Just a quick note.  DRUNK SLUTTY ELF AND ZOMBIES has been uploaded to IngramSpark.  It can now be ordered from the 40,000 platforms, including thousands of brick and mortar bookstores that IngramSpark spark!

Just a note of explanation – IngramSpark is to print books what Amazon is to Ebooks. They’re a giant publisher and distributor, hosting many titles, and providing services to small and independent publishers.  Getting onto IngramSpark is potentially a major breakthrough.

Does that mean I’ll be getting into real bookstores?  Probably not. The economics don’t quite work.

Basically, physical bookstores operate on a rip and return basis.  They order books, they try to sell them within a specific period of time. If they don’t, then they just rip off the covers, send them back, junk the rest and only pay for what they’ve sold.  Believe it or not, that’s the way it’s been working for a hundred years, and it’s been working fine… mostly. It’s the operating mode for books, magazines and newspapers.  And it works fine for big publishers, dealing in substantial volumes.

It used to work fine for Canadian publishers and small presses, until it didn’t. See way back in the day, the policy of the big stores – Chapters/Indigo, Coles, WHSmith (actually, it’s all the same company) was that they’d hold Canadian books for an extended time, say six months.  In that time frame, small presses, with small print runs could count on selling through enough copies to make a profit. Then one day, Chapters changed its policy, returns in six weeks, not six months. Suddenly, a lot of Canadian presses were getting a lot of books returned, either whole books, or covers. Sales went down, costs of returns went up, and a lot of Canadian small presses went out of business, falling like a row of dominos.

So getting back to the present – to get my books into a bookstore through IngramSpark I’d have to offer a 45 to 55% discount. No problem, bookstores need to make money too.  They take the discount, they sell full price. The difference is their revenue. Got it?  Okay, but there’s also the cost of printing and shipping the book to the bookstore. That comes from my side. Take that out, my cut per book is pretty small.

Let’s say, on a $20 book, production costs are $6.00, shipping costs $2.00, bookstore’s share is $11.00 and my take is $2.00.

Not great, but if I had a best seller, I’ll make a lot of money. If I sell a few copies, I’ll make money.

Unless there are returns.  Ingram Spark’s not going to subsidise me, so if there’s a return – if the bookstore can’t sell the book and returns, then Ingram charges me back for the book production and shipping cost. Let’s say it’s $7.00, and I’m making $2.00 per book.  What that means, is that for every book returned, I have to successfully sell four books to cover the costs and make a dollar.  Basically, I have to sell through 80% to have a shot at breaking even, and if the return rate goes over 20% I lose money.

Actually, it could be worse. Instead of ripping the cover off and discarding the book, there’s provision to ship the whole book back. I’d pay the entire shipping cost, which would mean I’d have to sell six or more books to hit break even. But then I’d have the actual book back to resell! Sure, but then again,  you can’t guarantee the condition of the books you’re getting back, so there’s a risk. Maybe more than you want to accept.

That’s tough, considering that I’m pretty unknown, and even for happy, traditionally published authors, returns range between 30% and 60%.  So in my case, the risk is huge.  Suppose a bookstore, or collection of bookstores orders 1000 copies of my book.  Happy times!  Unless say 50% returns?  In which case, I owe IngramSpark a stupid amount of money.

If you are big enough to deal in bulk, big numbers, you can make it work.  If you’re a small volume author, single digits, double digits, etc., great way to lose money. If you’re a little bit more successful say a four digit author, good way to lose your house.

So what do I do to deal with this?  Simple:  No returns.  Also no discounts.

That means, of course, that regular bookstores are not going to be ordering my book and stocking it on their shelves. Too bad, so sad.  Not the outcome I’d like. But the way it’s set up, that’s the only realistic option for me.  Being up on the shelves in a bookstore, in the real section of the bookstore (as opposed to the ‘local interest’ pity section) that’s kind of a dream.  But the economics of discounts and returns just don’t work, not for where I am in my pseudo-career now. Possibly never.

So why even bother with IngramSpark?

Well, here’s the thing:  Just because a bookstore has no incentive to order and stock my books, doesn’t mean that they can’t.  Any person can walk into any bookstore that’s connected to IngramSpark’s networks and  ask for my books, and they’ll order them in.  So I might actually make few sales.  It makes my books more accessible in more places. This is actually a plus. Sure, I’m on Amazon and others, regular bookstores don’t order from Amazon – they’re kind of the enemy. They’ll order from IngramSpark, but not Amazon. So being hooked into IngramSpark represents a genuine expansion of my availability.  Maybe that will be significant. Maybe it won’t be. And who knows, maybe my pseudo-career will get me to a point where it’ll be worthwhile to experiment, offer discounts to retailers, maybe even go with returns.  Having my books up on IngramSpark offers me options, and an opportunity to change things up or take advantage of circumstances.

Ultimately, having more books available in more places is a good thing.

By the way, Drunk Slutty Elf and Zombies is a great collection of funny short stories! It’s terrific! It’ll cure cancer in rats!  It’ll change your life. Persons of the gender and physique you’re attracted to will fall in love with you. The stories contain a numerical code to the winning lottery ticket.  You should buy it.  You should buy extra copies to give to your mom, and your friends.  Unless you hate it, in which case you should buy a hundred copies and burn them in a giant bonfire and send me pictures to humiliate and embarrass me.  You know what would really show me and put me in my place? Buy a thousand copies and set them on fire, that’ll really teach me a lesson.  Look, just buy the goddammed book.