How do I get my indie-book in book stores?
A month ago I would have had no idea how to answer this question. But with a little leg work and some incredibly helpful booksellers, I now have the answer.
You might think there’s a secret code involved, some prohibition-era password like “Jimmy two-shoes gets the goats” needed so that booksellers will even give you the time of day. But guess what? It’s actually a lot easier than you’d think.
Here’s what you need to know before deciding to approach booksellers about carrying your book.
1. Independent booksellers view self-published books and small-press published books in exactly the same way.
There seems to be a hierarchy among authors that goes something like this:
- Author with a Big 6 publisher
- Author with a small press publisher
- Self-published authors.
If you are a self-published author, put your fears aside, the playing field has just leveled out a bit. The reason booksellers lump you into the small press category comes down to money. When booksellers order traditionally published books from Ingram and Baker & Taylor they get a 40% discount off the list price and guaranteed returns if the book doesn’t sell.
When booksellers order small press books and self-published books from these same distributors they only get a 20% discount and no returns. This is not very appealing to a bookstore and THIS is the reason you will cringe when your friends and family ask, “So when will we see it on the shelves?”
So unless there is a high demand for your book or you approach stores yourself, they won’t rush to order 20 copies of your book.
2. Many booksellers will carry your books as long as you provide them.
This is where you have to make sure you’re not losing money by having your book in stores. Many booksellers have a consignment program. The usual deal is a 60/40 cut on the book…the same deal the bookseller gets from a traditionally published book. They get their 40% and if the book doesn’t sell, they return it to you.
As an indie-author I get a discount on my books. The list price is $13.75 and I can order them myself for $5.50. When I order my books at cost, the sales are not reflected in sales ranking and I get no royalty. If I bring my books into a bookseller, they are going to sell my book for $13.75. They will take 40% of that and at 60% my cut would be $8.25. Subtract that from my cost for the book: $8.25 – $5.50 = $2.75 profit.
Not very exciting, is it? Also remember that I am getting no credit for selling these books, no sales ranking and no sales tracking. So with that in mind, why would anyone want to get their book in stores?
3. You won’t make a living by selling your books in stores, but you will get exposure.
The $2.75 profit sounds pretty sad, but if I sold that same book on Amazon, my royalty would be…$2.75! …Wait a minute, I think I see a silver lining here. If I’m making the same profit on the same book, what does it matter where I sell it? It doesn’t. A sale is a sale. A reader is a reader. And a reader that loves your book and tells others about it could mean a lot more sales.
Indie-authors spend a lot of time and money promoting their books. Having your book on a store shelf is basically another form of advertising that YOU’RE being paid for. If you took the profit you made from your bookstore sales and spent it on other forms of advertising, you’ve possibly just created a revolving door of marketing funds.
4. Indie-book stores and the ebook revolution.
I made a shocking discovery while talking to booksellers in my town. As it turns out, they’ve jumped on the ebook bandwagon too. One store in particular had a deal with Kobo and a big sign in their front window to promote it. If a customer purchased books using the store’s Kobo code, they would get a discount and the bookseller gets a cut. GENIUS! So if someone sees my book on the shelf and doesn’t want to pay $13.75 for a paperback they can immediately go to the Kobo store and buy the ebook for $3.99.
I know I’ve done this before. I see a book on a shelf, I really want to read it but it’s not one I’d add to my collection. Then I go on my kindle and order the book that I saw on a shelf somewhere. If I hadn’t seen the book in person, I might have never bought it.
How Do You Go About Getting Your Book In the Store And Is It Really Worth It?
This is the scary part–approaching the booksellers. If you’re shy, bring a friend. If you’re not shy, bring a friend anyway! It’s a lot easier for someone else to talk up your book. Ask to speak with the owner or manager of the store. Greet them with a smile and ask, “Do you have a consignment program for local indie-authors at this store?”….Now remember, they don’t care if you’re self-published or small press. It’s not necessary to say any more than this. Also, try to stress the “local” aspect. Independent bookstores rely on local business and therefore want to showcase local talent. It’s a win win.
Chances are they will say, “Yes, let me get you the form.” This is where they might ask you what your book is about etc…They’ll give you a consignment form that you can fill out, you give them the books and that’s it! It’s really very simple. They may even ask you to autograph the books, as one bookseller did with me.
So after you’ve hit the pavement, spent a day or two scouting out bookstores near you, is it all really worth it?
As authors we all dream of seeing our books on store shevles. So that’s good motivation to go stalking booksellers. But keep in mind, having your book (maybe 5-10 copies) in a store won’t make you a bestseller. Chances are you won’t get frantic calls from the store owner demanding more copies because they’ve sold out of your book in an hour. Like any form of author marketing, getting your book in stores is work and it takes time away from the thing that makes us authors in the first place–writing. Once your book is in store, you’re going to have to keep track of who has what and how many. You’re also going to want to check in with these stores every 3 months to see if your book has sold and if they would like more copies.
On the plus side, you’ re able to tell your family and friends where they can go to buy your book. It’s a great feeling to know your book is sitting next to books by authors you admire. In one store my book was placed right next to V.C. Andrews, Flowers In the Attic. You also have the benefit of exposure. That browsing customer may not buy your book off the shelf, but they might buy it online. There’s no way to track that kind of sale, but a sale is a sale no matter where it comes from.
If you NEED to see your book on a shelf you have two choices: pull one out of your coat, stick it on the shelf, snap a picture and run. OR…you can just talk to a bookseller. They aren’t dragons. They won’t cast you out of the store for eternity. Chances are they’ll be very receptive to you and your book. Most of this advice applies to independent bookstores, but it can also work for the big chain stores as well. Most big chain stores have policies that vary from store to store. So go ahead–stroll into the Barnes&Noble and ask to see the manager. You never know, they might just say yes. 🙂
Good luck with the book selling!