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 Dream. She’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.)
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!