An Interview with Brad Grochowski of Authors Bookshop

On the heels of the story about Indie Reader, which led to some controversy, here’s an interview with Brad Grochowski, the man behind the site Authors Bookshop – a site that allows authors to list and sell books.  Authors Bookshop is one of the best indie-friendly places online.  Check out the site and visit Brad’s blog, Indie Bookman.

Self-Publishing Review: What is AuthorsBookshop and why did you start it up?

Brad Grochowski: AuthorsBookshop is an online bookstore that specializes in independently published books.  It is also a community of authors and publishers who have chosen the indie route – an environment where you can meet and learn form others who have taken a path similar to the one you may have taken.

We prefer to work directly with the indie publisher instead of working through distributors.  This allows us to develop lasting relationships with the authors and publishers, and allows us to serve them in ways that larger bookstores can only dream of.

But we are doing much more than just selling books.  We are developing tools for authors to spread the word about there books, and, again, working to build a community of authors, publishers and readers who all mutually benefit from a model that differs from the traditional 60-40 split that the big book retailers expect (the 60 part, obviously, going to the seller.)

We are also doing everything we can to change peoples attitudes about indie books.  The old vanity publishing thing… that’s the past.  We have amazing writers working with small presses – and starting their own imprints – for all sorts of reasons.  And why not?  The technology is here.

SPR: What’s the ratio of self-published books to other small press books?

BG: In the world, or on AuthorsBookshop?

To be honest, I don’t think in these terms, so I don’t have a number to answer that question.  Most self-published author’s books – true self-published authors – *are* small press books.  If the author has done her research and knows what she is doing and wants to stand a chance of succeeding, she will not be just an author.  She will be a publisher in a very real sense.

So, I try to think in terms of independence, not, you know, who ended up following which path to get their book in print and on our shelves.

SPR: You’ve mentioned that you want it to be a kind of CD Baby for authors.  Why do you think that musicians get away with self-releasing CD’s, but putting out your own book has more of a stigma?

BG: Oh boy.  I wish I were paid by the hour for thinking about this question.  I would be a wealthy man.

My wife is a musician.  I have had friends in both indie music and film.  I am so jealous of what they have.  If your a musician, you wear your independence as if it were a badge of honor.  You stand on stage and shout, you know, “expletive corporate rock!”, and you get grateful applause!  You don’t get that for shouting down Harper Collins.  No one cares.

There are some differences that I think account for a lot of the disparity.  Venue, for one. Musicians are out there playing.  They are building an audience.  Authors have a harder time doing that .  It’s hard to talk a bookstore into letting you read, and there isn’t much more than that (though we are trying to address this with AuthorsBookshop’s new “Book Burn” series.)

But that doesn’t account for much of the difference in opinion of indie books v. indie music.  I think a lot of it comes down to attitude.  A musician will say, you know, I did this myself and it’s awesome and stuff it if you don’t agree.  Not many authors have that bravado.  Or, maybe enough musicians have it that they all benefit, while so few authors do that we all suffer from it.  A lot of this is marketing… and I think we all can do – and are doing – things to change this.

There’s another thing too… and this I’m not so sure how to work around.  I buy an album at a show for $15, get it in my car, and I listen to the whole thing.  If I don’t like it, I’m out 45 minutes.  A book on the other-hand… that’s a commitment. That’s some time there.  And I can spend 45 minutes dealing with mediocre music… but I have a hard time spending the hours to read a book I don’t like.  So, I think readers are afraid to take that risk, that leap.

But they shouldn’t be. Seriously, there are so many really great indie books out there.

One other huge thing.  Indie musicians support each other.  Authors, not so much.  I don’t get it.  If you look at CD Baby, I bet a disproportionate percentage of people *buying* albums there are the same folks who are *selling* them.  Musicians buy each others stuff. Authors don’t do that.  It really concerns me.  I am looking for ways to encourage authors to buy each others work – let me know if you have any ideas!

SPR: Why sell on AuthorsBookshop rather than try to sell through an author site/on Amazon, etc.

BG: Oh, it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition!  You should have your book listed in as many places, sold through as many channels as you possibly can!   If you don’t have your book listed at Amazon, boy, your shooting yourself in the foot, right?

But, listen, you meet someone, they love your book.  They want to know where to go to buy it online.  Amazon will give you $7 of your $16 cover price, we will pay you $12.  The math is simple.  Where are you going to send them?

Plus, have you dealt with Amazon as an indie book publisher?  It’s nightmare.  It truly is.  We cater to indies.  We want to list your book because it’s indie, not despite that fact.

If you don’t use AuthorsBookshop, we don’t have any books and if we are not utilized by the indie community… we will disappear.  That’s business.  And then, you aren’t going to have any options.  You will have no choice.  Then you have to play Amazon’s game no matter what. So, you know, we both benefit when you list your book.  You have a primo alternative, and I have a business.

SPR: Is there anything else like AuthorsBookshop online?

No, not really.  Not proudly and specifically catering to indies. There are some sites that will sell your book, but you will do all the packing and shipping.  If you want to do all that, this is great.  But frankly, most authors and publishers I know would rather spend there time writing and publishing.

