RSS Feed

Self-Publishing from a Bookseller’s Perspective: Part 1

October 26, 2015 by Diane


Ancient books at a flea market.

As a buyer and seller of books for an independent bookstore, I receive a good amount of self-published titles from authors, not to mention daily email submission queries. How many of these titles make it onto the shelves?

Maybe 10% are good enough for me to buy outright.

Another 10% might sell, but I’m not positive, so I’ll take a few on consignment for three months to see if customers will fork over their credit cards to take these books home. If the books move, I’ll reorder, buying them outright.

Approximately 15% make it to the shelves we’ve dedicated to self-published books that don’t quite make the grade to the regular shelves.

The remaining self-published manuscripts, for a variety of reasons (which I’ll get to shortly), end up in the “come and get ‘em” pile. Unfortunately, most authors don’t come and get ‘em, so the books pile up behind my desk on a shelf marked “dusty and forgotten.”

My heart bleeds for these authors.

How does a bookseller decide which titles to purchase? How can you make sure your masterpiece doesn’t end up dusty and forgotten?

Self-publishing: the good, the bad, and the atrocious

I invited fellow bookseller Sue Wilhite to join me in a cyber-chat about the subject. Sue co-owned San Jose Bookshop, and currently coordinates author events for a successful metaphysical indie in Silicon Valley. She is the self-published author of two titles: 21 Templates That Run Your World, and The Ultimate Oracle. A prosperity coach, tarot expert, intuitive, and all-around wise soul, Sue is generous with her gifts and wisdom.

We started off discussing the increase in self-published titles, then shared our perspectives on what authors can do when it comes to self-publishing, and tips on how to earn a spot on a bookstore’s shelves.

Here is part 1 of our chat, and tips #1 – 3.

Diane: At first the books trickled in; now they’re coming in droves. Sadly, a lot of these books are just not a good fit, or they’re poorly written, or they have some confusing title like: What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes? And How Can I Be One, Too? Which actually has useful information inside, but the title reminds me of one of those hard-to-decipher license plates.

Why do you think there is such a plethora of questionable self-published books out there, giving self-publishing a bad rap?

Sue: I think there are several reasons for the recent flood:

  1. Several indie authors have pulled off 7-figure book deals recently after going the self-published route. Some, if not all of them, even gave their stuff away for free on Scribd or Wattpad, and built up a fervent fan base. Anyone who has any drive to put pen to paper and let others read it may see the successes and think “I can do that!”
  2. It’s easy to self-publish. The lack of editorial gatekeepers means anyone can string some words together and put out a printed book.
  3. There’s a larger number of books and other resources out there purporting to tell would-be authors how to do it.


Diane: And out of that recent flood, some are downright sinkers. Let’s talk worst book ever.

The worst that comes to mind is: Memoirs of a Gigolo: My Early Years, by Lord Christian Halliday. (Good grief, were there later years?) I didn’t actually receive a copy of the book, just the marketing material. In his letter, the author insured me that even though he would devote zero time to promoting this “provocative romance” (because he was deeply involved in writing the sequels) the book itself would fly off the shelf. Obviously, Lord Christian Halliday, (a persona, I presume), didn’t bother to research the store he sent this material to, because we are a metaphysical bookstore, and unless this gigolo is a Wiccan or Shaman or Buddhist, we will spend zero time considering his book.

But we will spend endless hours researching Lord Christian Halliday online out of curiosity.


Tip #1: Make sure your book is a good fit for the store you’re targeting.


Tip #2: Make sure the cover art represents your book. Is it professionally done? Does it tell the reader what the book is about?

The cover of Lord Christian Halliday’s book is a photoshopped mansion with a mid-sized car parked in front. Hmm. The cover of Volume 3 features an open coffin revealing a woman’s head, except the coffin appears to be child-sized. Is the woman folded up inside? Is her lower half missing? What does an oversized head in a coffin have to do with being a gigolo? It’s a puzzlement.

Sue: I think that’s a great example! We had one at San Jose Bookshop that we kept behind the counter to read to each other on rainy days. We’d open it up to any page (it was about 3 inches thick, maybe 500-600 pages, so we had lots of material to choose from), and try to read a paragraph out loud without laughing. We nearly always failed. Usually, it would end with us bent over double, our ribs hurting from laughing so hard, tears streaming down our faces. Let’s just say the author was really, really fond of dangling participles, and the images conjured up were horrible. I kind of regret leaving it behind when I left.

Diane: An entertaining read, but not in the way the author intended. Which brings us to:

Tip #3: Get a professional editor.

Sue: Another horrible book had a bad cover design as well as bad editing: it looked like a talented tween had drawn it in crayon. In the acknowledgements, the author thanked her precocious 15-year-old sister for editing, putting to use the AP English skills she had acquired. If the book had been a graphic novel, or was for a younger audience, the hand-drawn cover might have worked. But most adults will wince or smile, and pass it up without even checking out the editing. Editing is not just about correcting grammar, it’s about flow and coherence and communication. It takes skill and practice. So, yes, get a professional editor!

-next up: the good, why these books are good, and more tips for authors who want to self-publish


  1. Joan says:

    Very good food for thought! Looking forward to part 2!

  2. Charli Mills says:

    Great post, Diane! After this, Lord Christian Halliday is probably going to get a lot of SEO hits on his name and not even know why! I think writers could do so much better, taking time to find the right fit. For a creative bunch, sometimes we aren’t very creative at finding our target audiences or creating covers that give our work meaning. I’d be lost without my editor. She gives me direction and prevents me from tripping over my embarrassing typos.

  3. Nancy Clark says:

    As an editor/proofreader just breaking into the self-publishing field, I understand what you mean about books that just don’t work. The story may be one that needs to be told, but the inconsistencies, the glaring grammatical errors, the weak structure, the meaningless scenes are all put-offs for readers. Thanks for reminding all of us that how a story is told is just as important as the story itself. Looking forward to your next post!

  4. Bun Karyudo says:

    This post was interesting too. (I read them in reverse order, though. Please don’t tell the blogging police.) 🙂

  5. Tip number three cannot be understated. Having a great editor is like having a guardian angel. Sure, you set off on your journey of writing this book by yourself, but your editor is going to make sure that you get exactly where you need to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *