Camela Cami Thompson asked, “How do I get a bookstore to carry my books?” Excellent question, Camela! Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.
I frequently hear authors complain that independent bookstores won’t carry their books for personal reasons, or because there is a dislike or disdain for independently published books. While this could be true in a very, very few cases, this isn’t the norm and a rejection should not be taken as a sign of a bias against the industry.
We all know that indie published books have carried a stigma, but those times are a changin’. Even indie bookstores are finding requests to carry independently published books.
On that note, though, the problem remains that a brick-and-mortar bookstore only has limited space. Unlike Amazon who has huge warehouses and streamlined processes to supply their goods to customers. There is a calculated profit that must be made for the store to stay in business. There is limited space for store owners to take risks with books that they will not sell at a profit. To stay in business, independent bookstores have established clear policies and procedures that must be in place for indie published books or even at this time, traditionally published books by lesser known authors to reach the bookshelves of their bookstores. And remember that independent bookstores range from small stores to multi-store chains such as Anderson’s Bookstore outside Chicago.
In preparing for this post, I had the opportunity to interview several bookstore owners who ranged geographically from the beach town where I live now to the biggest independent bookstore outside Chicago. (I will be sending Rachel an invoice for the books I purchased while at my local store!)
In a review of the internet literature on this topic, which was supported by the bookstore owners I spoke with, some overall ideas did appear.
Does your local bookstore have the following in place?:
- Co-op Policy: The big thing that stood out is that most of the stores that I interviewed or were discussed in the literature review, most stores offered a local author programs have a co-op policy. The co-op (or partnership opportunities) included a stocking fee and commission for books sold. If marketing, such as mailers, book signings and other add-ons, such as prominent store placement were included, the price went up substantially. Fees ranged from $50 and $750 dollars depending on the package selected.
- Networking: I am a big fan of networking. I think the best business deals are made through networking. Bookstores are interested in the business you’ll bring to the store, which is why they are helping you reach out to other bookstores if your books sell successfully in their store. Bookstores help authors with other stores to develop a following for the author. If the author has a following, more books are sold. Remember, if you develop a name, even locally, that will result in more sales in their stores. Be prepared to give names for their mailing lists if you go with a package that includes mailers. Make sure that those names you give are those who want to be contacted by the bookstore. When an author works with these stores in a partnership fashion versus a what-can-you-do-for-me manner, the stores want to do business with them. Remember: Friends want friends to be successful!
- Niche: I call ninety percent of the books the Big 5 produce “cookie cutter books.” They are all the same and tied up with nice pretty red ribbons. Know your book. Is it considered a niche book? Is the bookstore looking for titles/themes that the Big 5 can’t touch on? Is it written about local history or set locally? There are numerous authors who write these types of books. It is one of the reasons that I love indie books so much.
- Local author events/book signings: Some bookstores host special events for local authors, which include book signings or presentations on their books. Authors are allowed to sell their books at these events. There may or may not be a special fee for this, but find out if this is an opportunity you might be able to take advantage of.
- E-book/POD options: If shelving space isn’t available for a print copy of your book, has the store developed any kind of e-book system, such as Indiebound or print on demand options? I have frequently purchased books from independent bookstores outside my residential area because they had this option for purchase.
I can’t end this post without also focusing on professional behavior. In all of the posts that I have written, I stress that published authors are also business professionals. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always carry over to presentation to those whose business the author wants. It is imperative that authors act professional and ensure they present a quality product.
- Book: Does your book look professional? Is it PROFESSIONALLY edited? Is the cover a stock photo with block lettering or a professionally designed cover? Is it professionally bound?
- Dress: When you meet with the store, are you dressed professionally or did you show up in jeans?
- Scheduling: Did you set up an appointment with the local bookstore to talk about your book or just pop in and expect them to drop everything? Did you set up an appointment with the store manager or person in charge of buying books to discuss stocking your book and to ask about policies? Even stopping by the store to say hello and asking who you should meet with is appropriate. But just going into the store and expecting the manager to drop what they are doing to meet with you shows a disrespect for their time.
- Behavior: Are you acting as a professional? In my discussions with the store managers, as well as a review of the literature, author behavior was front and center. Do you expect the stores to take your book with no commitment from you? If your book is declined, are you acting in an unprofessional manner, such as arguing with the store manager? Chances are if you do, your book will never see the light of day on that store’s bookshelves!
- Presentations: In events, how are you presenting yourself? Are you a storyteller with an inviting presentation or do your nerves get the best of you and cause you to shut down? Those who capture the audience are found to sell the most books. If you must, practice/script your presentations to an audience. There are very few people who can simply go out and wing a presentation and have it work for them. Don’t risk it. You might not get a second chance.
- Identification: I found a helpful article by Roz Morris, who I consider a guru on all things indie. She stated that when she approached local bookstores, she didn’t state that she was a self-published or indie author. She identified herself as a local author. Most of the bookstores, if all the other aspects discussed above are in place, want to support local authors.
One of the bookstores where I now live (it happens to be a beach town) carries a large number of self-published books by local authors. The owner told me that while most of the authors she has worked with are very professional and have an understanding of PARTNERING with independent bookstores to sell their books, one author still stands out in her head. This gentleman popped into her store in cargo shorts and flip flops. His book had a run-of-the-mill feeling to it and she stated it looked as though it was just thrown together. When she declined to sell the book, the author became argumentative with her, accusing her of not selling indie published books.
In one of the pieces I reviewed, there was an interesting comment that stated if local bookstores wanted the community to support them, then the bookstore must be willing to support local authors. So on that note, if local authors want local bookstores to support them, remember to put your best feet forward—both your product and yourself.
About Naomi Blackburn:
Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. A top 1% Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books.