Indie Author Challenge: Getting Books Into Stores

By Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 27 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®–fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers’ Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer’s Best, and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice.

Last year I made a major career decision. After 25 traditionally published books, I turned aside publisher interest and took the plunge to go fully indie.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

My first indie release was That Dog Won’t Hunt, a Southern contemporary that offers a poignant look at the struggles of a young woman who endured an abusive childhood. How can she marry into a large, loving family when she doesn’t even know what “family” means? Despite the topic, the story has plenty of humor. This book harkened back to my first days of publication in the early 2000s, when I wrote contemporaries as well as suspense. But for the last twelve years I’ve written suspense only, building my trademarked Seatbelt Suspense® brand. So That Dog Won’t Hunt was certainly a change for me. (As an indie, I plan to  continue writing contemporaries as well as suspense.)

Now my first indie Seatbelt Suspense® is launching. Sidetracked has just hit the Kindle and will be on other devices and in stores by May 1. Back on brand, I expect better sales than from That Dog Won’t Hunt. But there was one missing piece …

There are a lot of things I love about going indie. There’s one thing I don’t love—the paper sales of That Dog Won’t Hunt at launch were way below ebook sales. I’m used to having my books stocked in stores—with publisher marketing dollars behind each release.  How different for me to see the paper version of TDWH published through CreateSpace and sold mostly through Amazon. (CreateSpace does distribute into stores, but few of them managed to stock the title.) With my first indie suspense release, I wanted to get back into stores in a much larger way.

Enter the Jerry Jenkins Select line.

Jerry Jenkins is a mega-selling author, best known for the Left Behind series co-authored with Dr. Tim LaHaye (over 65 million in the series sold). The organization Jerry owns, Christian Writers Guild (CWG), has teamed up with Believers Press to offer the Select Line launch. Three other authors are also part of this indie launch, each of them well known in the Christian market: Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, and Hannah Alexander. The fifth book in the launch is a debut novel from world-evangelist and nonfiction author Sammy Tippit.

With “Jerry Jenkins Select Line” on the cover of the paper books (it’s not on my ebook versions), Anchor Distributors is selling the novels into bookstores. Historically, the stores have stocked all the books written by the five Select authors. Jerry Jenkins’ name on the cover as endorser will give an extra push. The line will also see strong marketing in independent Christian bookstores, including endcaps and special placement in store catalogs.

Getting books into stores is the big challenge for indie authors. For some indies paper sales may not matter much—particularly those who went indie from the beginning. Or those who are selling very well in digital alone. But I have a loyal readership who’s used

to finding me in Christian bookstores. The last traditionally published book I have numbers for sold four times as many paper copies as ebooks at launch. (Of course, then come the returns. And in time my novels reverse, selling more digitally than in paper.) Bottom line, I wanted to go for a strong paper launch as in my trad-pub days—but without the rate of returns a trad-pub novel might see.

Sidetracked is print on demand. As Anchor sells into stores, I will make a decision of how many books to print, so I won’t end up with a lot of extras to pay for. Going through Believers Press for cover, internal layout, etc. cost me more than it would have if I’d done everything on my own (as I did with TDWH). In addition, I and the other four authors split the cost of the marketing (which was negotiated for us at a very reduced rate). So I’ve certainly put some money into this project. On the other hand, a mere 1300 paper sales in stores will just about cover my marketing costs. I’m used to far higher paper sales at launch than that.

Come May 1, when the paper edition of Sidetracked launches, we shall see how it goes. I emphasize this tactic isn’t for all indies. (To be honest, the Select Line opportunity only came my way because of my known sales within the Christian market. Believers Press can’t promise strong distribution into stores for unknown authors.) Still, in the large picture of indie publishing, I expect we’ll begin to see other plans and means for filling in the paper distribution gap. Seems to me this will occur particularly as more traditionally published authors switch to the indie side.

Back cover copy for Sidetracked

When you live a lie for so long, it becomes a part of you. Like clothing first rough and scratchy, it eventually wears down, thins out. Sinks into your skin.

Thirty-four-year-old Delanie Miller has fled her dark past and is now settled into a quiet life in small-town Kentucky. She has friends, a faux “family” who lives in her house, and a loving boyfriend who may soon ask her to marry him. Her aching dream of a husband and future children are about to come true. But protecting this life of promise means keeping a low profile and guarding the truth of her past–from everyone.

The town’s peace is shattered when Delanie’s friend, Clara, is murdered, and Delanie finds her body. The police chief quickly zeroes in on Billy King, a simple-minded young man whom Delanie knows would never hurt Clara. Delanie can hunt down evidence and speak out publicly against the chief–only at great risk of her own exposure. But after suffering such injustice in her own past, how can she keep silent now? Delanie must find a way to uncover Clara’s murderer yet save the life she’s created for herself–the deceit-ridden life that will forever distance her from others and God.