I love bookstores. I love the way they look, the way the smell,and their colors. Visiting a bookstore is like going to a library, but without the mean librarian. A lot of people believe bookstores are going the way of the dinosaurs, but I am not one of those people. You heard it from me, it will not happen in our life time. People like me won’t let it.

Because they are here for the foreseeable future, they are still an important part of the sales options for an indie author, and I want to tell you how to get your indie book baby in those wonderful places.

[I should also clarify that I am NOT talking about Barnes & Noble here. That 300-pound primate will be the subject of a future blog.]

Let’s take it step by step.

Step 1:

Start with this simple truth: most independent bookstores have trouble making payroll. If you are an independent author without a proven market, there is almost ZERO chance an indie bookstore will be interested in BUYING your book to put on their shelves, AT ANY PRICE. They will, however, consider selling your book for you IF you are willing to accept all the risk and absorb the carrying costs. There’s a word for this: CONSIGNMENT. The majority of independent book sellers will accept your book on Consignment if:

A. The appearance is good (cover, print quality)

B. The subject matter is “acceptable”

C. A quick scan does not yield glaring errors

Many stores already have well-established consignment programs, and, in those cases, they will have pre-set pricing and terms. If they don’t, a typical arrangement is 60% of the retail price goes to you and 40% goes to the store, AFTER the sale occurs.

Step 2:

Drive sales to THAT store. Blog, email, call, beg, and do whatever else you have to do to get people to buy your book at that store. Remember what you are trying to do is establish a relationship. The best thing in the world that can happen is those four or five books you placed in the store sell out and the owner chooses to call you and ask for more.

When we have identified a store that we want to carry Pamela’s books for the long haul, we will even send in a secret shopper from time to time to maintain a steady sales rate. Remember, we get back 60% of that sale. The difference is a very small price to pay for the long term value of having her books in that store. Sometimes we follow-up by donating the books purchased by the secret shopper to the public library, or we place them in a venue where they can drive readers to the books. For instance, we dropped them on the “library shelf” at an indie coffee shop in one town. Other times we drop them into waiting rooms (doctor’s, dentists, and veterinarian’s offices make great sites). And we put a big fat sticker on the “lobby copies” that say “available at the Such and So Bookstore, 150 BuyLocal Drive!”

Bookstore survival depends on the “instant gratification” customer. If your book is not on the shelf when someone is trolling for gratification, they will simply buy something else. Make it easy for them to spend their money on the right author.

Step 3:

Keep good records, and provide service to the store. DONT call them, interrupt what they are doing, and consume their time to ask how your book is doing. Go look for yourself, wait until no customers are around so you are not a distraction, thank them for giving you shelf space, and ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Be sure you have books and promotional materials with you so you can fill those needs.

Step 4:

If you prove to the store owner that you generate sustainable sales, ask them to consider stocking your book through direct purchase. In order for this to occur, there has to be one additional incentive and this is where careful pricing comes into play. Make sure the wholesale price they can obtain the book for is less than your consignment price, or there is NO reason for them to direct order. Why would they accept the risk and hassle otherwise? [The wholesale price will be dependent on a bajillion factors that are beyond the scope of this post. If you need info on this, comment or email. We’ll blog on this issue soon.]

You absolutely can get your books in bookstores, if your cover and quality are good enough, but you’ll need to be willing to work directly with the stores, generally by consignment. It’s hard and time consuming work, but it is a relationship building process that can snowball into something significant, possibly even direct ordering, if you support the stores as valued customers and intentionally drive buyers through their doors.

Eric R.

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2 Responses to Getting Your Baby on the Shelves of Bookstores

  1. Terri Sonoda says:

    Very interesting article! I had no idea you could do some of these things. Thanks for the info!

    • Eric says:

      You are welcome — it’s a big elephant, but if you bite off one store at a time, it’s a manageable process.