Marketing Missteps Episode 5 : Printing Anything Other Than On Demand

This series is my love letter to marketing for self-publishers.  But you know what’s more fun than reading love letters?  Reading hate mail.  So while I remain a firm advocate of thinking positively and of making as many innocent errors as is necessary to refine our techniques to perfection, I have been framing this series–now four weeks gone–in the context of the dangerous and the deadly in terms of marketing missteps. Thus far, I have addressed the following errors:

As I mentioned last week, each of these things can tank your book sales singly and for a long time, and a combination of these mistakes will leave you struggling to recover years in the future.  And while some other steps off of the narrow path to success won’t necessarily damage you irrevocably–a few mistakes are, as I said, useful for making adjustments–these ones just might.  These are the Big Bads, the missteps you don’t want to make.

So today, I’m writing hate mail to self-publishing packages that lock you into massive initial print runs.  The error?

Printing Anything Other Than On Demand

Some authors out there will caution you against doing a print run without already having  solid distribution deal in place, but I’ll take it one step further and caution you against buying into any publication package that locks you into an unsupportably large print run.  The average hybrid publishing company (also sometimes and misguidedly referred to as a “vanity press”) will offer a range of packages to choose from, depending on your budget, and many of them include these massive print runs in order to set you up to compete with traditional publishers and their even more massive print runs.

The problem is this: we can’t compete with traditional publishers by replicating their behaviors.  Self-publishers simply don’t have the same budget, and the same margin for error.  Traditional publishers want to flood the market with a book in order to sell as many copies as possible by simple exposure alone, but they also have the distribution deals to get their books into a lot of different markets to do so.  These distribution deals mean that if a book sells poorly in one corner of the world, Hachette or Penguin or whoever can simply bundle up all of those books and send them somewhere where they are selling well.  Or, if they’re selling poorly everywhere, the loss is attenuated by the profits from other books entirely–books that are selling well.

Campus Bookstore at University of Pennsylvania

Unless you have the reach and courier services of a traditional publishing company, I caution against these massive initial print runs.  I am a firm advocate for printing some copies of your book from the outset–they’re useful for ARCs, for book readings, and for giveaways–but they should be a tool, not a burden.  If your garage is stacked floor to ceiling with printed copies of your book that you can’t sell and can’t move, that benefits no one–and it’s a needlessly expensive price to pay in a market where ebooks continue to be a profitable source of income for the self-publishing author.

I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to printing your books in bulk: you do save money.  But what do you lose?  You end up covering shipping expenses later, and having to manage distribution through your own personal website.  That’s a lot of work, and most authors don’t have the time or resources after that initial purchase to operate within luxurious margins.

So: keep that first print run small, until you can gauge future demand.  Better to sell out that first print run entirely and put in another order via Print on Demand (POD) copies than to end up sending your books to landfill.  (And believe me, this is such a common experience among my self-publishing acquaintance.)  Better yet, start with POD instead of turning to it as a second option.  Hybrid publishing companies like Outskirts Press, my own employer, offer several packages that allow you to cut back on the numbers–or to start without a built-in print run, with the option of going straight to POD copies purchased wholesale.  Other hybrid publishing companies offer similar deals with some variation, but the fact remains: this kind of plan helps keep initial costs down, and frees up your money for other, more carefully targeted marketing strategies.



Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, 10:00 AM

From the Archives: “Self-Publishing Authors Can Get Their Books on the Shelves of ‘Traditional’ Bookstores”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: April 27th, 2011 ]

Even with the recent changes in the book publishing industry, a “traditional” bookstore presence should still be a goal for authors who want this. Why? Well, with this presence, authors are able to target an audience that is passionate about books. Think about it — people have to leave behind the comforts of their own home to go into a bookstore. Most likely they are there to purchase a book. If your book is on the shelf, yours may just have a chance at being the book they buy.

