Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Chin up! Forward focus! I’ve got your back!

by Meredith Resce



At our last Omega Writers National conference in October, I invited the marketing manager from Koorong Books to come to meet some of the established Australasian authors, and to conduct a session based on a whole heap of questions that I had sourced from various authors around about. To boil it down, the main theme of what we as authors were asking is: What on earth is going on with the Christian market!?#@?!

No, we didn’t really swear, but if tension could have been measured, and swearing was appropriate in a Christian context, you could well have heard some colourful language. 

Frustrations are high amongst Australasian Christian writers. Very few are doing well. Nobody is doing really well (and yes, I know I’ve used an adverb). Given that the Australasian Christian market used to support a title to the tune of at least 3,000 copies, some considerably more, today’s gauge of doing well is to the tune of 300 copies. Generally, a modest order of fifteen for online sales from the warehouse seems to be a starting point, and if they don’t move out in the first two weeks, the book is not considered worth re-ordering. (This reflects the performance of fiction, from my own selling experience).

Most of us are well aware that the eBook phenomenon has seriously affected the bookselling industry. Some of us have converted to reading eBooks (hiding my face in shame, but it’s so convenient and cheap). Personally, I’ve had two publishers and one well-established printer go out of business in the last ten years. All three companies were more than 30 years in the industry, and while I saw each one try to convert to digital, and try innovations, like the Titanic, they just couldn’t change course quick enough. 

Having been 20 years in the market, I have experienced the hay day, and watched confused as it changed, and now sit powerless and frustrated as I see the Christian bookselling landscape reduced. Where once there were five major Christian bookselling chains, plus numerous solid independent Christian bookselling shops in major towns, and even more small volunteer-run church bookshops around the country, there is now only one major Christian bookselling chain, and the independent shops are either closing or struggling. The small volunteer-run shops are dwindling as their aging volunteer base is no longer able to serve.  And none of them are taking the risks on Australian, small and independently produced titles like they were able to 20 years ago.

So when the young man from Koorong bravely set his foot on Omega Writers’ territory, I was well aware that I might need to fend off an angry mob. Really, I wanted to be part of the angry mob, and demand attention and answers, but I invited the poor fellow, and felt sorry for him. To his credit, he was the one who was willing to open the lines of communication, and come to meet us and hear our stories. He presented a very informative session that addressed most of the questions we asked.

 The fiction market particularly has dropped dramatically. Koorong, the last Christian book chain standing, are struggling to get foot traffic in store. Even their online eBooks struggle to compete against the likes of the fire-breathing, monopolising giant, Amazon.


I, like many in that room, wanted to shake him and make him understand that our books can’t sell if they’re not on the shelf. From his research, and what the state of the market is, it appears they might not sell, even if they were on the shelf. 

Of course I want to take this as a major offense—that my writing has been rejected. I’m sure I’m not alone.  But that is a fruitless and ridiculous hole to fall into.

So, what’s to be done?

If there is anything that we as Australasian Christian writers can do, it’s support each other. If we want a physical, bricks and mortar Christian Bookshop presence in Australia, then we are going to have to support them. At least order the paper back from them as opposed to major international discount sellers. Our intrepid friend from Koorong marketing watches the clicks. He’s a digital man. If you’re clicking on Australasian authors just to read the blurbs, leaving reviews, and best of all, ordering their books, it gives him confidence to venture out a little more next time. We have to do it, folks. If we don’t get each other’s backs, then we won’t have a Christian market in Australia.

So my encouragement to you, today, as president of Omega Christian Writers is: use the Koorong website regularly, read the reviews, read the blurbs, and when you have a mind to buy, consider them first.
Or if you have a small independent Christian Book shop in your town, make sure you pop in there and try to use their services.

Onward and upward, friends! Chin up!


Author Meredith Resce, is the president of Omega Christian Writers Australasia.



12 comments:

  1. Hi Meredith, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the meeting at conference with the wider writing community. I’m cross-posting my comment on ACW & CWD because you’ve raised a really important topic.

    What I found interesting and pondered after the meeting with Koorong at conference is how an individual author’s goal for selling their book is different to a retailer’s goal of selling the stock that meets the needs of their customer base.

    Authors can tend to focus on the supply side of book selling. For example, they may think ‘if only I could get my books on the physical shelf in the book store, I’ll sell X number of copies... etc.’

    Retailers have limited shelf space and they’re more likely to be thinking ‘what stock do I need on the shelf and in the warehouse to meet the needs of our existing customer base and attract new customers to visit our store.’

    Stock that sits on the book shelf in-store (or in a box in the store room or in the distribution warehouse) and doesn’t move and sell within a reasonable time period is costing the retailer money. It’s the opportunity cost - they’re losing sales they could have made by having an alternative product on the shelf or in the warehouse.

    Instead of being concerned about supply, authors are wise to look at how they can create demand for their books - which will result in customers walking into a book store with the intention of buying their book.

    Retailers will move quickly to find a supply solution to fulfil the demand for products. For example, where I live we’re in the middle of what feels like a never ending heatwave. My husband arrived home from work with a box of Icy Poles for the kids that he’d bought at the small grocery store at our local shops. The staff had told him they’d sold a few hundred boxes of Icy Poles in one day and they’d had to arrange for more stock to come in during the afternoon to keep the freezer filled with Icy Poles to meet the unexpected demand from their customers.

    Our challenge as writers (and as readers who don’t want their local book store to close) is to talk about the books we’ve enjoyed reading, recommend books that other readers may enjoy - with a goal of creating a demand for books in the stores.

