July 9, 2018

The secrets to success: navigating the Tattered Cover’s new program for independent authors

tattered cover book storeBy Madeleine Dodge

It’s a familiar scenario: A bookstore accepts a self-published book on consignment, only to exile it to a shelf for “Independent Local Authors” in the farthest corner of the store where even the dust bunnies won’t give it the time of day. The author has to bend over backward and jump through fiery hoops just to get one copy sold.

And when the selling period is up, the store hands over the unsold books with a pitiful, try-again-next-time smile, and the author slips away with little to show for a book that took years to write.

In 2017, Len Vlahos, owner of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado, decided to change this losing situation. He felt that independent authors had spent too long feeling frustrated that their books were isolated in the store, and that self-published books sold better when integrated with traditionally published books.

With Tattered Cover’s new program, self-published books are thoroughly evaluated, and if accepted, placed in their corresponding genres where they are more accessible to readers. Walk into Tattered Cover today and you’ll find self-published books shelved next to bestsellers and critically acclaimed works alike.

This new program also solves the problem that the increasing popularity of self-publishing has imposed on the store. According to Daron Mueller, local author buyer at the Tattered Cover, the store receives 10 inquiries a day from authors hoping to place their self-published book in the store. If each book were accepted, as they generally were in the past, that would add up to hundreds a month. With its new system, the store only takes 25 books a month, allowing staffers to carefully review and select each book individually.

We spoke with Mueller about the store’s program, dubbed the Colorado Author Consignment Program. Growing up in Denver, the Tattered Cover was always one of Mueller’s favorite places in the city to discover new books. In the years since, he has worked in book design and publishing, starting his own small press in Boulder in 2003 while getting his MFA at Naropa University. He has worked as a designer and editor on over 30 books and is thrilled to be able to continue working with writers and publishers on the buying team at the Tattered Cover.

Recently, Mueller sat down with us to discuss how local authors can successfully pitch, market, and sell their books at the Tattered Cover.

Q: So let’s start from the beginning of the process. What are the requirements of the program?

A: Before I can consider a book for the Colorado Author Consignment Program, I have to make sure it meets our basic criteria: It has to be published in the last 3 months; it has to be written by a Colorado resident; it has to have an ISBN, and the title of the book and the author’s name must be printed on the spine.

Q: What should an author do to approach you with a book?

A: Authors can send a pitch to me at [email protected] and be sure to include their bio, a brief description of the book, the cover art and any reviews they have received. If the book already has a sales history, or if you have received awards for your previous books, please include that information, too. The Tattered Cover is always interested in the latest goings-on in Colorado, so if your book is featured in local media or upcoming events definitely be sure to tell us.

Q: What methods do you use to judge a book’s merit once you have the pitch and the book? Are there certain markers that you use to decide whether a book should be accepted into the program?

A: What’s most important to me is that the book is truly finished and ready for the world. Is it well edited and designed? Is the story fully developed and followed through? Are the pages formatted professionally or does it look like you did the layout yourself on Microsoft Word at two in the morning? Those issues can become insurmountable, even if your book looks exciting at first glance.

Q: Once a book in the local author’s program is on the shelves, how can it gain visibility? What can an independent author do to promote sales?

A: So many authors imagine that once they’ve published their book that it is finally finished. Actually, the work on your book has only just begun….

Events and signings are incredibly important for a book’s success. I also believe in the power of grassroots publicity. Word of mouth is still the best publicity, whether it is on social media or “in real life.” Your friends, family and community are your best publicists because they already know you and they often work for free. I never want to see authors sell themselves short to themselves or to the people with whom they are closest. Publishing a book is a major accomplishment that many people only dream of. All the work you have done writing and publishing your book deserves to be noticed and shared and part of a larger conversation. People love seeing their friends and neighbors succeed, and when they do, they share in that success.

Don’t be shy. Tell people you have just met about your book, offer to lead book groups, throw awesome book parties and invite other local writers. Get creative. Some authors have had video treasure hunts based on their book on social media; others have created video previews. There have been costume/themed parties for books with great prizes and some authors have even had live music at their book launch. You can also do so many other, very simple things to spread the word…

Many local authors have had success taking a picture of their book on our shelf and posting that on social media.

Simply telling everyone you know that your book is at the Tattered Cover means a lot to Coloradans. The Tattered Cover has been a huge part of Denver so long and having your book here elevates its profile and all the work that you have put into it.

Q: And what can Tattered Cover do to help promote a book in the local author program?

A: We also have a new “local author” display at our store on Colfax that I’m very excited about. It’s a mix of more well-known local authors and also books from the Colorado Author Consignment Program. I try to feature new authors from our program in that display alongside more established Colorado authors who are our bestsellers. The display is right next to our “Staff Recommends” section in the store and it couldn’t be in a better place. Our Events and Marketing Department also does a fantastic job with our newsletter and book signings. We have more than 450 events each year at our stores and we publish our event calendar on our website, newsletter and as a free hand-out in all our stores.

Q: How do you define success for a book in the local author program or any book at the Tattered Cover?

A: Every book is different. I think it is critical for authors to define what success means for them and their particular set of objectives and set realistic goals that they can work toward and achieve. Publishing a book and creating a buzz about it can lead to so many things: career opportunities, professional credibility and also reaching your audience.

Q: Finally, what role do reviews play in the process of selecting books?

A: Reviews are so important because they make the book part of a larger discussion. Whenever I take a book off the shelf, the first thing I look at is the back cover to see who has read it and what they have to say about it. Blurbs are essential to understanding where a book fits in the larger conversation. They are as important as the title of the book. When there is a discussion around the book, on radio, through reviews in print media and in the community, it makes all the difference in the world. We want our books at the Tattered Cover to be part of the bigger discussion. We want people to be talking about them and make the conversation larger. I think Denver needs that. I really do.

Madeleine Dodge, a BlueInk Review Summer 2018 intern, is a Rhetoric and Media Studies Major at Lewis & Clark College and author of the children’s book Does A Giraffe Ever Feel Small?

BlueInk Review is a fee-based book review service devoted to self-published titles exclusively. For more news and writing and marketing tips, sign up for our mailing list. And be sure and visit us at https://www.blueinkreview.com./

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