How to Get Your Self Published Books Into Bookshops

We may be living in a digital age, with ebooks on the rise and rise, but people still expect to be able to buy books in a bookshops, and won’t view you as a credible author unless your book is on the shelf.

Self published authors tend to imagine that this still-powerful selling resource is closed to them, but as writer turned blogger Lorna Sixsmith demonstrates, going independent need not end your dream of seeing your book on the shelf.

Here’s her post sharing her experiences. You can find this and other interesting posts about her self-publishing journey on Irish Farmerette.

Are you thinking of self publishing a book?  Many believe that self published books are only available from the author’s website, as ebooks or on Create Space but bookshops will stock self published books providing some criteria is met. Yes, printing your books is not cheap and depends cash up front but many readers still prefer to read the physical book rather than the ebook and furthermore, they expect to see it in bookshops.

Within Ireland, the main wholesalers are Easons and Argosy Books. Argosy is the wholesaler for all the independent bookshops. Easons have a large number of their shops nationwide. In the UK, Gardners is the largest book wholesaler. Many bookshops will only accept books from the wholesalers although it is possible to see if local bookshops will stock your books.

What will the Book Wholesalers ask for?

Kanturk Bookshop
Kanturk Bookshop

The wholesalers will want to know your sales to date, past publicity and future publicity. I had heard that Argosy had told a self published author that they would stock her book when she had sold 25o. I received my books on 29th November but didn’t contact either wholesaler until January – this was partly because I didn’t have time, partly because I knew they would take 55% and I would then be selling my first print edition at a loss (as I included all my expenses such as website, editor, illustrator etc in the first print run) which I wasn’t prepared to do and partly because I knew I had to prove first that it would sell.

As it happened, the Argosy buyer had heard my interview with Joe Duffy just before Christmas and had planned to contacting me. On hearing that I had sold 750 books and also been interviewed by Ryan Tubridy, they were happy to accept my books.  By the end of February, 105 books had been sent to 32 account holders. I’ve loved received tweets by people telling me they have seen my book in bookshop windows or on shelves. Kennys Bookshop is stocking it too and as they ship worldwide for free, it really maximizes the chances of people abroad buying it.

I’ve yet to hear from Easons although they did request a copy of the paperbook and some more information last week.  Not only did they want to know about past publicity but they want to know about upcoming PR too.  Trying to get continual PR is like a full time job and I have to admit I’ve taken my foot off the pedal lately! I’m waiting now until there are agricultural events and I will try to get coverage around my involvement in them.

It’s ironic though, I would have sold more books following the Tubridy interview if the books had been in the bookshops but on the other hand,  I needed the publicity first to be accepted by the wholesalers.  I have sold just over 1000 books now. I have about 70 hardbacks left and there are a few out there with one or two stockists.  There’s about 250 of my paperbacks ‘out there’ but of those, it is hard to know how many have sold. Argosy have taken 175 of which 105 went to bookshops in February (I’ll get an update on March next week) but they are still provided to the shops on a sale or return basis so I need to keep the publicity up to encourage sales.

In short, you need:

1. A well formatted book with an attractive front cover.

2. An ISBN number.

3. Existing Sales record.

4. Past and future publicity.

5. A book that the wholesaler likes and believe will sell.

If you happen to spot my book in a bookshop, I’d love to hear.  Do let me know too, of your experiences with self publishing or if you are thinking of writing a book.


Waterford Young Arts Critics Workshops

March has been a month of eye opening workshops. Following the success of my intellectual disabilities workshop, I was given another usual request: to teach critiquing skills to young people taking part in the Waterford Young Arts Critics Scheme.

In this scheme, 15-18 year olds are given the opportunity to critique various pieces of art. They’ve attended performances and written about them on their blog. They’ve also been given an insight into a different artistic discipline every month, in the run up to a talk given by art critic Gemma Tipton during the Waterford Writers’ Weekend about why the role of a critic matters.

March was the month for creative writing and I was chosen to deliver two workshops, lasting two hours each. I could take any approach I wanted, as long as it tied into the theme of the talk. I decided to give the young people an introduction to creative writing techniques and to explore the importance of a critic to both writers and readers.

The Craft of Writing

Five young people turned up at Waterford’s Central Library for the workshops. For my first workshop, I concentrated on creative writing techniques.

I outlined the main ingredients of storytelling: plot, character, setting and the use of the senses. I gave them handouts covering the main points. Then they did writing activities so they could try out the techniques for themselves. This would give them an idea of what to look out for when they’re  reviewing a piece of writing.

Critiquing for Readers and Writers

For the second workshop, the young people put their knowledge of these techniques to the test by writing book reviews of their own. In acknowledgement of the fact that not all of them are readers, I widened the scope so they could write about films or TV series, as long as they concentrated on the storytelling aspects of the medium.

After they read their reviews, we discussed the role that reviews play in helping readers choose books. It turned out that the young people often used reviews to help them decide what books to read. I then outlined a critiquing system called the Liz Lerman method, used by arts practitioners to give each other constructive feedback in workshop situations and we discussed the value of this critiquing method for writers.

 Displaying Critiquing Skills

After that, it was time for the young people to put their critiquing skills to the test. I had brought in a piece of my own work and stressed that because I had written it quite a whole ago, they could feel free to say anything they wished. They also had the opportunity to review their own reviews and give each other feedback. We finished the session with another creative writing activity, which gave them the opportunity to let off steam after all that heavy analysis.

