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How to Get Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores

Carrie Rollwagen, author of The Localist and co-owner of Church Street Coffee & Books
Carrie Rollwagen, author of The Localist and co-owner of Church Street Coffee & Books

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Church Street Coffee & Books, one of our sponsors for the Bloganista Mini-Con presented by Laura Vincent Printing & Design.

There was a time when self-published authors got little respect from the literary world, but things are changing. Slowly but surely, self-published authors are being seen in the same light as talented independent filmmakers and musicians — artists producing great work that they are determined to share with the world no matter what.

Unfortunately, however, it can still be pretty tough for self-published authors to get their work sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

But it’s not impossible.

Carrie Rollwagen has been on both sides of this table. She’s the author of the self-published book The Localist Book: Think Independent, Buy Local, and Take Back the American DreamShe’s also co-owner and book buyer for Church Street Coffee and Books. So if anyone can give a self-published author advice on getting her books in bookstores, it’s Carrie.

Carrie was kind enough to do a guest post for us listing the dos and don’ts for how to get your book in bookstores.


From Carrie Rollwagen:

Don’t be pushy.

The number one problem self-published authors have is being pushy and aggressive. This makes sense, because being proactive is a good thing in some sales situations, but bookselling just isn’t one of them. When approaching a bookstore, remember that it’s our job as authors to make our books attractive to booksellers and to make a convincing case that our books could make money for the bookstore — it is not the job of a bookseller to put time and effort into promoting or selling our books for us, or to give us shelf space just because we put time into writing a book.

Do offer your books on consignment.

This is one part of the process that self-published authors almost always mess up, and it’s the one that’s most likely to mean you’ll never see your books in stores. In order to be considered for shelf space in most bookstores, you’ll have to offer the store at least 40% off the cover price, and you’ll need to offer your books on consignment instead of asking a store to buy them outright. It’s true that this makes the process much more annoying for us as authors because we’re never sure if our books will be returned, and we might even have to pay shipping for returns. But if we’re going to ask bookstores to give our little books a chance in their stores, we need to offer terms similar to the returns policies and discounts they get from more established publishers. A 40% discount and consignment agreement is really the only way to do that.

Do leave a free copy of your book.

When you self-publish a book, it hurts to give copies away for free, especially when you’re fairly certain they won’t be read. But it’s important to give free review copies to booksellers anyway. Don’t leave a copy of your book and ask that it be returned to you — booksellers receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of review copies each month, and they just don’t have time to keep track of returns. Giving away review copies for free is just part of the cost of doing business in the world of publishing.

Do be willing to wait.

Booksellers and managers are often very busy, so don’t walk into a bookstore and expect someone to have time to meet with you (although you should be prepared with a copy of your book and a consignment agreement in case they do). Tell the bookseller you’re an author who’s hoping to see the store carry your book, and ask what the best way is to reach the manager — usually that’s leaving a copy of the book so they can look at it when they have time, or sending an email with a summary and contact information. (Never interrupt while customers are buying books or when a bookseller is trying to make a sale.)

Don’t tell a bookseller how to display your work.

It’s a great idea to provide marketing materials like free bookmarks or posters for book signings, but do not tell the bookseller that they SHOULD use these materials. Do not tell a bookseller how much shelf space to give you, or tell them that they need to set your book face-out, or tell them that if they would only sell your book, they’d be making tons of money. Give the bookseller enough respect to assume they know their business better than you do, and let them be the ones to decide how to market and sell your book.

Do be a customer.

If possible, buy something at the store when you visit. This isn’t always doable, but proving that you’re a smart bookstore shopper who cares about the financial health of the bookstore will usually go a long way toward getting you an audience with the store’s book buyer.

Do follow and communicate with the bookstore on social media.

The more the booksellers know that you understand their store and pay attention to what they do, the more likely they are to give you a hearing when you come in and ask them to pay attention to your book. Follow on social media, favorite a post once in awhile, and retweet when you can — often the person running the social media account is the same one you’ll be talking to when you pitch your book (or at least those people work closely together), so a little positive attention can really help.

Don’t mention Amazon.

