The publisher of Thunder Beneath My Feet is closing shop December 31, 2017. Both the e-book and print editions will disappear from online bookstores. In 2018, my garage will hold most of the remaining copies of my novel about the devastating New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.
Many writers face this problem. Small publishers often go out of business after a few years of struggle. Big ones discontinue imprints that don’t meet sales targets. One friend’s mystery won an Agatha a couple of days after she heard her big-name publisher was abandoning the imprint. Another friend has seen three of her publishers go under. My Show Me series publisher, a small part of a huge conglomerate, announced to authors in early 2016 that only mysteries already under contract would be published. I sold the fifth book in my series, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, to another publisher and moved on to a new series.
The Thunder publisher, a small independent, notified her authors of the pending closing in November 2016 and suggested they look for another publisher or self-publish. She preferred to write and farm. Who can argue with those priorities?
My first thought was to self-publish the book. I loved writing Thunder, and readers have given it great feedback. I brainstormed for a distinctive publishing name, one short enough to fit on the spine and visual enough to suggest a logo. The company name would also need to work if I wanted to self-publish mysteries. Darned tough to come up with a winner.
Over the last ten years I’ve learned that successful publishing involves not only having a quality product but also a good marketing plan and an economically feasible way to distribute books to bookstores and libraries. Few self-publishers live by Amazon alone.
Having earned my living as a freelance writer and editor for some 35 years, I know how much time and effort the business side can take. Did I want to put writing aside to spend time (and money) on marketing and distribution?
The marketing and distribution challenges
I worried about penetrating the most obvious market, Missouri schools, something the publisher hadn’t tried to do and I hadn’t accomplished.
Many writers promote sales, and earn money, by giving programs at schools. That works well if you have several successful middle grade books. I don’t, and I’m not trying to build a career writing MG/YA books. Besides, I had no contacts.
I submitted Thunder to for possible inclusion in the Missouri State Teachers Association’s Reading Circle Program. The reviewer told me she was recommending it, but the list of approved books still hasn’t come out.
In my first efforts to sell to schools, I became a vendor at state conferences of history teachers and school librarians. The librarians particularly liked to my pitch, but they pointed out that they preferred to buy hardbacks. Paperbacks don’t last long in school libraries.
If I were going to publish a new edition, hardbacks seemed the way to go. I did some pricing. The per unit cost goes down as the number of copies go up. Small print runs would mean raising the price of the book to more than most libraries would pay.
One key problem in marketing to schools was the failure to send review copies to such essential professional publications as School Library Journal. (It has precise requirements on submission times of review copies and on national distribution.) Without favorable reviews in professional publications, librarians hesitate to buy. I doubt anyone would consider reviewing a self-published second edition.
National (and regional) distribution to bookstores and libraries constitutes a major problem for both small publishers and self-publishers. Many bookstores dislike (even refuse) to deal with Amazon or Ingram, preferring to buy through such distributors as Baker & Taylor.
Online sales, particularly of e-books, allow some self-published books to flourish, but I didn’t see that as the case for my MG/YA historical novel. Most of my sales have been print copies.
For now at least, I’ll let Thunder Beneath My Feet go out of print. If a demand develops, I can always self-publish. If a publisher with marketing savvy and distribution capabilities wants to pay me to publish a new edition, great.
Meanwhile, I have a couple of dozen copies in the garage. If you want to buy one or more, contact me.