The young people demonstrated professionalism, thoroughness and flair in their reviews. I felt that their efforts deserved to be acknowledged, so I gave out what I called a Critic’s Pen Award for the best review. I gave it to a reviewer who exacted exquisite revenge on her teachers for forcing her to read The Princess Bride by William Golding.

What about you? Do you think critics are watchdogs for standards in the arts? Or are they simply being paid to grumble?

Creative Writing Workshop for People with Intellectual Disabilities

How do you do a writing workshop with people who find writing difficult? That was the dilemma I was faced with when I received an offer to do a writing workshop for people with intellectual disabilities in early January. I was delighted to receive the offer, but apprehensive too. What if I talked down to them? Or my words flew above their heads?

The workshop was to be at the School of Nursing in Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland, which offers people with intellectual disabilities the chance to receive a recognised qualification, a FETAC Level Three Certificate in Independent Living. I had given a storytelling workshop during an adult learning festival the previous year and the programme manager wanted me to deliver something similar to her students.

I had done some volunteer work with people with intellectual disabilities as a member of Toastmasters, a public speaking association, and I remembered their enthusiasm and willingness to talk. And I realised that the students didn’t need to be able to write to tell their stories. They could use their voices.

Preparing the Workshop

I decided to use the same exercises for this workshop as for all my other workshops, but instead of writing pieces, we would talk through the exercises. For one-off workshops, I do a story template based on a quest (hero goes to strange land and battles a monster to get treasure).

As the students did have some literacy skills, I created a story spine, where the structure is in place and the students add the flesh. I drew up a worksheet with a series of sentences such as:

Once there was a ___. He travelled to _____

The students did have some literacy skills, so I felt this format would give them a chance to display those skills without overwhelming them.

Delivering the Workshop

On the day of the workshop, I sat with the programme manager in the light-filled atrium of the nursing building and ran over my plans to make sure they’d sit well with the students. Then it was into the breach, dear friends, as we made our way to the room where the students waited for us.

I had brought my magic storytelling hat and it worked its usual wonders as the students tried it on and told me their names. For the next hour, we discovered the stories within the picture, sampled the delights of oranges and went on a round the world tour of holiday destinations. The idea was to stimulate the senses and trigger memories, though I was careful not to stray too much into deeper emotional territory.

In the second hour, we discussed the components of the story they were to write, the character, the place and the treasure. Then they wrote the story and a few of the students shared their efforts with the class.

After the Workshop

Sometimes when you’re giving a workshop, it can feel as if your words disappear into a black hole. You cannot really gauge what impact they’re having on the students – you just have to trust that you’re getting through. With this group, that didn’t happen. The students were generous with their experiences and their opinion. Even the most non-verbal were not afraid to let me know exactly what they thought.

I floated out of the building, high on ideas, on words, and on the enthusiasm, humour and responsiveness of the students. Thanks to them, this was one of the best workshop experiences I have ever had.

Writings for Lyric FM About Skiing

I’ve just come back from my annual skiing trip, which is a bit different from the norm. To explain why, I’m posting up a piece I had broadcast on Lyric FM. There was a slot on Lyric FM called The Quiet Quarter, where new and established writers wrote five pieces with a connecting theme, which were then broadcast on a mid morning programme. My pieces were about my life as visually impaired person and the piece about my skiing trip was published in The Quiet Quarter Anthology, published by New Island.

Here it is.

Every year, a group of skiers descends on a corner of southern Germany seldom visited by Irish skiers. Our trip follows the traditional formula enjoyed by thousands of Irish skiers, thrills and spills on the slopes, frothy beer and yodelliing. The only thing that marks us out are our green vests, emblazoned with the words Blind Skier.

Our trip is a far cry from the Twilight Warrior image put forward by television programmes featuring visually impaired skiers, further enhanced by an earnest voiceover designed to induce a warm, fuzzy feeling of admiration. In reality, we’re more anti-heroes than superheroes.

The recipe for learning to ski is the same whether you can see or not. Start. Stop. Turn. Fall over. Rinse and Repeat. The only difference is that we ski to the accompaniment of roared commands, “Left…right…hard left…marvellous…keep it running.” In my first year, I acquired the nickname Dangerous Derbhile, because I skied so slowly and so low to the ground. I found that the spectres my imagination creates are far more vivid than any barriers created by my eyes. But before long, skiing became a matter of course. This year, I skied with the demons on steep red slopes.

We have no choice but to get up close and personal with our guides; our relationship is a tactile one. The guides’ friendly elbows steer us onto ski lifts, down slippery steps and into ski cafes. It’s one of the perks of the trip, the chance to exchange affectionate gestures with well muscled specimens.

Many of our guides are ex-Army personnel, with the typical sighted person’s horror at the idea of physical limitation. But seeing us sailing down the mountain helps them to realize that being visually impaired need not be a cage. For our part, the trip offers the greatest freedom we are ever likely to know. As we bomb down the slopes with the wind in our hair, niggles about rogue steps and elusive computer mice vanish.

Our trip may be life changing, but it is more than mere Chicken Soup for the Skiers’ Soul. It’s a far more potent brew. Its fiery afterglow lingers long in the minds – and the mouths – of all who experience it.