Getting A Book Into a Bookstore. An Indie Author's Experience...
I had a somewhat strange experience recently, and I wanted to share it for an understanding of what it’s like being an indie author.
* For background here – The UK bookselling space is roughly divided into 70% digital and 30% traditional publishing. Of that 30% the majority is split by Waterstones / WH Smiths / Supermarkets, which leaves a tiny % for independent bookstores.
Incidentally, my own research has shown that 75% of the authors with traditional book deals being stocked in chain bookstores are connected to the publishing world in some form. Editors / Agents / Journalists. A lot of publishing companies are owned by media firms that also own papers and news sites. Cronyism is a huge issue in publishing.
But anyway. So, to briefly explain – I started writing in 2012 (while serving as a police officer) with The Undead Day One.
Nobody read it. But I didn’t care! I was in love with the story and so I kept writing and produced seven books, which I put together and sold as The Undead. The First Seven Days. That took off and grew, and kept growing, and even now over ten years later it’s still growing.
However, by the time The First Seven Days came out, I knew what I wanted from my writing career.
The publishing world is sluggish and slow and bogged down with mediocre people pretending to be better than they actually are.
Miaow! No, shush, that’s actually true. Policing is very similar. Good cops mostly stay on the frontline, whereas the mediocre ones tend to go for promotion – which is why the police has such bad leadership. But that’s a totally different topic.
Anywho. The point is, I’m a Red Type A personality. I like speed and progress and can’t stand faffing about (I cannot make small talk for the life of me) (Gawd, even the thought of it makes me shudder.)
So, for those reasons and many more, I decided to focus solely on writing books within the digital space.
I got an agent, who, luckily for me, was willing to embrace that concept, and I asked them to submit directly to Amazon publishing. My agent said we should consider all the big publishers. I said no. Try Amazon first.
We did and they loved it and they came sooooo close to signing The Undead, but the series was already big by then.
So, they asked me to write something new. I said cool and wrote Extracted. Funnily enough my agent said they weren’t sure about it.
We submitted it to 47North (Amazon). They snapped it up and offered a three-book deal (which enabled me to leave the police and write full time.)
Extracted (ebook and audio) was a blockbuster worldwide bestseller (woohoo!). It was listed in The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and was optioned by a Hollywood company very quickly. (They never made it because of Covid, but another awesome company have it now who are trying to develop it into a TV series.)
Sadly, my first agent lost focus after Extracted came out and for whatever reasons I just couldn’t motivate them. I changed agent and wrote A Town Called Discovery.
Unfortunately, that agent didn’t grasp the digital space at all. They looked at it like it was quirky and fun and a gimmick, which was massively patronising. They also couldn’t cope with ATCD and kept ordering re-writes. I got so sick of it I left that agency and binned that book for 3 years.
When I did release it (my original version), A Town Called Discovery was another huge hit and sat at No1 in the horror charts for something like 20 weeks. (Another woohoo!)
I then went back to my first agent, who was motivated again, and I wrote The Worldship Humility. Again, I focussed on the digital space, and we made a deal with Audible for an exclusive original. I think I was the first indie author in the UK to get such a deal.
Anywho. That was narrated by Colin Morgan and again was a big hit. Sadly, the agent, who I really do adore, seemed to lose focus again. (Which I find crippling.) I jumped ship and went it alone for a while. During which time The Undead continued to grow with each novel being a bestseller in its own right.
Aaand then came DELIO. Phase One. My most recent release.
I’d been offered a deal by a publisher, but it was super draining dealing with them, so I agented up (with another new one) (who didn’t quite get the book – see the pattern?) in the hope that the agent would take that stress away. Which failed dismally and only made it ten bazillion times worse and resulted in Delio getting lost in 3 years of editing hell.
I tried to be patient. I really did, but dear god those people couldn’t find their way out of a small corridor with only one door marked EXIT.
In the end I Type A personality’d up and released it myself.
Delio became an instant bestseller as an ebook in the digital space, and when the audio came out it sat at the top of sci-fi / fantasy charts and was top 30 in whole charts.
All those books have enabled me to become one of the most downloaded authors in the UK.
Which is super awesome and I should be happy with that. And I am! Honestly.
But the Type A doesn’t switch off. It’s on all the time. Even when I don’t want it. Which means I am constantly pushing boundaries. Even invisible ones that aren’t really there.
And that made me think, you know what? I want to get Delio into bookshops. Fuck Yeah! Let’s do that.
I was working with a publicist team in London. Truly awesome guys, and together we decided to contact chain bookstores and the independent bookshops.
