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Hello Everyone,
Today’s Newsletter is a “Special Edition, as I’m devoting this entire broadcast to a “success story,” and in more ways than the material’s being a quality read.
As early as Tuesday of this past week, I was going to write my normal Newsletter.  I’d already decided on the accompanying article, which would pertain to assessing manuscript revision suggestions provided by an editor.  Revisions are a topic of enormous importance, but I’m holding the article and the rest of what was to be in that Newsletter in abeyance so I can take this opportunity to explain via a step-by-step process how one of my long-standing clients has just gotten his self-published book in Barnes & Noble stores throughout the Northwest.  Yet, perhaps of greatest significance of all, his book is also being stocked in the B&N warehouse in New York City, for distribution to stores across the nation.
The book I’m discussing is I, WALTER by Mike Hartner.  Mike resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, maintains an office in Seattle, and is an IT professional.  I have asked for and received Mike’s permission to detail what he has done to accomplish having I, WALTER accepted by B&N, but I first want to provide subscribers with a little history on Mike’s and my professional relationship.
When I first began editing full time in ’09, Mike was one of my early clients.  What began with a free query review on April 29 of that year, for a novel originally titled ETERNITY FOR A POPSICLE, later became a critique of this manuscript and then a revision and another critique.   After another revision and numerous false starts, I line-edited his draft and he began the process of pursuing agents.  I believed that the story still needed more work before it was ready for agents, but Mike, as with most writers I know, was eager to test the waters
ETERNITY was now titled A NEW BEGINNING, and while it indeed had gone through quite a metamorphosis, agents weren’t enamored with the story, considering some of the scenes choppy and not transitioned well, and with characters that didn’t display enough dimension, issues I’d contended all along, and why I wasn’t jumping up and down when Mike decided to begin querying.  However, the best way for an author to learn where a book stands is to indeed have agents present their positions, and for this reason I decided this was perhaps the one sure way for Mike to realize what I’d been saying was correct.  Alas, after a long campaign without any bites, Mike decided to pull the plug on this story.
I had a couple of long conversations with Mike regarding fleshing out scenes and characters, and of course about the need to acquire a firm understanding of transitioning elements.  In was now late in ’11, and I reiterated what I’d said all along, which was that he had a wonderful work ethic and a great imagination.  Then I suggested what had been niggling at me for some time, and this was that his story, which involved a group called “The Organization,” needed to start in the “real” beginning and not in 2011.  Mike liked my idea (maybe “acquiesced” is a better word choice, ha ha) and set up a storyboard with the progenitor of “The Organization,” a young boy who leaves home in Elizabethan England at the age of 12.
Mike had what I found to be a brilliant idea for the boy’s story being told when he was an old man stricken by malaria, believing his death was imminent.  We worked on this story through most of last year, and on February15 of this year, I deemed I,WALTER ready for market.  I made this assessment for the simple reason that I was now firmly committed to the story’s premise and the way the material was being presented.  It had it all: an interesting period in history, adventure in a number of exotic locations, strong family values, a terrific romantic thread, and perhaps its greatest virtue of all, a true Horatio Alger plot that made it impossible not to root–with gusto–for the protagonist.  And spliced in with everything was a healthy dose of betrayal, treachery, and deceit, providing one plot twist after another that Walter had to weave his way through to reach an enormously satisfying conclusion (and set up for a spine-tingling sequel).
I, WALTER’s current acceptance by readers–and now Barnes & Noble–is not the result of a 90-day write, and personal edit, and then hauling it in front of bookstore managers.  Instead, it’s been a consistent labor to improve the story to get it to the point that Mike could take it to the first step, which was to get it on Amazon so it could be purchased in both paperback and digital (he also had it done in audio, for which he himself provided the narration).   He received one excellent review after another, and then he did as I’ve suggested over and over in my Newsletters and went to work on the blogs and at finding other writers and reviewers who would read his novel.  This has produced a groundswell of rave reviews, not only in Amazon but in Goodreads and other highly visible sites devoted to writers.
Newsletter subscribers are aware of my disdain for five-star reviews, and I’ll be writing a paper on this for a future broadcast, but the undeniable fact, regardless of what I think of the actual ratings themselves, is that readers love I, WALTER.  And so do bookstore managers and bookstore reps who sell to these retailers, which now brings me to the way Mike was able to get a B&N manager to agree to stock his self-published work.  Mike graciously provided me with a ten-point outline that, when modified to meet specific situations, can also apply to book placement in independent stores as well.  Here, now, is his road map for placing a self-published book in Barnes & Noble.
1)  Have the book available via Amazon.  In Mike’s case, the paperback came out a month after the Kindle edition was available.
2)  Mike went to the B&N in Bellingham, Washington, and asked the manager what needed to be done to get his book in that store.  He also provided a copy of I, WALTER, which was in published form and replete with EAN/ISBN barcode (this is a must).
3)  The manager gave him the name of Partners West, a book distributor based in Renton, Washington, that is the primary vendor for the B&Ns in the region.
4)  Mike sent a request to Partners West and ended up talking with one of the company’s major account reps, who requested two copies of I, WALTER and a business plan from Mike that indicated what he was doing for publicity and media, and his plans for promoting the novel during the fall and winter.  (These are the same questions asked of a major publisher.)