    Connecting with readers in-person and online and encouraging them to buy books in-store if that’s an option for them, or to support local retailers by buying from their online stores, is a step in the right direction.

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  2. Thanks Narelle. Excellent addition to the discussion.

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  3. Hi Meredith,
    Wow, I can see where you're coming from. A couple of weeks ago I browsed in Adelaide Koorong with tears in my eyes. I stood by the fiction section looking through the alphabet for books by several of our members and found virtually nothing. Then I saw the same is true for Aussie non-fiction, to some extent. We all know we've been fairly prolific as a body, and it is sort of heart-breaking to see that not represented on Koorong's shelves. Especially believing in the national flavour and quality of our contributions, as I do. I went home to the family and said, 'As far as appearances are concerned, it looks like it's over.' :(

    I couldn't make it to the conference but sure would have liked being a fly on the wall when you all got together to shoot questions at that young man. I wouldn't have wanted to be in his shoes, but he must have come prepared with answers, and I would have liked to hear what they were.

    Narelle's comment above does add a challenge element to the conversation. Creating demand in our digital times, until they become like Icy Poles in a heat wave sounds like a huge task in an indifferent market, especially since 20 years ago seemed to be be easier in many ways. It'll be interesting to see how we all come together with ideas for doing this. It sounds like something that can only be done in a body, because as individuals, our voices and reach are small.

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  4. I was at my local Koorong recently too. Yes, I bought a book, and I'm sorry, it was an overseas one, but in my defense, it's a present for someone who I know wanted it and I recently bought this same person three Australian Christian novels.
    While perusing the bookshelves, I was happy to see Adele Jones' Activate trilogy on the shelves. I didn't see any others I knew but I must confess I didn't go looking, so hopefully there were others there. I have seen others there before. :-)

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  5. Thanks for the post, Meredith. It was an interesting meeting and good as authors to know the constraints for the booksellers (as Narelle also outlines) - the need to move stock and keep their customers happy. To some extent it is a chicken and egg equation though I do appreciate your rallying call to support what Christian bookstore remain - and Narelle's observation that we need to create the awareness and demand for our books by connecting with readers. Not an easy task as individual authors.

    The reality is most Indie authors sell ebooks, not brick & mortar books - and also many of our books don't fit within certain booksellers CBA criteria. So, I agree - we need to support each other and the Christian booksellers that remain and engage readers, creating demand for our books because of its quality - while we write, edit, produce, promote and market (no wonder I'm exhausted) - but I think we also need to look past one approach (bricks & mortar bookstores). And of primary importance is connecting with potential readers - most of whom have no idea we exist (or went of reading Christian fiction a decade or so ago - or are only aware of USA Christian authors). Certainly finding ways to partner with booksellers is a valuable part of that goal.

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  6. Thanks for organising that link with the Koorong fellow, Meredith. It's good to hear both sides of the discussion. I'm fortunate that I live near a big Koorong store that seems to be doing well (Toowoomba's in the Bible belt afterall). But it is discouraging to see so few Aussie books in there. Maybe if we wrote about Amish jillaroos we'd have a better chance. But it's a good point about supporting the local stores. I was heading there tomorrow to use a discount voucher. A good rallying call to look for some Aussie content. And also a good reminder to leave reviews on the Koorong site, not just Goodreads and Amazon. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Thanks for your post, Meredith - and everyone else's comments - disturbing though it is. I hadn't realised just how profound this problem is.

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  8. I’m still pretty new to this publishing gig, so wasn’t really aware of the problem. Though I must say, I had noticed the lack of Australian authors on the bookshop shelves.

    I guess part of the answer is to continue writing the absolute best stories we can, and trust they’ll pick them up eventually. Writing reviews for other Australian writers and posting the reviews on as many sites as we can will help Australian retailers know our stories are worth reading, and therefore worth stocking.

    How great would it be if Australian bookshops had an Australia Day special-display full of Australian authors/settings!

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  9. Perhaps the reason Australasian writers are not stocked are because very few people - in the book-reading public are aware we are here!
    I have been asked a number of times by a surprised person discovering that I am an author and have won awards, "Is your work like Francine Rivers?" (An American.) A local minister who read the first book in the series I have published, likened it to Lynn Austin. (Another American lady.) While I felt 'wow' to be compared to someone of her standard, there are no similar Australasian authors to compare us to?
    We cannot bombard people with directions to our books or websites but it seems the simple truth is that we are 'invisible' to many readers.
    Need a plan. Need to pray about it.
    Thanks for making me think :)

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  10. My first novel, Prophets and Loss, was published in 2009 by Ark House. Koorong featured it in their catalogue and displayed it prominently on their shelves. The book didn't sell.

    My second novel, Hot Rock Dreaming, was a finalist for the 2011 Australian Christian Book of the Year awards. (It didn't win, but just getting into the final short list was an achievement, as few works of fiction make it that far.)

    On the strength of this, my local Word bookstore here in Melbourne bought 20 copies of the book (and I presume other branches also ordered it in). The books were displayed prominently. At that time I used to visit the store regularly. Each time I'd check the shelves and find the same 20 books still there. When the store closed down (around 2015, I think) they slashed the price of the books to almost giveaway levels. I don't know if they sold them.

    I did everything I could to promote my books. I had a blog, Facebook, Twitter. I was part of several Christian writers' groups, in Australia and the US. I remember sending out review copies of the books, at my own expense (and I did get a very small number of good reviews), along with dozens and dozens of press releases.

    I gave up writing novels in 2013.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry to hear that Martin. It's hard putting so much effort and time into a work for it to not be read and appreciated. I hope you find another expression of writing sometime.

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