Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Online stores are the most common venues for indie authors to sell their books, whether in digital or print format. And while digital publishing gives authors access to readers around the world, many self-published writers are also eager to get their books into neighborhood bookstores. So if you’re an indie author interested in getting your book in your local bookstore, here are a few tips to consider.
1. Know the Store’s Policies
Most bookstores list their indie bookselling policies on their websites. Before you make a sales call, familiarize yourself with the way they do business and make sure you’re okay with those policies.
For example, many indie bookstores have a consignment policy, which means they’ll stock your book, but they will only pay you if and when it sells. Some stores, such as Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, have a reading fee. This fee compensates the staff for the time it takes to read your book, discuss it with each other, and make an evaluation of whether it’s appropriate for their shelves.
If this, or any other policy, is not agreeable to you, don’t try to talk them out of it. It’s their store, their policy and their financial model, and they get to make the rules.
“When submitting your book for review,” said Mark Tiedemann of Left Bank Books, “have a realistic attitude.” That means waiting patiently for the staff to read and evaluate your book—and respecting their decision. If your book is rejected, don’t talk trash about the store. Other bookstores in the area will find out, and they will be worried about what you may be saying about them.
2. Market the Book—and the Store
Selling your book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore is a partnership. The booksellers want to know that you’re making an effort to raise awareness of your book to potential readers and let them know your book is available there.
“A lot of authors are uncomfortable with promotion,” said Tiedemann, “We don’t want them to do anything they don’t want to do. But they can give their readers some notice that the book is available at our store.”
That means having an author website and adding a link to the store’s website on those pages. When you do other marketing promotions, mention the store as a place where your book can be found. Finally, if you’re invited to do a book signing, market the event yourself to ensure you’re not stuck behind a table with a stack of books and nothing to do.
3. Come to Bookstore Events—Other Than Yours
Most local independent bookstores have a large local author collection. “We get to know people in the community really well,” said Tirzah Price, a bookseller at Great Lakes Book & Supply in Big Rapids, Michigan. “It’s part of being part of the bookish community.”.
Even before you finish writing your book, become a member of your local store’s community. Go to readings. Hang out there and talk about the genres you know and love. Your participation will encourage the staff to be enthusiastic about stocking and recommending your books when they are ready.
“Many authors come to our store because they want to talk to other book lovers,” said Price. If you’re a writer, you’re probably also a reader. Show your support by buying other local authors’ books.
One note though: if you are unable to get to the bookstore on a regular basis, either because it’s not convenient or it’s physically difficult to do so, please don’t “dump and run.” Dumping and running is the practice of leaving your book at a store and never coming by to check in, to speak with the booksellers, or to pick it up if your book hasn’t sold after an agreed-upon time. Shelf space is limited at bookstores.
“Don’t forget you left your books here when the window of your contract is up,” said Tiedemann.
4. Respect the Bookseller’s Placement of Your Book
While booksellers are open to hearing your ideas about the section of the bookstore where you believe your book belongs, they get the final say as to the placement of your book. They may put your book in the “Local Authors” section even though you’d rather have it in the “Romance” section. They may put your book in the “Mystery” section even though your book is also historical fiction.
The bookstore wants the book to sell as much as you do, and they have the advantage of being inside the store every day all day. They understand the behaviors of their customers. So let them position the book wherever they see fit.
5. Covers and Quality Count
Books that are “pristine and professionally put together” are the ones that sell best, according to Tirzah Price. She advises all indie authors to “do your research in how to present your books.” That means hiring professionals to help you with the layout and design of your book both inside and out. It also means working with an experienced editor.
“Your book should resemble as close as possible any book by any publisher,” said Tiedemann. The bookselling field is extremely competitive. Readers have tens of thousands of books to choose from in your genre alone. Give your book its best shot by working with others to ferret out grammatical errors and typos.
“The standards are no different for self-published books,” said Tiedemann. “It’s not just us; readers won’t pick them up either if they don’t look professional.”
Also, remember that every book must have an ISBN number.
6. Don’t Give Free Copies to Everyone You Know
Sure, you want to seem like a generous person, but giving books away to your circle of friends and family cuts off the natural source of your first sales. Bookselling depends on momentum, and your personal network is the easiest and best way to jumpstart that momentum. Authors call this their “street team”—a group of people who are already your biggest fans, because they share their lives with you.
Every book needs a few immediate sales, and the members of your street teams are the ones who help this happen. Take the time to develop a street team as you’re working on the book, and get them to agree to buy your book as soon as it comes out. Besides, if you can’t get your friends and family to buy your book, how can you expect total strangers to do so?
This bit of advice makes sense not just for indie authors trying to get into local bookstores, but indie authors everywhere.
7. Call Ahead for an Appointment with the Book Buyer in Your Genre
You may only get one shot at pitching your book, so make sure you don’t blow it by showing up at the wrong time. Contact the bookstore ahead of time and set up an appointment. Sure, booksellers are always in the store during store hours, but if you walk into a bookstore with your book in your hand, without giving any warning to the people who work there, they may not have the time or attention to give your book its due.
Making an appointment also allows you to find out which staff member buys books in your genre, and set the tone for a positive, professional, mutually respectful relationship.
8. It’s All About Community
Selling books in local bookstores is all about community. Many local bookstores select books tailored to the interests of their area. Often they are eager to stock biographies of local people, true crime stories that took place in their region, or narrative nonfiction with local appeal.
But even if your book doesn’t ooze with local flair, the local bookstores in your area could be an important link to an enthusiastic set of new readers. Who knows: one of them may recognize you in the grocery store and ask for your autograph. That kind of connection can’t happen online.
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