By: Ellen Mansoor Collier, Author of the Jazz Age mystery series
As an independent author, I admit, my dream was to see my books for sale on shelves in upscale stores, bookshops and retail outlets—not just online. So I tried “creative” ways of marketing, and looked for specialty gift shops and regional stores that also sold books.
I found out the hard way that traditional bookstores or shops are NOT interested in self-published books, unless you’re already rich and famous. Hard to compete with thousands of books anyway, especially if you’re an unknown. I’ve had bookshop managers compliment my books while shoving me out the door, figuratively speaking. Small book stores tend to feel that Amazon is driving them out of business, and the larger chains think indies are trying to sneak in the back way, without being “vetted.”
The fact that I’ve made my living as a professional journalist doesn’t matter to them. Sadly, they assume independent books mean low-quality or inferior writing and cover design. I’ve worked in publishing almost all my life—besides, my brother is an artist, and I have several editor friends who were willing to review my novels. In addition, my mother was a writer and excellent editor, as well as a former World History teacher. So I thought, why not publish my books the way I want and retain creative control, plus all my rights?
Since my novels are about 1920s Galveston, I naturally approached shops and hotels in the area and either called or left a copy of FLAPPERS, the first novel in my series. First I started with small, independent business who were happy to accept my books on consignment. Sadly, the trouble with mom-and-pop stores is they often don’t have the budget or space to keep your books in stock and on display. (Getting paid can be a tug-of- war, so now I usually require payment upfront.)
Luckily bookstores often advertise regional books and sponsor book-signings for local authors. I’ve even done book signings at “Roaring Twenties”-themed fundraisers and art gallery parties just by asking—and donated part of my proceeds (usually 20-25). I also sold my books at an area casino hotel/gift shop just by dropping off FLAPPERS with the staff. During a follow up call, I suggested to the manager that she give my books a try with a small order—which she did!
At first, a major mystery bookstore seemed reluctant to give my books a try, but by the time I’d written a couple of new titles, the tides had turned and suddenly indies were more “socially acceptable,” if not hot. Still some of the staff remained wary, so it was gratifying when their first order of 25 books sold out in three weeks. Note: Many shops will wait until all books have sold before they reorder, so be prepared for a long wait. I’d suggest a small order at first, especially if the books are on consignment.
In Galveston, I noticed the luxury hotels on the Seawall sold lots of beachy items, but they didn’t have any novels for sale. The retail manage told me to contact the corporate office, which I did a YEAR later. Long story short, I was too chicken to contact them immediately but followed up after my fourth book—and got a call from the regional merchandising manager (sadly he soon left the company). Turns out the retail manager enjoyed FLAPPERS and wanted to start selling it in their hotel gift shops. The regional manager became interested later when he found out I had a series available and ordered 24 copies of each book (96)! Timing is everything in this business!
Last year, a friend suggested I try a well-known restaurant with a new attached gift shop—that I didn’t know existed. The manager ordered 40 copies of my books—and placed a second order six weeks later. Naturally summer is my best season and sales during the fall and winter often lag.
My advice for indies, young or old, is to identify the factors that make your books unique: is it the setting, the theme, the characters, the storyline? Then contact the stores that fit into those categories. Most cozy mysteries seem to center around a hobby or activity—if your novels are about animals or food or fashion or sports or antiques, try pet shops, bakeries, restaurants, unique clothing boutiques, sports shops or antique malls—even quilt or knitting shops—that cater to the clientele you’d like to reach. Is your book about a certain collectible or is it historical? Perhaps a specialty gift shop, museum or tea room, even a B&B or boutique hotel or spa may want to offer your books. Corporate chains and hotels are difficult retail nuts to crack, so I suggest approaching independent businesses at first.
As an indie, I tend to stay away from author events since they can cost a pretty penny and are filled with other hopeful writers who are in the same situation. If I do attend, I’ll go as a reader but then end up buying half the books for sale since I sympathize! Still it’s fun to network and make local contacts with your peers and potential readers.
To summarize: Find your niche and then broaden your scope. Once you get your foot in the door and word gets out, you can add bigger markets to your list. Better yet, try chains that reach a regional or national market. Though I’m not shy, I’ll admit, it’s difficult to peddle your own books—I get more rejections than OKs—but if people express interest, don’t be afraid to follow up with a phone call or repeat visit. Naturally you don’t want to come across as a pushy car salesperson, but you can check in periodically, especially if you have a new book out.
Sadly, as an indie, you’ll often get the cold shoulder from old-school stores (don’t get me started on my local Barnes & Noble), but if you present quality books and find the right niche, then you, too, can see your beloved books in stores and unique retail outlets. Good luck!
Deco Dames, Demon Rum and Death
(Jazz Age Mystery Series)
by Ellen Mansoor Collier
About the Book
Deco Dames, Demon Rum and Death (Jazz Age Mystery Series)
5th in Series
Decodame Press (December 28, 2018)
Paperback: 249 pages
Digital ASIN: B07LGGKPKZ
When young Galveston Gazette society reporter Jazz Cross hears rumors of grave robbers at the Broadway Cemetery, she and photographer Nathan Blaine investigate, hoping to land a scoop. The newshawks witness meetings held by clandestine gangs and enlist the help of her beau, Prohibition Agent James Burton, who attempts to catch the elusive culprits red-handed.
Meanwhile, the supernatural craze takes Galveston by storm, and Jazz is assigned to profile the society set’s favorite fortune teller, Madame Farushka. Sightings of a ghost bride haunting the Hotel Galvez intrigue Jazz, who sets up a Ouija board reading and séance with the spiritualist. Did the bride-to-be drown herself—or was she murdered?
Luckily, Sammy Cook, her black-sheep half-brother, has escaped the Downtown Gang and now acts as the maître d’ for the Hollywood Dinner Club, owned by rival Beach Gang leaders. During a booze bust, the Downtown Gang’s mob boss, Johnny Jack Nounes, is caught and Jazz worries: will Sammy be forced to testify against his former boss? Worse, when a mystery man turns up dead, Sammy is framed for murder and Jazz must solve both murders and help clear Sammy’s name.
As the turf war between rival gangs rages on, Jazz relies on her wits and moxie to rescue her brother and her friends before the Downtown Gang exacts its revenge.
About the Author
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.
A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).
She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts and visits Galveston whenever possible.
“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally, I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”
Purchase Link: Amazon
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