The Self-Published Author’s Worst Enemy: Dealt With


Bill Keeth reveals that you are not alone in your dealings with Big Boy

Here’s what happened when yours truly first approached Big Boy, Manchester, in the UK, a couple of years ago in the hope of his being ready, willing and able to take into stock. a few copies of my self-published debut novel, Every Street in Manchester, which would go on to be shortlisted for the Manchester-based Portico Literary Prize.

I called into Big Boy, Manchester, made an appointment to see the Manager, duly returning to see him at the appointed time on the appointed day. But said Manager failed to keep the appointment (some Manager!), whereupon I was curtly dismissed from Big Boy, Manchester, by an under-manager who boasted: ‘Ha! We get customers in Big Boy all the time, asking for the latest books about Manchester, and we just send ’en packing. Ha, ha, ha!’ (The laugh was on him, incidentally, when I made him famous at Manchester Town Hall and Big Boy HQ. Not that it got me anywhere.)

Big Boy nearest to my home address proved more receptive, with a Really Keen Book Seller taking a dozen books at a time, the result of this being that I soon shifted some 200+ books via my local Big Boy.

Nevertheless, the day would come when the Really Keen Book Seller moved on to better things (the good ones do, don’t they?), whereupon Bill Keeth was sent packing, too, notwithstanding those 200 sales. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I did sense a bit of PMT predicated tit-for-tat bitchiness in the air on this occasion, as it happens –aimed at the departing Book Seller! But that’s high-flying British business acumen for you . . . I don’t think!)

Then immediately, my debut novel was shortlisted for the Manchester-based Portico Literary Prize, the biggest Big Boy branch in the Greater Manchester conurbation ordered 30 copies which I duly supplied, only to discover one month down the line that the Whingeing Store Manager had: ‘Only sold 10 copies!’ (Boo, hoo!) Well, yes. he would do, wouldn’t he? – from the bolt hole where he had opted to hide the 30 books rather than display them.

So what does all this mean for you, dear reader, should you remain hopeful, despite all evidence to the contrary, of your being permitted to sell your self-published masterpiece on via your personal Big Boy? Well, by all means, contact Big Boy HQ so as to obtain the necessary permission to approach their book stores and to set up your account with them. Subsequent to this, of course, you will need to approach each Big Boy branch individually.

Yes, I do know, as a matter of fact, that the dumbest bookseller in creation is capable of selling a couple of copies of any book on. But the question is will he? Because what you will find in general is that the response from Big Boy’s branches will range from the decidedly negative to the downright hostile.

And so, when you are finally fed up to the back teeth with Big Boy’s extended book store personnel to a man, woman or thing’s: a) refusing point blank to stock your book; b) being simultaneously and quite unnecessarily rude to you; c) vilifying everything about you to the nth. degree; and d) displaying a total and utter ignorance and/or lack of appreciation of anything of interest or worth to literate humanity as a whole, you may be forgiven, it seems to me, should you then commence to –



(And not before time, I might add!)

At this juncture, you might do worse than refer to Write It Self-Publish It Sell It, where I go on to some tune about the problem Big Boy presents for the self-published writer – and about the simple antidote to the unfettered antagonism of Big Boy’s minuscule-minded personnel.

Simply ask yourself is there any facility adjacent to Big Boy’s various book stores where you might sell your book instead? For example: a) in another business premises unrelated to the book trade perhaps? b) by means of a market stall? d) in a spare shop doorway, say, where, in season (e.g. Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day etc.), you may sell your self-published book in quantity, meanwhile owing Big Boy a big fat zero in commission?


Because, to date, I have personally sold as many copies of my own books adjacent to the local Big Boy book store – and at zero expense to myself personally, as I was once upon a time very kindly permitted to sell my books inside the local Big Boy book store, always provided, of course (on that previous occasion), that I was also prepared to stump up Big Boy’s swingeing rate of commission – which was well in excess of 40%, you may also be interested to learn.

Don’t get me wrong now. This is not to say that by acting in this manner:

a) you will have any adverse effect upon Big Boy’s share price; or that: b) you would not be very much better off were Big Boy to permit you to sell your books in-store, coast to coast, on a daily basis, 364 days out of every 365.

But, let’s face it, given Big Boy’s predilection for merchandising bibliographic toilet tissue in preference to literature, this is never going to happen, is it?

In other words, selling your stock-in-trade adjacent to individual Big Boy stores is as good as it gets for you as a self-published writer. And besides – self-published author, though for the present you continue to be –  you may certainly depend upon it that: a) there are umpteen authors of consequence who are not listed on Big Boy’s inventory; and b) you, personally, are only looking to sell on, say, 1.000 copies of your book via the aforementioned Big Boy sales strategy.

Because let us suppose for the sake of argument that a commercial publisher eventually signs you up, confident that your book represents a feasible commercial proposition . . . Well—hell, it’s a fair bet that the aforementioned commercial publisher will commission a first-run of just 1,000 books in total. (I know this for a fact since this is exactly what Headline did with Billy Hopkins’ best-selling debut novel – that is to say, best-selling once they got around to publishing a second print-run, a third, a fourth and so on.)

What this means for you, though, is that, with sales adjacent to Big Boys’ stores and elsewhere amounting to 1,000 books or so, you may certainly regard your efforts in the matter as a self-publishing success story. Not so much in commercial terms, of course, though this is hardly the point. But most certainly by way of direct comparison with the way in which commercial publishers operate. Sales success in excess of 1,000 books sold necessarily remains in the lap of the gods, though there are exceptions, of course . . . For instance, Welsh author Brian John, who shifted 30,000 copies of his self-published books before a commercial publisher finally got around to signing him up. And Brian John freely admits (in line with sales procedures I recommend above) that most of those tens of thousands of private sales were made through outlets unconnected with the book trade – tea shops, cafes, pharmacists, art galleries and the like.

June 2009

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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