Why bookstores don’t carry self-published books

You’ve just self-published your book and call up your local bookstore to see if you can bring down a few copies for them to stock and sell. Then you do a double take when the manager refuses to carry your book and quickly dismisses you.

You’re a local author, so surely they should be interested in your book, right?

Unfortunately, you’ve just run smack into the economics of corporate bookstores. The reality is that bookstores don’t operate like you might think they would. The store manager (or someone under him) doesn’t select the books that he thinks locals will want to buy and stocks his store accordingly, placing the books of highest interest near the entry.

The reality is that chains sell their space to publishers. Just as a newspaper or magazine will charge more for ads appearing on the most looked at pages, so bookstores do the same. The reason books are located at certain spots in the store is because publishers pay for shelf location.

“Okay, so I’m not at the entrance or on an end cap,” you might be saying, “certainly they could just stick my book on a shelf in the appropriate section.”

Probably not. That’s because you’ve run afoul of the wholesale discount. This is the percentage of the retail cost that the author or publisher gives away to those who distribute and sell his books. So, if your book sells for $10 retail, you could offer a 40 percent wholesale discount, which means whoever distributes and sells your books gets $4 of every book sold. To make book purchasing easier, chain bookstores buy all of their titles from a single wholesaler/distributor, such as Ingram Book. If Ingram offers a 40% percent discount, that means the bookstore gets to keep every $4 of every $10 book sold. As you’re not a distributor offering a discount – or because you’re not the primary wholesaler a chain purchases books from – you’re cut out.

But do you really want your book in a chain anyway? Having a book in a local Barnes and Noble or Books A Million might be more about ego and bragging rights than sales. After all, as many writers say, book stores are great places to look at books but lousy places to sell them.

The reality is that most of your book sales will be done online. You easily can get onto Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble’s website, and a plethora of other bookseller’s pages.

If you do want a brick and mortar store to carry your book, shift your thinking from big chains. For example, ma and pa bookstores often want to carry local authors and titles of regional interest. They’ll usually buy your books outright or provide you the opportunity to set up a table as a visiting author. Also, think alternatives to bookstores. For example, outfitters are willing to carry my hiking books, especially those that are not chains and if my book somehow mentions their community. If you’ve written a book about collecting toys, see if locally owned antique shops will carry them.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.