Frustrated by a lack of opportunity to display and sell their work, self-published children’s author and illustrator Patti Brassard Jefferson and history author Timothy Jacobs decided to create a bookstore of their own, Gulf Coast Bookstore, and to only sell books by indie authors.
“It’s just hard to compete with Stephen King or Dan Brown in a mega-bookstore that has tens of thousands of books for sale,” says Jacobs.
Although Jacobs came up with the idea for a bookstore that would showcase indie authors a few years ago, he and Jefferson didn’t act on it until recently. When a space became available in downtown Fort Myers, Fla., last month, the store came together quickly. On April 1, the pair held a soft opening for Gulf Coast; the grand opening followed on April 10.
Gulf Coast operates very differently from a traditional bookstore chain or independent. Self-published authors rent shelf space for three months for $60, plus a $15 set-up fee, close to what they might spend to exhibit a single title at a day-long book fair. They also handle stocking and restocking. In return, the authors receive 100% of every sale rather than 40% from a bookstore that sells their books on consignment.
The reason Jefferson and Jacobs can afford to give authors such a high percentage of sales is that they are operating what Jacobs describes as “pretty much a self-sufficiently run bookstore.” Butterfly Estates handles sales and credit-card processing and runs a weekly sales report. “If we had to do this as a standalone on our own,” adds Jefferson, “we’d have to have staff and pay for utilities.”
Jefferson and Jacobs rearrange inventory every two weeks to keep the space fresh. There is no curation of authors. According to Jefferson, the only criteria is “they have to be local.” She and Jacobs also cap the number of titles in any particular genre the store carries at six. Children’s books filled up first for the initial inventory. Other areas represented include education, fantasy, local history, and memoir.
Each writer—currently there are 37 with another 16 authors to be added on May 1—can display 10 copies of a single title or up to 10 titles with one copy each. Authors can also place bookmarks, business cards, or brochures about their work on shelves.
In addition to physical shelf space, authors are also featured on the store’s website. They also get to use the space for book signings.
Both Jefferson and Jacobs have long been active in the publishing community in Florida: She is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and on the board of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. Jacobs is past president of GCWA. They would also like to use the space for educational panels and workshops on self-publishing. For them the store is about building community and helping other authors.
With the tourist season in Florida winding down, Jacobs says that he and Jefferson are focusing their attention on building a reputation for the store with locals. The slow season will also give them time to weigh the pros and cons of offering featured authors an e-commerce option.