Dear Agony Aunt,
I spent 18 months of my life interviewing, photographing, writing, designing, laying out, producing (and having professionally printed in China), living and breathing a hard cover coffee table book. The first six months after the launch was great, okay, hard work. I did it all myself (aside from retaining the services of a professional editor) which I am immensely proud of. I have sold/gifted around 500 of 1000 books, which I hear is not bad, but it didn't even pay for band aids and now my garage has become a sad and sorry graveyard. It's a great book (if I do say so myself); I did hate it there for a while, but now I'm feeling sad for it and need to do something to move the last of the stock. Alas my post-production sales enthusiasm has dried up and I need help and inspiration on how I can relieve myself of the rest of my babies, so I can move onto a new book or project. Any advice that doesn't involve matches and deranged laughter?
Hello Garage Graveyard,
Firstly, congratulations on putting so much hard work into creating a well-produced book. Many self-published authors underestimate the work involved or skimp on important production steps like thorough editing and quality design. Self-publishing is like any other business; it takes time and money, and from the sound of it you really worked hard to make the best book you could.
I'm not sure if it is comforting to hear this or not, but yours is a very common story. The average, and more relevantly, the mode, is far lower than your 500 copies, so you can be proud of that figure.
There are a couple options that can still be tried before you reach for the matches. There are distributors out there who can help with warehousing, taking orders and the like – places such as this one. It is better to have done this before a book comes out, but they may agree to take a few copies.
Then there is remaindering: selling your book off at a very low price. Remaindering is a step-up from destroying your books, as at least they go out to readers, even if you are selling them for 5 cents each. If you are just trying to get them out of the garage and into the world, you could try markets, and book fairs such as the Lifeline Bookfair. There may also be unorthodox avenues that you haven't tried: if your coffee table book is cover to cover photos of and interviews with kittens then perhaps the local RSPCA, veterinary clinic or pet shop might like to take some copies or do a promotion.
However, sadly, at some point you may just decide to do away with those boxes of books, and that's okay. Again, a great many authors have been faced with this choice. Whether you throw out a portion at a time to distribute the anguish and hedge your bets, or you do it all at once, it's alright to let go of this project. Make sure you keep a couple pristine copies for yourself and seal them in plastic somewhere safe. Then relax, watch a sunset and think about the silver lining. You went on a journey, and you learnt a lot. You know that people out there have your book and you know they liked it. If you decide to do it again you are now better equipped, as you have learnt that the true challenge is not in the making of the book (though that is hard work), but in building and accessing a market for it.
Best of luck letting go and with your exciting new project,
Want some more bitter pills to swallow? Check out these other Agony Aunt posts
Shelf Snubbed (about having trouble getting into bookstores)
Pantry Procrastinations (or some tips to break your writers' block)
Journal Jeopardy (where should you submit to)
Red Pen Wary (coping with editorial feedback)
I'm Listening (where writers can go to find feedback on their work)