I'm starting a writers' group in my area. It's super exciting! I miss my excellent group where I used to live, and since I can't play roller derby until the baby is born, I need more social interaction.
It'll be held at a local bookstore in the area. The owner and I met for about an hour, just to work out logistics and get to know each other. Surprisingly, there was one topic the owner wanted to talk about extensively:
It took me a long time to figure out why she even brought it up. The owner talked about how often self-published authors come in trying to sell their books to her and how she had accumulated shelves full of them.
"And I'll probably be stuck with them for the rest of my life," she complained. "No one's buying them. I can't sell them at a discount. I can't sell them at cost. I'm just wasting money because I can't get rid of them."
I asked her if she couldn't just sell them back to the authors. "Sure," she said, "If I wanted to contact every single one of them."
Later on in the conversation, we talked about hosting events at her store. Self-publishing came up again.
"I used to host a lot of book signings for self-published authors. I can't do it anymore. From now on, I'm going to start charging $300 to do a signing if the author is self-published. Otherwise after the marketing and setting up treats and buying the books, I lose lots of money." She rubbed her forehead, as if reliving the disappointment.
She's had the bookstore for decades, and never once has she made a profit on a self-published book.
"I just can't do it anymore," she said.
I was about to leave when she brought me over to the self-published section to show me just how many books she's stuck with. Finally, I had a guess as to why she kept mentioning self-published books.
I told her, "If any of the writers in my group are self-published, I'll be sure to tell them you won't sell their books or host any signings."
You know what she said? "Thank you, I appreciate it."
Self-publishing is often our go-to fantasy when things aren't going well with agents. We imagine ourselves being our own person, having complete control over our books' contents and covers, sitting proudly at book signings we set up ourselves, and basking in the glow of being a real writer.
Let's not forget the cold, harsh truth: self-published books are the red-headed step-children of the publishing industry. Most bookstores won't even accept them, and when they do, the books gather dust.