5)  Mike assembled and sent the rep the information he had requested.  Then the rep suggested that Mike contact the B&N Small Press Division in New York City to ask that this operation carry his book for national distribution.  It’s important to note, since his initial contact with the B&N in Bellingham, only three weeks had passed.
6)  Mike contacted the B&N Small Press Division with what was happening with I, WALTER in the Northwest B&Ns, and requested to have the book stocked by this national distribution outlet on the East Coast.
7)  In early July, Mike contacted Partners West to let the company know what was happening with B&N Small Press, and with his updated marketing plans, which the firm had requested.
8)  On August 8, Mike received a contract for distribution from Partners West.
9)  The next day, Mike received a letter from B&N Small Press asking that he contact them when he had a contract with Partners West, as B&N Small Press would then “endeavor to carry his book” in their stores.
10)  Mike then contacted the B&N in Bellingham with the news, and the manager, who liked I, WALTER (apparently a lot) had his district manager brought in on the conversation because he liked the book, as well.  They were now waiting on the execution of the contract, which would then enable them to not only stock the book but also plan for book signings.
The signed contract arrived a few days later, and Mike has received a purchase order for 50 copies!  Seriously, isn’t this great.  It actually brought a tear to my eye.  I’ve of course had other clients who have achieved publishing success, but most have required confidentiality agreements, so it’s a tribute to Mike that he was so willing to share this step-by-step information for Newsletter subscribers.
Mike has also provided some advice that I found most important.  At the top of the list was respecting everyone’s timeline and waiting three or four weeks before following up with either the B&N store manager or the contact with the Small Press Division.  However, when he had pertinent information, he made certain that the B&N manager was made aware of what measures were taken and where things were going.
Mike learned that the B&N manager was behind him and wanted his book to succeed.  B&N employs what is called a Customer Service Manager (in the prior Newsletter I mentioned my contact with B&N in West Palm Beach, who is the counterpart to Mike’s CSM in Bellingham), and these people have enormous influence with respect to bringing books into the stores, as they have ordering authority and also plan community events such as book fairs and school benefits.  The charity side of this is great publicity, and participating will ingratiate you with both the school and the CSM.  Of course at the book fairs you’ll be presenting your book for sale, so it’s a no-brainer as something all authors would want to support.
Mike finished his notes to me by saying that if the manager at the B&N sees you working hard, this person will be even more interested in helping you make sales.  This can mean better-advertised book signings, more advantageous positioning of a book on the shelves (don’t think for a minute this isn’t a big deal), and author showcasing in the “New Release” or “Local or Regional Writer” section in the store.  This is often delineated by genre, as well.  It really gets down to how much oomph the store manager wants to put behind the in-house publicity.  And with the Customer Service Manager supporting the book, too, this teamwork can create substantial visibility for both the author and the work.
In closing today’s Newsletter, as the holiday season approaches I hope that subscribers will be kind enough to go to a local Barnes & Noble and either pick up or order a copy of I, WALTER (it more than likely won’t be available for national release until October, and yes, I’ll remind subscribers of the date, ha ha).  Not many people would be as open as Mike about what he’s had to do to get to this point, and this is the very first time I’ve ever heard of a major bookstore chain accepting a self-published work, by a non-celebrity, that’s just come into print.  I couldn’t be prouder for Mike, and this proves that “it” can be done.  For me, the one thing that came through in all of this is that everyone with B&N who read I, WALTER adored the story.  Pick up a copy, and I have confidence you will be in that group as well.
Mike e-mailed me late Sunday evening with the following:
On Thursday of last week, he was contacted by the Customer Service Manager at Seattle’s Pacific Place B&N, telling him that his book had been ordered for this store and asking if he’d like to come in the next day and talk about I, WALTER, as a charity event was taking place that was sponsored by another author, and Mike could be part of that program.  Mike agreed to participate, and what he saw when he arrived was staggering.
This B&N had ordered all 50 books from Partners West’s original purchase order, and when Mike walked into the store, 44 of his books were on display just outside the “down” escalator to street level!  The other six books had already been sold to educators in Seattle who “knew about Mike,” with his not being aware that he’d received any publicity for I, WALTER.  Mike was asked by the CRM to autograph the 44 books on display.  And in the course of the three hours he remained at the store, patrons purchased 8 copies of I, WALTER.  The CRM told Mike–to facilitate sales–the display at the front of the store would be left intact for the remainder of the weekend.
In all candor, the entirety of what occurred is so extraordinary that I don’t believe words exist which can adequately do it justice.  I’ve been to book signings by well-known authors with major imprints, and eight books weren’t sold.  And for a self-published writer, without a following, to have his or her book displayed in America’s preeminent bookstore in the manner described is unheard of.  It again comes back to what I had originally closed with, and it’s that I, WALTER is a work which bookstore executives found to be a quality reading experience.
The quality of the I, WALTER narrative is the one constant in all of this, and my hope is that every Newsletter subscriber recognizes just how important this is to the process.  The rep with Partners West, after reading the book and liking it, indeed provided the impetus to start the plane rolling down the runway.  But it was the B&N manager and CSM who provided the tailwinds for I,WALTER to take flight.
I hope each and every subscriber enjoyed today’s Newsletter as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Nothing has ever given me greater pleasure.
Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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