Most people who know me online probably don’t know this, but I work in a local independent bookstore and I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while, because nothing turns me from being the ra-ra writer supporter I am with my writer friends online and locally than when I’m at the bookstore and an indie or self-pubbed author comes in with the attitude. And generally it’s the entitlement attitude. Before I go further, I want to qualify all this in case some interpret this to mean that writers owe obeisance to bookstores and should be humble and stuff. No. That’s not what I’m saying — I’m not saying bookstores are above writers in any way, shape or form. Yes, they are gatekeepers, but I’d like to think that they are/could be an indie writer’s ally or partner. Some of this post is going to necessarily be anecdotal, but I’ll also share some tips, as well as some ground-breaking changes in how distributors are handling indie books.
Be aware of how you present yourself
Just as with anything in this business, be conscious of how you are presenting yourself as this is a professional setting. Be courteous and friendly as you would in any other kind of business setting. Think of bookstores as potential clients, maybe, if that will help? This may sound like a no brainer. But let me tell you, in my role on the bookstore side more often than not, authors harm themselves in this regard. I’ve seen the following:
- Writers who were visiting from out of town, and were only here for that day, and were upset the owner/decision maker wasn’t in at the time they showed up. And they took it out on me, the store clerk. I wanted to say to these authors they shouldn’t have assumed this and called ahead and made an appointment. I even had one go so far as to insist I call the owner (on his day off!) and tell him this author was in town for just that day. I refused and tried to explain this would only turn off the owner and he got more and more pushy and later harassed me with phone calls. He ended up leaving a courtesy copy. It later sold, but did we ever reorder? No. And it had potential as it was geared to a popular regional cooking style in the area. But the author was so obnoxious to the owner, it soured it for him.
- We have one local author my boss won’t order any new releases from because when that author had their (I’m using a non-gender form on purpose) debut signing at the bookstore, they were extremely rude to my boss. This not only affected their future releases, but also that current one as it was afterward buried in the regional fiction section, spine out, and it’s not one they push or recommend. And we recommend LOTS of books EVERY day.
- Writers who come in with the attitude that we’re obligated to carry their book
Okay, even I’m getting turned off by the negativity of my own post, LOL. So let’s move on and talk about how you can get in bookstores, yay! Because despite how it might sound, I DO want you to be in them.
Price your books with bookstores in mind
Most authors who come into the store don’t understand this and want to sell their book to us at the retail price. Bookstores are a business and just like any others that sell products, we order our books (products) at wholesale prices so we can turn a profit. Otherwise, how could we exist? Typically, we get a 40% discount from the major distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. We also have the ability to return them if they don’t sell (and that’s important to remember). So if you go with a small press, make sure they offer their books through one of those two distributors. That will make it a LOT easier to get picked up as the bookstore can order it with all the other books they order. Self-published? Set your retail price with enough of a margin so that giving bookstores this discount won’t cut into the production cost.
Some bookstores allow you to sell your book via consignment, but be aware that not all do (ours doesn’t). And if they do, understand that they’re doing it to support local authors knowing that they aren’t making anything off of it. Check a bookstore’s website to see their policies. For instance, this indie bookstore in Atlanta, Bound To Be Read, has this on their website:
If your book is available through a distributor such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor, please contact Jeff McCord by e-mail or by phone at 404-522-0877. If your book is self-published or published through a small press, we may consider taking it on consignment after review. Because of limited space, consignment is usually restricted to local authors. Call or e-mail Jeff McCord for more information.
Book Soup in LA has this posted (misspellings are theirs):
All consignment requests must be made in writing. We regret that we are unable to accomodate walk-in visits. In keeping with our general inventory only bound books with legible titles on their spines will be considered. To submit a book for consideration, please drop off a copy of the book along with a one-paragraph letter including your telephone number, mailing address, and promotinal material and a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient return postage. The submission should be marked “Consignment Request” and dropped off at the Book Soup information desk or mailed to the store address. Requests which fail to provide the information listed above will not be considered. Our review process takes four to twelve weeks. The book (not the promotional materials) will be returned in the self-addressed envelope, along with a letter notifying you of our decision. Books submitted without a self-addressed stamped envelope will be held at Book Soup information desk for pick-up. After 90 days, books not picked up will be recycled. If your book is accepted for consignment, you will have the opportunity to discuss your work with our buyers. Unfortunately, prior to acceptance, requests to contact bookstore personnel in person, by phone, or by email will not be granted. With this in mind, the decision made by our buyers is final. Book Soup is proud to support the writing community through our consignment program. Our buyers do the best to provide shelf space and display opportunities for consignment books, while still keeping in mind our inventory needs and the interest of our customers. Consignments are books that Book Soup agrees to add to our inventory with the understanding that payment will only be made on completed sales. We look forward to reviewing your work and we thank you for your interest in Book Soup.
Let friends know it’s there!
Okay, you’re in the bookstore, yay! But like with any other aspect of indie publishing, you need to promote. Let folks know it’s there. We have some local indie authors who do well because they tell their friends we have copies. One local author even has her car wrapped! It worked at least once, because someone came in the store saying they’d seen it and had checked out the blurb online and came into our store and bought it. We have others though that don’t take this step and the book never sells (only making my boss more reluctant to buy books from other authors since he can’t return them if they don’t sell and he doesn’t take consignments).
Make the decision easier
I asked my boss what would make it easier (besides being available through Ingram) and he said to give him a review copy and a flyer with the blurb, how to order, and reputable reviews (not reviews on Amazon–his words, not mine). I also think it makes a difference making an appointment or catching him when he’s there. Sending it via mail is too easy to put off. A review copy is important because the decision maker needs to be able to determine whether they can SELL the book to their customers. They’re not going to outlay money for a book that will just sit on the shelf collecting dust. Indie bookstore owners know their local market and what sells. Plus, they could become a new fan and actually actively pimp your book if they end up loving it! We definitely have some faves at the store that we pimp.
New policies at the distributors have changed the landscape!
I read about this initially on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog back in April and thought at the time it would be a great addition to this post if I ever got around to writing it. But I think this post on Judy Goodwin’s blog summarizes it succinctly and has a link to Rusch’s post if you want to read more. Basically, the two major distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor) have changed their policies and now list indie books mixed in with traditional titles and offer the 40% discount and same return policy. This is HUGE folks. As it also means you also have a chance of getting picked up by the chain bookstores too! It’s not all indie books–I think it’s only with books in CreateSpace’s Extended Distribution and other qualifiers– Goodwin’s post has the deets.
In summary, put yourself in the bookstore owner/manager’s shoes and understand this is a business, not a lending library or non-profit whose mission is to carry your book. And like with any other aspect of this business, do your homework and research what your stores’ policies are. I also apologize if any of this came across as scolding–that was not my intention. I want to see indie authors be successful but just have witnessed too many fail due to things they can control, and I hate to see that.
What about you? Have you had trouble getting in local indie stores? What have you found that works? What are your indie stores policies? Do you have any other tips to share?
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Photo source: By Nightscream (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons