As part of my ‘How to Self-Publish‘ series here on the blog, today I want to share what I’ve learning about Advance Information – or AI – sheets. I recently produced one for Murder at the Maples, figuring that as the novel was set in my local area, local bookshops might be interested in stocking a copy or two. We can but try, right?

So after a lot of research I put together the following AI sheet, and I sent it the owner of Bookshrop in Whitchurch to ask Dinah if she thought it was any good. I asked her: Is this the kind of thing you receive from publishers and marketing departments? Have I missed anything out/made any glaring errors?

AI blog

Dinah’s said the AI was fine, so I emailed it out to all the independent bookshops in Shropshire, along with a short email introducing myself and offering to supply a sample copy. I heard back from 2 – one asking for a sample, the other to say they only stocked second-hand books. I sent the sample out and promised the second-hand bookshop that I would send them ex-review copies if they’d display them prominently with a ‘local author/local setting’ notice. They were really chuffed. Of course, the AI sheet gives ordering details so there’s no reason for the other bookshops to have contacted me – they may well have simply ordered copies from Gardners or Bertrams. My Lightning Source records will show if they’ve had many orders so I’ll have to wait and see. My next step is to try and get into my local Waterstones and WHSmiths: I’ll let you know in a later post how that all goes!

Lead times

Traditional publishers get their AI sheets out to bookshops at least 5 months before publication. To be honest, I don’t think that’s really necessary for indie authors. For one thing, we’re not going to be competing – or paying – for front table slots or 3 for 2 offers. Publishers’ schedules work in a certain way; ours are different. ‘New’ is a big deal for trad book releases because the marketing departments only allot 3-6 months of budget to promoting a new title; we can continue to promote our books to local bookshops for as long as we can be bothered to make the effort! New is one type of news, but there are others. I think it helps to have some angle to hang your AI on – like press releases, they have to seem current and relevant. But this could be an author talk or event, or a related item in the news. Use your imagination (you have one – you’re a writer!) and you’ll come up with great angles in no time. If your angle is the new release factor then do send out the AIs before the launch date! I sent mine a month or so ahead.

Why bother?

Well, that’s a damn good question to be honest – and one I’ve been asking myself more and more lately as the sheer effort of organizing a physical launch, rather than a virtual one, takes its toll on my health and energy levels. Why bother being in bookshops at all? In fact, why bother being in paperback?

For me, the answer is twofold. One: I want physical copies of my book. I like to hold them, put them on a bookshelf, give (sell!) them to friends and family, and for people who don’t like ereaders to be able to read my books. Two: I would miss bookshops if they disappeared completely and I think it’s important to support them. If they choose to be snooty about indie authors it’s their loss, but I’ll reach out and try and do my bit as much as I can.

Of course, it makes little financial sense to knock yourself out getting stocked in a bookshop. Even if they ordered – and sold! – 10 copies, you’d make around £15.00. Super. The bookshop would make around £31 for 10 copies at a 40% discount on a list price of £7.99, and with sale or return, and you supplying the books so covering postage costs, there is certainly a good incentive for them to stock direct from the author. If they order POD titles from Gardeners or Bertrams, the discount offered is less and there is no sale or return, but of course any book with an ISBN can be ordered at any bookshop, often for next day delivery. If you look at it this way, the minute you list your title with Neilsen you are automatically available at every bookshop across the country! But available is not the same as stocked, which brings us back to: Why bother?

I guess the only answer is publicity and marketing. People see your cover, they might buy a copy and tell their friends, you might get word-of-mouth promotion, you might get invited into the bookshop to meet readers … If you are willing to put in the time and effort – and don’t incur massive expense driving all over the country delivering copies by hand! – there’s not much to be lost by trying to get shelf space, and possibly a lot to be gained.

You can download my AI sheet here to use as a guide, or have fun and invent your own 🙂