How can you work toward getting your book into that bookstore, though? Is it a matter of luck? Can self-publishing authors make the cut? The good news is that even if you’re not necessarily on a “lucky streak”, it’s still possible to successfully target placement in “traditional” bookstores. However, you must have a solid plan in place for doing so. Here are a few action items to put on your list as you get started:

  • Make sure your book is fully returnable. If your book cannot be returned, there is great risk involved for the bookstore. For example, if they stock 10 copies of your book and only 4 sell over the course of a year, they are losing money. If the book is returnable, though, the store can simply send the book back that doesn’t sell. Think of this return-ability as a type of “insurance” for your book.
  • Offer a sufficient trade discount. What’s sufficient? Typically that will be around 50-55% (or higher). Of course this does cut into your profits, but a higher retail margin gives the bookstore more incentive to stock your book on their shelves. No incentive? No cigar.
  • Build proof that your book is desirable. This is probably the most difficult (though not insurmountable) part of it all because authors often have a bias view of their book. However, the best indicator of a desirable book is exponential sales figures. If the amount of books you sale doubles, triples, quadruples, etc. month-after-month, that is something that can work in your favor. If you aren’t a professional marketer, you may want to seek the services of a book marketing consultant. Make sure they are able to help you draft a marketing plan and go forth on planning your publicity.

After you’ve done all of the above, you must put together a proposal to submit to bookstore contacts. You can find others specifically on their websites, but Barnes & Noble can be reached here:

The Small Press Department
Barnes & Noble
122 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Other bookstores can be found through Google. Another popular site for locating independent bookstores is Indie Bound.

Do you know of any other bookstores that are small press/self-published friendly?

by Wendy Stetina

When Wendy first posted this article back in 2011, the publishing industry looked rather different––and in many ways, it looked to be stumbling down the path to utter self-annihilation.  Borders, once a behemoth of the bookselling industry, went out of business in 2011, leaving many readers and authors questioning what––if any––place the brick and mortar bookstore held in the future of their industry.  In the heated discussion that followed in the post’s comments section, various Self Publishing Advisor subscribers pointed out the rise of online retailers as the cheapest and most effective sales platform for indie authors.  In response, SPA moderator Elise L. Connors wrote that “[T]his post wasn’t written with the intention of persuading authors to go after bookstores. It was actually written to let authors who are going after that avenue know that they shouldn’t give up on that ‘dream’ because of the current landscape of the industry.”  (The italics are mine.)

It’s true that Amazon has continued its meteoric rise to the top of the bookselling industry since 2011, and it’s also true that Amazon’s expanded offerings to self-publishing authors have captured much of the market and spurred much public dialogue about the world of indie publishing.  It’s true that Barnes & Noble’s online presence, the Apple iBooks Store, and a whole host of social media platforms and numerous self-publishing companies have sprung up in recent years to diversify and stabilize the market.  And while there have never been so many ways to buy and sell a book as there are in the year 2016, it is true too that ebooks and e-readers have done nothing to lessen customers’ appreciation for the pure tactile pleasure of a brick and mortar store.

Even Amazon has come around to seeing a street presence as importance, as evidenced by the launch of the first Amazon Books shop (in Seattle) last year.  Yes, it seems mostly a kind of marketing gimmick, but it’s one that works.  As one skeptical self-publishing expert learned, even the store’s critics often walk away with an Amazon Prime Membership or a physical book or two.  (These are true stories, people!)  There is, apparently, nothing that quite beats the “instant gratification” of beholding actual physical books on an actual physical shelf.  And while the jury’s still out on whether Amazon Books stores will do anything specifically geared to boost sales of self-published works––like installing Espresso Book Machines, for example, or offering curated collections of Print on Demand (POD) editions of Kindle favorites––one can’t help but notice the wide swathes of shelf space dedicated to Kindles in pictures of the interior.

amazon bookstore

And Amazon’s not the only company with a brick-and-mortar presence that can make a difference for indie and self-publishing authors.  In fact, many independent bookstores and even larger chains like Denver’s Tattered Cover go to great lengths to boost sales of local indie authors.  On my last visit to one of Tattered Cover’s several stores, I stepped inside the doors and made my way toward the coffee bar––only to find my progress impeded by a series of low bookshelves that blocked out the cafe’s seating area.  These shelves were the first thing every customer sees when walking in that store, and they were positively packed with self-published books, placed there on consignment.  (If you live in or near Denver and are interested in knowing more, visit their website.)


