Friday, July 10, 2009

Y'all Got Serv— Uh, Skipped

Hot on the heels of my last post concerning co-op developments and Andrew Wheeler, here's another of his posts, this one dealing with three of the worst words a debut (or any) author can hear from his or her publisher: "you got skipped."

I highly recommend you read Andrew's post and then come back here, but if you don't have the time, I'll provide a quick run-down and some commentary.

As I've noted before, books are sold from publishers to accounts by the publishers' sales reps (sometimes called "account managers") and are bought by the accounts' buyers during what are termed "sales calls." The ultimate outcome of a sales call is a list of numbers: the number of copies of each book presented that the buyer would like to take for the account.

For national accounts like Borders or Barnes & Noble, sometimes that number is pretty good, say 1,000 - 2,000. Sometimes it's very good, say, 3,500 - 6,000. And sometimes it's just super, say, 10,000+.

And sometimes, alas, that number is: 0.

Yes, zero is an option, and when a buyer decides not to take any copies of a given title, that title is said to have been "skipped." (Noun: "a skip," as in, "Venezuelan Vampire Vixens V was a skip due to poor sales of Venezuelan Vampire Vixens IV.") There are those pesky comps again. More on those in a future post.

What does it mean for you if a national chain skips your book? Well, to be flat-out honest, you are somewhat doomed. A lack of presence in the national chains is a severe handicap, and your sales will then essentially be limited to the independents and the major on-line retailers, such as Amazon. (Yes, there's also the "mass merch" channel—e.g. Sam's Club, Costco, Target—but they take far fewer titles than the chains. If you get skipped at B&N, you're sure as hell not going to be shelved at Wal-Mart.)

You are only somewhat doomed, however, for the following reasons: because Amazon has the ability to reach consumers anywhere, 24/7, if your book sales really take off there, you certainly won't be skipped again when it comes time for the national accounts to buy your next book. (You'll also make some handsome royalties. Ka-ching!) Then again, if you languish at the bottom of Amazon's search results, you won't get those sales and may never be heard from again. On the other hand, word-of-mouth at the independents might score you mainstream reviews and increase your sales, but that's a pretty big "might"—the independents can only do so much. (As Andrew notes, the number of independent book stores has dwindled from 7,500 to just 1,700 over the past two decades.)

You're right to be angry, sad, depressed, confused, or all of the above if your book gets skipped by one of (or more than one of) the national chains. But what can you do about it?

Don't give up. No one is more interested in promoting you than you are. Ask your agent and editor what you can do to help sell yourself and your book. Now might be the time to change your mind and actually go on that six-city book tour, or even just accept an offer to appear on a local radio show.

Visit your local independent book store(s). Try and get them to buy a few copies of your book. If they say yes, ask if you can do an author event or sign some stock. Oh, yeah, and continue to shop at said stores so they don't go out of business.

Take your fight to the blogosphere. If you've got a web site or a blog—and you should—try to get the word out through that outlet. Let your friends know on Facebook. Tweet about it. (Just don't say anything in anger, or something you might regret later.)


  1. Thanks for the link to my guest post, Eric! It's absolutely fascinating to read about the publishing industry from your perspective.

    Have you considered using a full feed? I'm more likely to read your posts (and comment on them) if I don't have to click through to read them. (I blogged about my full rationale for full feeds before: ).


  2. Hi Eric,

    Enjoyed your post over at Nathan's, and am glad you decided to start your own blog. Even in its early stages, there's some great info here. Is it possible for you to adjust your settings so that we can email the posts to a third party? Sometimes your info's too good to keep to myself.

    Thanks, and good luck. DB

  3. Hi Jordan—

    I assumed that since my posts tend to be on the long side, a full feed would be somewhat annoying. If that's not the case, though, I'd be glad to change the feed's settings.


    Sure thing! The changes will be in place by Monday's post.

  4. Great info! I went and read the other post by Wheeler. I've had some friends who have been able to change minds of booksellers after their books have been skipped. Takes a lot of networking though.

  5. Interesting post. You say that if sales in online sources do well, the next book won't be skipped. But how do the chains know that? BN has their own website. But no one orders through Borders' website. My book, and the paperback of my last book have been "skipped" by Borders even though the one now in paperback is currently being made into a major motion picture with actors I've actually heard of. So I can only assume that online orders are pretty good and will get better (My BN sales rank for the book that's being made into a movie is around 3,000, the other is around 25,000). Will Borders ever get with the program, or is that a lost cause?

    I admit that the main reason this bugs me is that the only bookstore within a half-hour drive of me is a Borders. The books are both carried by BN.

  6. Hi Anon—

    I share your frustration with Borders (more than you know and more than I'm willing to blog about). It's tough, no doubt.

    The good news, however, is that sales reps selling to Borders are acutely aware of how Borders' buys, reorders, and sales compare to their major competitors, and high sales on Amazon/ or at brick-and-mortar competitors like Barnes & Noble will inevitably come up during the Borders reps' sales calls. They want to sell your book almost as badly as you do, and they'll absolutely tell Borders about strong sales by other retailers.

    My guess is sooner or later, Borders will get with the program.

  7. tip for bloggers - for google indexes your feed immediately you post - so use a full feed.

    google robots also crawl - but if you use a short feed, and post frequently so that posts aren't on the front page, google may never see the full post

  8. Anon from above again. Does the publisher actually do that? It always seems like they just move on to the next list -- which would mean that they'd pitch the movie tie-in edition of my book to Borders when it comes out, but the book that's out in hardcover now will be lost until it's in paperback.

  9. I'm a debut author who found out one week before my book went on sale that B&N and Borders had both skipped me. Even though I'm with a major publisher (indeed one of the biggest), had fantastic blurbs from several well-known and loved authors in my genre, and my book was already established as a bestseller in the UK.

    I wish I knew the logic behind this, but apparently the buyers at the chains declined to give a reason, so I'm completely in the dark. However, the largest Canadian chain (Chapters/Indigo/Coles) bought my book with great enthusiasm, so now my Canadian sales account for more than half my total North American sales.

    I wish I knew what those US buyers were thinking, and if there were anything that could have been done (or could be done in future) to change their minds...

  10. I wanted to add that if you hear you've been skipped, it's not carved in stone. Borders actually skipped me while B&N was stocking it heavily (5-6 copies in every store).
    Two weeks after release, I received word that Borders changed their mind. Within 2 weeks of that decision, it's been hitting shelves in almost every Borders-- 2-6 copies in each store.

    I know the sales staff at my pub worked REALLY hard to change their mind, so I'm thrilled that the end result was so great.