Amazon is an incredibly touchy subject with a lot of booksellers because the company is actively trying to destroy local bookstores. Most customers, and sadly, most self-published authors, don’t understand this, and try to use Amazon numbers, Amazon reviews or Amazon rankings as reasons for stocking books. There’s no need to attack Amazon, but it’s probably wise to avoid mentioning them when talking to independent booksellers. (Also be aware that if your book is published through one of Amazon’s self-publishing services, you could meet a lot of resistance with brick-and-mortar stores.)

CS door prize

At this year’s Bloganista Mini-Con you could win a free copy of Rollwagen’s book The Localist and an adorable Shop Small tote bag designed by Rebecca Minkoff. Be sure to bring your business cards to enter to win this and other door prizes!

Why Writers Must Be Entrepreneurs

Pen, Diary and Glasses
Image by via Flickr/Creative Commons

Writing and personal branding coach Nikki Woods believes that writing a book is one of the best ways to build your business as it gives you credibility. However, she also believes that writers must be business-minded.

In a recent blog post she writes, “Let’s face it, most creative people expect someone else to handle the business side of their operations. But it’s a new day.”

Even writers with book deals and especially those who self-publish must learn to market their own work. And this isn’t just about trying to sell a single book. This is about creating a long-lasting career.

Woods writes: “Royalties and book advances are great if you can get them but you can’t depend on them to sustain you. The sooner you begin to promote your book through speaking engagements, conventions, seminars, etc., the sooner you can build up an audience, your brand and your bottom line. ”

Not sure where to start? See Jane Write is here to help.

Join us at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16 at the Books-a-Million in Brookwood Village for D.I.Y. Marketing for Authors. Learn how to be your own publicist and promote your book and your brand. This free workshop will feature author A.D. Lawrence and See Jane Write member Chanda Temple, who is the co-author of the Birmingham’s Best Bites cookbook.

Get more details here and RSVP via Facebook.

DIY Marketing with Books-a-Million

Birmingham-based authors, learn how to be your own publicist at the next See Jane Write event.

On Tuesday, June 16 we’re partnering with Books-a-Million to bring you a FREE workshop on how to market your book. You’ll also learn more about BAM! Publishing and Books On-Demand — which could be just what you need if you’re looking to self publish your next book.

The event will feature talks by Chanda Temple, co-author of the Birmingham’s Best Bites cookbook and A.D. Lawrence, author of the book When the Lioness Roars.


Chanda Temple worked as a journalist for nearly 20 years before switching gears to public relations in 2012. This change meant that no longer would she cover buzz-worthy events but would now be responsible for building buzz and she’s going to help you build buzz for your book, too. For the past three years Temple has crafted numerous public relations campaigns that the public and media noticed.

Her latest success was coauthoring the Birmingham’s Best Bites cookbook. The self-published paperback book sold out three times in late 2014 and earned an international gold medal award in 2015. Also in 2015, her public relations campaign for the book and the Birmingham food festival it was connected to, won a first place state award in public relations.

AD Lawrence

Although, A. D. Lawrence is new to the official writing world, she is not new to the art. She has spent a lifetime putting pen-to-paper to express her deepest feelings and thoughts and to do research.

A.D. grew up in Tennessee at a time when children were to be seen and not heard. In 1989, she moved further south where she believed blacks were treated the same. During this major transition, she wrote. This era helped to hone her writing skills by giving her an outlet for unspeakable truths, while she dealt with social changes.

Lawrence is the author of When the Lioness Roars, When the Lioness Roars…Again, and When the Lioness Roars…Again and Again. She also has two works in progress. One is entitled Life Beyond the Shadows and the other is A Coloring of Hearts. The underlying theme in both deals with personal disappointment, struggle, growth, and survival. Unlike these two, the current book uses humor, anger, fact, prayer, rhyme and reason to produce a personal journal/textbook.

Join See Jane Write and Books-a-Million as these authors share the secrets to marketing their books. Zach Kendrick of Books-a-Million will also be on site to tell you all about the Espresso Book Machine and how you could use it to self-publish your next book.

This book is free and open to the public but seating is limited so arrive early.

DIY Marketing for Authors: How To Be Your Own Publicist

Hosted by Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village in Partnership with BAM! Publishing and See Jane Write

6 – 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 16 at the Brookwood Village Books-a-Million

How to Get a Book Deal

Anne and Marie
Marie Sutton and Anne Riley

Skittles, Red Bull and Kanye West’s College Dropout — those are the things that helped Marie Sutton write a book in seven months.