Delio was huge. It was a big hit. The ebook and audio were number one in lots of places online and I was still one of the most downloaded authors in the UK. Some of the Sunday newspapers had run features on my transition from policing to writing. So, we thought this is a no-brainer. Let’s do it!
Oh dear god. It was carnage.
I want to sound cool and sage and say it was humbling. It wasn’t. It was f*cking humiliating and just downright weird. The egos. My god the egos. I’m doing okay as an author, but I still don’t have a massive ego about it all, but some of those bookshop owners and managers. They were on another level, and not one, not a single bloody one was interested in stocking Delio.
Seriously. Not a single one of them.
Stupidly, I thought I’d make contact with my local Waterstones myself. You know, cos they’re local and I’m local and I thought it would be nice.
We’re living in a new world where shit is just weird.
I emailed them. But they never replied.
I emailed again. But they still never replied.
I called and they said the manager will call back. He didn’t.
I called again and eventually got hold of the manager. I said I’d emailed in. He said they never got it. (I’d CC’d and BCC’d and everyone else had got it. But whatever. Glitches happen.) The manager told me I had to come into the store.
I asked when.
He said when he was there.
I asked when was the best time.
He said next week.
I asked if there was a particular day that was best. It was really hard work trying to arrange it.
I went in. The manager was behind the counter with some other workers. He was a little beardy fellow that seemed instantly triggered by my mere existence. He did that thing where he pretended to be doing important manager things while arranging pens to keep me waiting.
He eventually came over and said they can’t stock books because of the whole ISBN thingy and it’s got to be listed with Nielson and then with Gardners. I said it’s available on the Waterstones list and everything had been done to make it available.
Ooh. He got all fidgety when I said that… aaaand told me to email him.
I was right in front of him. I said email you about what.
He said about the book. What it was about and stuff.
I said he could keep that copy and I was happy to chat then, having already emailed and called lots of times.
But nope. I had to email again.
I emailed again.
The team in London emailed.
The London team called him. He said he would get back to us.
We never heard anything.
That was days of work. For one bookshop.
Another one said we had to book a release party, and you know, get my family in with some cheese and wine (which they’d supply for a price) to help launch me as a writer.
Um. So. Thing is…we explained, super super politely, Haywood is already kind of launched and doing well… And the walls went up.
That was the thing that was triggering people.
It became a pattern. We were very polite. Blimey, the London team do this for a living with some huge household names clients, and even they couldn’t get traction because the second it became mentioned that I had success in the digital space the obstacles and problems started.
It was the same with Waterstones. The manager seemed triggered somehow. A lot of them did.
I could understand if people simply didn’t like me. But my sister (who is lovely) was contacting bookstores and getting the same response.
The other thing that was noted, and I want to mention this respectfully and sensitively, but we were asked if I or the book had any LGBTQ / diversity connections.
There is no judgment from me about that. It is an observation of our experiences.
In the end we gave up. Sales are strong and Delio is doing brilliantly, (in the digital space!), which, remember, occupies 70% of the UK bookselling arena.
On reflection of the whole experience - I think we failed because we’re not part of their world that follows the exact stages one must surely always follow to get into a bookstore.
1, Get an agent.
2, Get a trad publisher.
3. If you’re connected to the industry then you’ll prob be okay.
4, If you’re not connected then you have to beg the bookstore to stock you, which they will do if they want to keep friendly with that publisher, or if you buy their cheese and wine.
But I find that all so sad. It means every book in chain bookstores must go through Nielson and Gardners or a few other wholesalers. That means locking into that system and only doing what they and everyone else is doing.
That’s all so samey and tepid and, well, mediocre.
Whereas we indie authors are forging out own path. We are outsiders. We are disruptors, and we’re successful at what we do. Which upsets their equilibrium.
People don’t like change. It scares them. It gives them a glimpse to another world and one that is doing just fine without egos and rules for the sake of rules. Without the domains and empires of small rooms where small people can feel big.
But empires breed despots, and despots become delusional, and they get triggered super easily. They become bitter and isolated, and they miss the world moving on around them.
Indie voices are original and unfiltered. We speak openly and reflect what we see without being told what to say or write. We don’t stay on trend. We don’t do fads.
I never liked mediocre loud people in small rooms in the police either. I liked being out and doing good work. The same then. The same now.
Aye up. So that's a wee glimpse into agents and publishers and bookshops should it help anyone considering writing as a career. It's only my experience. Others will vary.
You know what though? It’s made me super determined to open my own café bookshop and stock successful self-published authors.
I’m actually viewing a premises tomorrow.
Type A personality anyone?
(I try and write a blog article every Sunday. You can subscribe here to get notified.)
DELIO. PHASE ONE is out now. (Just not in bookshops)