Barnes & Noble Booksigning: Bestselling Author Toby Neal’s Journey


One of the biggest questions that I get from authors is how to get their books into bookstores AND still make money. It is never an easy question to answer because there are so many factors to take into account. When I saw that a Sisterhood of the Traveling Book author member had done that, I reached out to her to do a guest post for The Author CEO. She had already written a post and gave me permission to reprint it.

Tomorrow is her big day. So, while you are enjoying her perspective on working with the big box bookstores, please send her some air hugs and best wishes for her signing tomorrow.




toby-neal-profile-aboutHow to get your indie book into Barnes and Noble? It’s not for the faint of heart. I’m having my first Barnes and Noble book signing October 12 at the B & N in Lahaina, 3 to 5 pm. Care to hop a plane and join me? I’d be delighted to give you a hug and some book swag!

The road to this day has been a painful, expensive and bumpy one, and that’s not mentioning the agony of writing the books. In spite of over half a million copies of my books sold online, I face the same challenges any indie author faces in getting books into the brick-and-mortar giant, and they can be summed up in one word: returnability.

But before we go there, here are some of the things I’ve tried to breach the walls:

• Hired a top-notch team including NY cover designer, trad pub editor/copyeditor, and interior book design team, so that my print books look good as anything in stores;

• Hired a saleswoman whose job was getting the books into stores, with focus on Hawaii;

• Mobilized readers to keep going in and asking for my books;

• Paid for review and advertising on Kirkus to gain the attention of booksellers, store buyers and libraries;

• Paid extra to be listed in ALL versions of Ingram’s wholesale book catalogs;

• Paid to big bucks to be featured in IndieReader’s Edelweiss catalog of vetted, reviewed indie books that have their stamp of approval for marketing to bookstores;

• Changed my pricing to 55% to retailer, and enabled returnability.

The last item on this list is the one that made all the difference. In fact, the only one.

Early into my author/publisher journey, my saleswoman called all the B &N’s in Hawaii and they had heard of me, had dealt with customers asking for my books, wanted to stock them, but COULD NOT, due to corporate policy, carry them until the pricing reflected their mandatory 55% cut and returnability was enabled.

Returnability is a huge risk for any indie to assume. In addition to the money I’ve spent on advertising and other strategies I’ve attempted to tackle the print book issue, in order to be carried by B&N I have to personally assume the same risk every publisher assumes: if the book doesn’t sell, the bookseller can send it back, either to my book producer, LightningSource, for pulping (an additional two dollars a book) or to me personally. I chose for them to send it to me.

Last week my first box of returns arrived on my front doorstep. Because my books are gorgeous, high-quality trade paperbacks, they cost around five dollars apiece to produce, plus two dollars shipping, so I get to suck down 30 times $7.00 (and that’s just the books coming back that I know about right now.)

But at least I don’t have to pay 2 dollars apiece for a pulping fee. I figure I can give these copies away to libraries, as prizes to fans. Hell, I can drop them off at the homeless shelter…but, in short, can I afford to invest in print? No siree.

I make one dollar per print book. (Contrast that with $3.79 profit per e-book sold at Amazon, and NO risk or return cost.) When calculating print profit, don’t forget to add production fees, shipping, 55% to retailer, and now I need to remember to deduct “returns.” (At a seven dollars loss per returned book versus one dollar profit per book sold, I’d need to sell 210 print books to break even on that box that just showed up on my doorstep. What a fun word problem that was!)

So this upcoming book signing at B &N is really about my personal bucket list. I’ve dreamed of seeing my books on shelves, of going into B&N, the only retail bookstore on Maui, and seeing my books there. And now they are! I am so excited…and boy do I hope the store in Lahaina sells every one of those copies!

Now you know what it takes to get into B &N… nerves of steel, and a pocketbook that can take some hits, and THEN you call B & N and pitch them on ordering your books. After next month, I plan to turn OFF returnability. It’s just not a sandbox this indie author can afford to play in, and its very evident to me why the publishing world is failing under the current model. Who can afford to absorb all the returns? It would give even Michael Connolly pause if he had to pay personally for them.

Thoughts? Anyone else find another way into B &N?


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  1. Congrats, Toby! May your books be the hot new toy for Christmas 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for inspiring this blog post, Naomi, and I hope it helps other indies researching “what it takes” to be carried by B & N. I keep hearing, “but indie bookstores will do consignment’ (which B &N won’t, not even a few extra copies I’d planned to bring for my book signing) but who has time and money to order a box of books, make phone or in person pitches, then personally schlep the books around to sellers…while not forgetting you are making ONE DOLLAR per book, IF it sells?
    I will keep having print books made, but I’m thoroughly convinced now that ebooks are the only really viable route for indies…I guess I had to ride this train all the way to the end of the line to give up on it, and it STILL gives me a pang.
    Much aloha,
    Toby Neal
    PS thanks for the support, I’ll do a follow up post and let you know how it went! *bucket list*

    • The article is excellent, Toby. One of the things that I love about indies is the ability to learn from one another. Your article touches on a hot button issue that is on the minds of so many indies. Makes one wonder if the grass is green on the Barnes and Noble side and if it is worth crossing that alligator filled river to find out.

  3. Thought you might enjoy reading my write-up on the “bucket list” experience at B & N! While it may not be financially viable, it was an incredibly rewarding experience otherwise and I’m doing another in December!

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