On Saturday, Feb. 21 See Jane Write hosted the workshop How to Get a Book Deal with local authors Marie Sutton and Anne Riley.

Marie Sutton is the author of The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Landmark, which was published November 2014 by The History Press. Anne Riley is the author of the young adult novel Shadows of the Hidden, published December 2012 by Compass Press.

Marie and Anne helped workshop attendees craft a rough draft of a pitch letter to sell their book idea to literary agents and publishers.

Before putting participants to work, Marie and Anne shared the stories of how they landed their book deals, gave tips on how to bring a book idea to life, and discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly about publishing.

marie teaching

Before committing to writing a book there are some important questions you need to ask yourself, Marie said: Why do you want to write a book? What are you willing to sacrifice? Can you be disciplined enough to complete the task? Do you have a support system? Can you write? 

For folks who want to write a book but aren’t sure what they want to write about, Anne said simply consider what you like to read.

Marie and Anne are both wives and mothers and they work full-time. So finding time and space to write wasn’t easy for either of them, but they did it anyway. Marie would “get in the zone” around 9 p.m. each night. She’d sit at her dining room table and write while listening to Kanye West, snacking on Skittles and sipping on Red Bull. She even had a comfortable outfit she’d wear that she called her writing uniform.

Anne finds it impossible to write at home — distracted by laundry, dishes, etc. — and prefers to work in a coffee shop or library instead.

Anne stressed the importance of perseverance. She revised her last novel two dozen times! It’s OK if your first draft is terrible. It probably will be. “Dare to suck,” Anne said, causing the crowd to burst into laughter. To be a good writer you must also let go of your pride. Get people to critique your work and welcome criticism. It’s the only way you’ll get better.

If you decide you want to go the route of self-publishing, beware that to successfully sale your book you will have to make marketing your full-time job, said Anne, who self-published her first novel before it was later acquired by a small press. Anne had a lot going on when she was trying to promote her book. “I was giving birth and self-publishing at the same time,” she said with a laugh.

Whether you have a book deal or not, you still need to promote yourself. A few simple things you can do to promote your book include: Get a Facebook page for your book and use other social media like Twitter, get business cards, tell EVERYONE about your book, establish new relationships with people who could help promote your book and work the relationships you already have.

The Perfect Pitch

janes at work

When crafting your pitch letter, particularly for a non-fiction book, consider the following:

  1. What is the working title of your book?
  2. Write a one-line description of your book.
  3. Who is the book’s primary reader? Who is this book for?
  4. Why do readers need this book? What void does it fill? For non-fiction writers, consider the mission of your book. For fiction writers, consider how your story is unique. Are there other books on this topic (for non-fiction) or other books that tell a similar story (for fiction)? If so, why is your book different? If not, is there a need or desire for this book?
  5. Why are you the right person to write this book?
  6. Do you have enough to write a whole book? Would this be better as an essay, blog post, or short story?
  7. List the chapters of your book.
  8. What will be your book’s word count?
  9. What sources do you need for this book? Do you have access to information about this topic or to resources you need to flesh out your story?
  10. Do you have access to built-in audiences? If so, who? Be specific.

Anne teaching

For fiction query letters, Anne offered the following tips:

1. Don’t simply send a form letter. Start by explaining specifically why you chose to query this particular agent. Did something you read online attract you to this agent? Do you know someone who works with this agent?

2. Next offer essential information such as your book’s title, genre, and word count.

3. Then offer a summary of your book’s plot. Include setting, conflict and an introduction of your main characters. You want to be very interesting and intriguing here. If the agent isn’t hooked here, your query is toast, Anne said.

4. Include information about yourself. Offer anything interesting and relevant. Anne said you should leave out generic things like “I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil” or “I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer.” Explain why you stand out from other writers. What makes you special?

5. Close your letter with any information the agent needs to know (such as if other agents are reading your manuscript) and a quick thank you.

Remember, Anne said, agents will judge your writing ability by the strength of your letter. After all, if you can’t write a good letter, why would anyone think you could write a book.

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