Back to the Books may be a first of its kind… a bookstore that only stocks books by self-published authors and independent publishers! I’m excited to have three of my titles stocked there, and so I asked the owner, Jon Renaud, to share some more information about his exciting new venture. BTTB (Back to the Books) is located in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and stocks books by authors from around the world.
Tell us a little about Back to the Books… does it only stock indie books, or traditionally published as well?
Hi Jody, thanks for taking the time to speak to me about Back to the Books. I believe we are the very first bookstore to stock only independent titles. Now, please don’t misunderstand: these are not all self-published titles, but also small press titles where the author still owns all the rights to their book.
Where did you get the idea for an indie bookstore? Are you an author yourself?
The idea came to me a few years ago shortly after my own book was published. I wrote and published Dereliction of Duty to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. During the process, I discovered how difficult it was to get indie books into bookstores. I also met a lot of other indie authors who had some incredible books but were faced with the same problem. I always felt that if bookstore would give them a chance, and if the prices were competitive, they would sell. So the idea was there for some time, and then one day I was talking to friend who owned two storefronts in Manitou Springs, and he offered me one. Idea met opportunity… and I jumped on it!
What made you think an indie bookstore would be a viable/profitable business venture?
I always knew it could be a viable business plan if I could just find the right location, and Manitou Springs is perfect. No one will go out of their way to drive to an indie bookstore, but Manitou Springs is 95% foot traffic. And when people walk in and see all of the great books, most stop, look around… and buy books!
As for profitable, I never thought, or said, if would be a profitable business venture. My goal is to get the store to a point where it is self-sustaining and new titles are rotating in and out, to give indie authors the exposure they need. If the first month is any indication, that goal will be met, and maybe there could be some profits left over.
Tell us a little about Manitou Springs, and why you thought it would be a good home for BTTB.
Manitou Springs is an amazing little town that draws millions of visitors every year. It has a culture that embraces everything independent and dislikes corporate: all of the stores in town are trendy art galleries, cafés, and the like. It is the perfect location to attempt something like this!
How long did it take you to set up the whole venture, including your online store?
The plan has come together very quickly, but I could not even begin to count the hours I have put into this project. The storefront became available on February 10, 2012 and I have been running since that day. In about one month, I was able to get the physical store loaded with books and ready for the grand opening, the website and online store up and running, and arrange and pull off a spectacular grand opening. So it has been a crazy few months, but everything has come together perfectly. I finally got the employees trained, which means things should be slowing down for me a little. To celebrate, I am heading to Las Vegas next week!!!
For a long time, authors have struggled against the stigma of self-publishing… In your experience, what does the general public think of self-published books?
There is no doubt there is a stigma out there for some. The biggest problem is quality and price. People believe that self-published books are too expensive, and poorly edited. I am working hard to help change that stigma. Although it is impossible to read every book I get in, I will read a few chapters of every book to make sure the formatting is professional and there are not a lot of typos. Unfortunately, I have had to decline a few titles because I feared they would perpetuate the stereotype and not help our cause. But overall, the customers I have met do not care how the book was published, as long as it is a good book.
Are you still accepting new authors? How many titles do you plan to stock at any one time?
I will continue to accept new author as long as my doors are open. That is part of the business plan — to continue to roll the inventory. Although Mantiou Springs is a big tourist town, I have also been very warmly received by the locals, who have purchased many books already, and expressed their happiness at having a bookstore in town. They will continue to come back as long as I keep new titles coming in for them.
What genres of books are selling best?
So far, children’s books, Young Adult and Self-Help/Improvement books have been the best sellers. And surprisingly, poetry books have also been very popular! I expected the children’s books to be hot sellers as we just finished the Spring Break season and lots of kids and parents were in town during the week. I also publish a weekly bestseller list at www.backtothebooks.net, so authors can see what is selling and share their strong sales with friends and family. I expect the fiction titles to start to pick up as the tourists begin to arrive, and are looking for good books to read while sitting out by the pools.
How important is a good cover?
There is nothing more important than a great cover – except maybe great content – but if you don’t have a great cover… no one will ever see your content! The unique thing about Back to the Books is it is designed so every book faces out towards the customers. No books are hidden on back shelves or have the spines facing the customers. It is fascinating to me to watch what books draw the most attention simply because of the covers.
If you could give three pieces of advice to indie authors trying to sell their books, what would they be?
The first piece of advice is what I stated above: design a great cover. Don’t do it yourself or have your friend who is really good with PowerPoint do it for you. Find a great cover designer and spend the money to have a fabulous cover.
Second, price your book competitively. Customers do not want to pay $25 for a 300 page paperback novel. You will never be able to get your price point where it needs to be if you use most of the online publishing services, because that is how they make their money: by charging high prices for the print books. Work with someone that knows the industry and can help you navigate the process. I provide free advice to authors every day.
And finally, just keep producing the great books that I have seen coming through my store. Be persistent in your marketing, and people will buy your work… and then some day come back to buy the sequel!
Thanks, Jody, for the opportunity to share this new venture with all of your readers. If I could add one last piece of advice, it would be that if you want people to take a chance on you as an indie author, then you have to do the same. Commit to only buying indie books and then recommend them to all of your friends and family. We only succeed if we are willing to do what we want customers to do!
Thank you, Jon, for a fascinating interview and for doing so much for the indie publishing cause! In fact, on behalf of all indie authors, THANK YOU for really pushing the envelope of indie publishing and sales. Best of luck in the new venture… I think I might plan a trip to Manitou Springs myself, to check out this wonderful store!
Authors who are interested in having their books stocked at BTTB can contact Jon via the Back to the Books website. You can also shop the online store!