most common complaint was that the book was unreadable. If I was going to give self-published authors any kind of advice, it would be to get a second set of eyes on the book that they are selling, before it goes to print. I have spoken to other authors who have stated, “It is important for any author to edit what they have written, before they decide to publish what they have written. Badly written books make it more difficult for authors who have taken the time to properly edit their books to market, promote and sell what they have written.” Returns of a book do not equal sales, they equal a loss of sales.

As a bookseller, I would offer new authors this advice, “If you want to sell your book, let me help you as a bookseller, because I’m in this with you. I am putting my credibility as a bookseller on the line by recommending your book. If my customers are returning your book in droves, then you may want to study the reason why your book is being returned.”

Grammatical errors in the book.

A grammatically correct book can be important to sales.

Grammar includes punctuation, spelling and sentence structure. One of the second most common reasons for book returns are grammatical errors. Not occasional errors, but errors that occur repeatedly throughout the book. Spelling errors are a common reason for returns, but if the book looks like the author did not care about delivering the highest quality product they could provide, the customer is not going to buy the book. I remember a book written and self-published by a military veteran, that resulted in an 89% return rate. The veteran blamed the reason for his bad sales due to our negligence. I purchased a copy of his book, because as a veteran myself, I wanted to support a fellow veteran. I put down the book after 15 minutes, because I saw why my customers were returning the book. As a bookseller, I want every local author who comes into the store, to be that bestseller I can talk about. I want to see every author succeed. The self-published author needs to see their completed book as a product. I become frustrated if I am supporting a product that is not ready to be sold. I believe that to support booksellers who have recommended what an author has written, the author needs to refine their work, do whatever needs to be done to ensure their book is saleable. Create published work that the customer wants to keep, or share with others, to stimulate more sales of the book.

The book is “Print on Demand”.

Many customers imagine print on demand service to look like this.

When a self-published author writes a dynamite book that everyone wants, it helps to have copies of the book on hand to sell. Some authors seem to be under the impression that it is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure that their book is in stock. Retailers work with a very slim budget. If the author is a self-published author who decided to enter into a contract for a “print on demand” title,  problems can erupt. It is difficult to have every customer who wants the book to wait for a month to a month-and-a-half to get their copy of the author’s book. Today’s customer wants what they are looking for…NOW. Many print on demand businesses do not allow the same kind of flexibility that a publishing house or a wholesaler/distributor offers. As a general rule, once a print on demand book is ordered, it cannot be returned. Customers tend to get angry when they attempt to return a book that cannot be returned, because the quality of the book was not at the standard they are accustomed to reading or for another reason.  Regardless of how many copies a retail store may be selling of a book, they are not going to buy many copies to keep in stock. Sales for a book can die very quickly. No retailer wants to be stuck “holding the bag” in terms of book copies that cannot be returned or sold.

The author does not know (is not willing) to promote or sell their book.

Selling a book.

Time for my personal peeve. As a bookseller, I live to sell books. As a rule, when a self-published author (any author who is not covered by a recognized publisher) wants to sell their books in the store, we will help the author UP TO A POINT. It is up to the self-published author to promote, market and sell their book.

We don’t have the time to help a single author. We wish we did have that kind of time, but we are in the business of selling books…by thousands of authors. Our job as booksellers are to find the right books for our customers. Authors often believe our help is free, or that while they are there, we are their serfs to rally to their beck and call. As a bookseller, unless you are Stephen King or Nora Roberts, I will ensure that your table is set up, ready to go and that your signage is displayed in a prominent place of the store – usually near the entrance. I remember when Newt Gingrich and his wife were in our store promoting and selling their latest books. A line stretched outside of the door to receive autographed copies of those books that were just purchased. A new self-published author is not likely to have a line stretching outside the door, wrapping around the parking lot and down two blocks.

This is my advice for new or self-published authors when they are in the store. An unknown author needs to be on their feet (not sitting behind a table), pressing the books that they brought into people’s hands, as soon as they enter the store. I have seen many authors, who paid for expensive signage sit behind a table that houses their latest book, sell ten copies of the one hundred and fifty that they brought to the store to sell…if they are lucky. I have seen other self-published authors who brought fifty copies of their book and sell every book they brought, because they pressed their book into customer’s hands, remarking about how their book will help or entertain whoever reads the book from start to finish.

Next peeve: Peeved about music/musicians.