article discussing why a self-publisher or independent publisher of fiction should set realistic marketing plan tailored to the author's resources

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 1/2009

Focusing of My Marketing Plan

The 2009 craft fair season is underway here in Mississippi, and I imagine, across the South and the Nation. I recognized two years ago that craft fairs might well prove one of the most practical venues for selling my books, but I didn’t really start a grueling schedule until the fall of 2008 and by the time December rolled around, and the close of the season, I’d pretty much resolved to concentrate on craft fairs as my best outlet, pending, at least, development of an on-line marketing plan.

One of my earliest goals when I decided to self-publish was to get my books in every independent bookstore across the South. I now realize that even if I could accomplish that monumental feat without a distributor, that wouldn’t sell my books. Bookstores are where one goes to buy books; not sell them. The problem, of course, is that an author’s book is lost in a bookstore. For a reader to buy it, the reader first must find it. To find it means, more than likely, the reader has come to the store in search of it. Without publicity, how does that reader even know the book is there? Well, the answer is simple, he/she doesn’t. Maybe by a long shot, the browser will pick up my book, find it of interest, and purchase it. I don’t plan on selling too many books that way. With bookstores, I’ve realized my best success when the owner has read and likes what I write. That owner is worth gold, because he/she suggests my book to customers who he/she believes will enjoy my work.

Another realization that has knocked me upside the head is the work and the time that I must put into developing my readership. I now know it will require many years for me to establish a name for myself in just my state alone. Right now, I am no longer looking beyond Mississippi—without a distributor and the backing of a big publisher, expecting name recognition beyond my state is, simply put, delusional. Actually, I’ve about concluded that establishing a name for myself across the length and width of just Mississippi is extremely ambitious. I’m not backing down from that one though. Mississippi is my marketplace and I’m going to struggle through until at least a few people in every corner know my pen name and hopefully will tell someone, “Yeah, you might like her stuff. Give her a try.” Then and only then will I have hopes of a quick dissipation of my 2000-copy print run.

Rest assured all you wanna-be authors—traditional publisher or not—you are going to have to work to bring the reader(s) to your book(s). It ain’t gonna be easy and unless you’re a glutton for punishment or a real people person, it ain’t gonna be fun. But it can be satisfying.

Understand, I am no longer seeking publication thru New York—no thoughts of selling 5,000 books in six months and crying out to the traditional publishers, or the agents, “Hey, look what I’ve done. How about taking me on now?” First off, I don’t see a sale of 5,000 books happening in even a year, not with my shallow pockets and scarce time. I’ve moved (and by moved, I don’t mean sold—sells are included, but I’ve given away a lot of books, too, as part of my promotion) a little over half of my 2,000-copy print run for The Devil’s Bastard in two and a half years. I’ve moved a little over a quarter of my inventory for Wolf Dawson in just under two years. New York would not be impressed with those sales figures, and I’m smart enough to know it.

What books I have in the bookstores are there because, with the blessings of the store owners, I put there. The number of independent bookstores in Mississippi is finite. Three here on the Coast if you count the Book Nook in Ocean Springs, two in Natchez, one in Greenville, one in Greenwood, one in Vicksburg, one in Philadelphia, one in Hattiesburg, one in Jackson, one in Clinton, one in Madison, one in Tupelo, and one in Oxford. This doesn’t count strictly Christian bookstores or used bookstores. The big chains are non-starters. Even Barnes and Noble, which used to offer a great deal of autonomy to their community service representatives to carry a limited number of local author’s books, is now saying no to books which are listed in their “data base” as non-returnable.

No matter where I go for a signing, I hand carry my books in and leave whatever the representative or storeowner asks me to after the event is over. And if at anytime thereafter, the person in charge of the store wants my books out of there all he/she has to do is call. If the books have already been paid for, I’ll return the money. If they’re being sold on consignment, all the easier. Fortunately, I’ve never been asked to come get ’em. I have had some reorders though—that’s a good thing.

When it comes to the manner in which the chains deal with their stores across the nation, all I have to say is that, just like in a tactical, combat situation, calls should be made in the field. However, micromanagement has become the order of the day. What drives the big chains is the bottom line, and in the mind of corporate, the bottom line is stronger with large print runs and nation-wide distribution. Nothing evil or sinister or “out to get me”, just their idea of good business.

For those of you already in self-publishing or looking to self-publish, let me give you my opinion to do with what you please. You can try to put yourself in the chain stores’ shoes; you can gather facts to support arguments as to the error of their ways, but truth is, we little independent publishers are peanuts, they do not need us and have finally deemed us not worth the effort. I say the same thing about that “valid” rationale here as I do about traditional publishers. They do not need us, but more importantly, we do not need them. We are not publishing inside the box; we shouldn’t be trying to market inside the box—just my opinion. For me, time is limited, and fighting that battle (like waiting around for a New York agent/publisher to discover my writing) is not how I’m gonna spend what little marketing time/money I have. Besides, it’s a loosing battle. I’ll stick with the more supportive indies, gift stores, and craft fairs.

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