How to get your title into bookstores

When promoting your self-published book, you may want to get the paper versions into bookstores. Besides fulfilling the fantasy that virtually every author (including me) possesses, your book for sale on a shelf should lead to a least a few more copies moving into readers’ hands; if you have published multiple titles for sale, a lone reader liking just one of your books can lead to them purchasing from your backlist.

Getting into a bookstore can be difficult for a self-published author, though. Chain bookstores, discount merchandisers, and supermarkets are nearly impossible for placing your book because of their business model, and some bookstore managers believe if they can’t find you through Ingram Books or Baker&Taylor – the two largest distributors of books to retailers – then your book isn’t worth stocking.

But there are places that will carry your books. Many ma and pa bookstores, gift shops, or specialty stores (an outfitter if you write books about local kayaking, for example) will stock books by regional authors. Your first objective is to identify what those stores might be. Be forewarned, you may find only a few in your area; at best, I’ve found two per county in the regions that my hiking guidebooks are targeted.

Once you’ve identified these stores, your next step is to contact them. Either through email or in person is fine. You may want to develop a sell sheet for your book, not so much to give to the retailer but so you can develop your own pitch to get them to carry the title. The two keys to convincing them are: 1) I’m a local author or 2) My book is about the geographical region your store serves. This appeals to the retailer because they’ve determined their customers either like to purchase books by local authors or books about the region the store serves. Always bring copies of the book with you for the retailer to see, and be willing to leave signed copies for them to sell.

Next, you’ll need to agree to how much you’ll be paid for the book. Typically, your book is taken on consignment and will give you a 60-40 split, meaning you get 60% of the retail cost while they receive 40%. Each retailer is a little different, however, in what percentage they’ll agree to for a split. In addition, some will pay up front for the books while others only will pay for what is sold. In the latter case, always be willing to take returns on unsold copies of your book.

One final note: Never depend upon bookstores as the primary way of distributing your book. An old adage among authors goes “Bookstores are a great place to look at books but a lousy place to sell them.” You’ll find that far more of your sales occur online or at tables you man at book fairs and signings.