But ultimately, I’m not here today to defend the bookstore as a vital place to sell your books.  I’m here to help those of you who already know you want to get your book into a bookstore somewhere … to do so with the least amount of fuss.

To return to Wendy’s original post, most bookstores now either mandate her first point (“Make sure your book is fully returnable“) or take any guesswork out of the equation by relying on a consignment model (as with Tattered Cover, above).  And Wendy’s second point holds true: when an author is given the option, it’s a wise idea to “Offer a sufficient trade discount.

In many ways, however, Wendy’s third point is the most important.  Aside from keeping your name and work in the public eye, simply by virtue of placing your book in a bookstore, there are several ways you as an author can help “Build proof that your book is desirable.”  Most bookstores have stringent standards for the self-published books they stock: the title in question must dots its is and cross its ts in that it must have an ISBN, a cover that exudes professionalism and sound design sense, and so on.  Striving to meet these standards in order to appear on Barnes & Noble’s or Tattered Cover’s shelves can only do good things for the “desirability” of your book on a larger scale.  I guarantee you that an attractive, professional-looking book will sell better online as well as off the shelf.

Last but not least, a fantastic way to sell readers on the value of your book is by building relationships with them––and one of the best ways to make contact with your readers is to host events … at your local bookstore.  If you pursue hosting such an event, many bookstores will offer additional opportunities to feature your works within your stores, especially since good attendance at your event will likely translate into a solid spike in general sales for them.  (More foot traffic always equates to more sales when it comes to a brick-and-mortar bookstore.)  And the flipside of the coin is also worth examining: if you have already managed to clear a bookstore’s consignment standards, they are more likely to agree to partnering with you on hosting such an event.  Readings, Q&A sessions, and book signings are fertile ground for the indie author!  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

The Rise of POD Publishing

In 2010, traditional print publishing grew a mere 5%, up from 4% in 2009, but non-traditional publishing, such as print on demand (POD) and self-publishing, grew a whopping 169%, according to a Bowker report. The report estimates that non-traditional publishing will continue to grow in the future.

POD publishing first surpassed traditional publishing in 2008. Since then, POD publishers have been able to produce eight times the output of traditional publishers. This is great news for aspiring authors! It means that there are vast opportunities to write, publish, and sell quality books.

Most writers are overwhelmed with constant rejection from agents and editors or fear that their books will never be seen in print because of the difficult world of publishing. This doesn’t have to be the case. POD is a great option for many writers, and there are no agents or editors telling you your book isn’t good enough. If you believe in your book, you can see it in print.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press.  In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at

Top 5 Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint (Including Print on Demand Self-Publishing)

Before you published your book (or while you’re in the process of doing so), did/have you ever considered the negative impact that the printing of your book could have on the environment? Have you ever thought of how many trees die for the sake of unsold books that clutter your house or valuable shelf space in your local bookstore? As an author in times with so many technological advances, print-on-demand self-publishing is quite possibly the route you’ve taken/will be taking. Because of this, you don’t have to worry so much with the negative affects that your book can have on the environment.

With Earth Day right around the corner (April 22), now is the time to re-evaluate your regular activities to determine where you can cut back to reduce your carbon footprint. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Publish your book to be printed/distributed using Print-on-Demand technology.

2. Recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum. You can find your local recycling center HERE.

3. Support companies that have “Gone Green”. Usually they will use more energy efficient lighting, print less documents (i.e. paperless systems), and have recycling bins on campus.

4. Use public transportation or walk. Instead of damaging the environment with gases from your vehicle, walk to your destination (when possible) and/or catch the bus/subway.

5. Sign up for e-billing/paperless statements through your bank or credit union. You can call your local branch to see if this is offered.

6. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website to learn more about reducing your carbon footprint.

What things are you doing to be more environmentally-conscious (not just on Earth Day — but everyday)? 

Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.