Plus, we partner with some of those sites anyway, and handle the packing and shipping for you.  So, you list with AuthorsBookshop and your also listed with Alibris, which means you are listed with Barnes and Noble, Borders, and about a dozen other online sellers.  We’ve also just begun a partnership with Abe books, so your book is listed with Abe, and that gets you international penetration.

So, you know, we have our little site, but we are leveraging relationships to get your books out through as many channels as we can.

SPR: How’s AuthorsBookshop doing?  Growing steadily in terms of new authors and new shoppers?

BG: Yeah, that’s totally it; steadily and happily growing.  It’s been really great to see this thing grow, literally, one book at a time.  I like to think that each book we carry represents a relationship with an author.  Were not just selling books, you know?  We are building relationships and community.

The best thing about that is that we haven’t had to make any compromises.  What we are, we put it right out there.  We tell you, and it either works for you or it doesn’t.  We are finding that, for more and more little presses and authors it does work.

But we don’t have to cater to a panel of investors looking to get a return.  Our bottom line is, has always been, and will always be, the relationship between book maker, book seller and book buyer.  The way I see it, we are all in this together – so lets do it in a way that’s best for all of us.

And how can you go wrong with that?

SPR: Have you had to turn away books for questionable content?

BG: One.  One book.  It was the right decision, but it broke my heart.  I have relationships with a lot of partners and services that are essential to my business though, and I can’t put them or myself at risk.

The book offered instruction for an illegal activity, one primarily carried out by women and generally considered “the oldest profession in the world”, if you get my meaning.  The book is an effort to make their industry safer.  Ill just say that about it.  And It is against our acceptance policy to list a book that offer instructions on illegal activity so it was a pretty black-and-white case.

SPR: What’s your daily workload for the site?  Are you packaging and shipping books yourself?  If so, that seems like a pretty heavy workload.

BG: I am.  It is.  We are a mom-and-pop shop, you know?  We are as indie as the books we sell and wouldn’t have it any other way.  So, it’s a lot of my own time packing the books with care, and seeing that they get to where they need to go.

Every book is packed with love though.  These things are not just books.  They are friends.  The deserve a comfy journey.

But I love picking the toy surprise.  We usually stick a toy surprise in each order and I like to try to match the toy with the book.  It doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it’s magic.  You ordered a book about Morgan Horses, and it comes with a little plastic pony.  That’s fun to me.

SPR: On AuthorsBookshop it says you help with book marketing at fairs and expos.  How’s the reception been to AuthorsBookshop at conventions?  What sort of conventions have you been to?

BG: Well, the biggest show we do right now is the Baltimore Book Festival, so you know we aren’t setting up million dollar displays at Book Expo or anything like that.  But we really get the authors involved, and we have a great time spreading the gospel, you know?  The indie book gospel.

The reaction is always, “Your supporting the indies?  That’s really cool…”

And, I get a lot of questions – are indie books good, stigma this and stigma that.  So,  I get a lot of opportunity to educate.  It’s great too, when I can put my hand on the table and pick up a random book and use it to prove my point.

SPR: Back when I submitted my book, I remember there being a brick and mortar counterpart to the website.  Is that still up and running?

BG: Oh, right!  Yeah.  We had a great arrangement for a while.  But we outgrew it.  The shop was also doing the shipping and receiving for us, so that was great.  But as we grew it was getting harder and harder for them to maintain.  It was great having the books there though – I miss that.

Believe me though – the second the business can sustain it, I will open a store-front dedicated to AuthorsBookshop.  That’s one of my goals, and I think it would open a lot of doors for us.

SPR: The site was set up initially to sell your own book, The Secret Weakness of Dragons?  How’s your book doing?

BG: That’s right, it was!  Heh.

Well, I feel like I made a decision, and a commitment.  I could put my energy into selling my book, or into helping other authors sell there books.  I made that decision.  Because of that, I haven’t put the time and effort into my own book that I like to think it deserves.  And, the other books I have in me… they are waiting for another day.

SPR: What do you recommend to authors to get better visibility to their page on AuthorsBookshop?

BG: Honestly?  It’s the little things that anyone could think of  but many think they don’t need to do.  Have a really _good_ description, and make sure it is well edited.  Have a great photo in your profile. Blog on the site.  Swap links with other sites so you get links to your own.

Getting attention for your book online… that’s a huge topic, and I could go on for days.  But I would encourage you – no matter where you are presenting your book – to make darn sure you have the basics covered and rock solid.

Sorry that’s not a more magical answer.

SPR: What’s in the future for AuthorsBookshop and what is your ultimate goal for the site?

BG: Go look at CDbaby, and Google Derek Sivers.   Seriously, that man revolutionized indie music.  It cannot be stressed enough what that guy did.

I have some different ideas, but essentially, if I can do for authors what he has done for musicians, I will have succeeded.

Ultimately, I think this states it best, as a general mission:  We want to help as many authors sell as many books as possible.

SPR:  Thanks, Brad.  Great interview.  Good luck with the site.

  • Looks like a good site. Thanks for the tip.