For me, as an author, there are few greater joys than seeing my books on the shelves of my local independent bookstore. For many of us, it’s the dream we see in our minds when we start putting pen to paper. But if you’re self-publishing, that’s often not an easy dream to achieve. And for booksellers, it can be difficult to know which books are suitable for their limited storage space.
Notice to booksellers
I too am an independent bookseller and I know what it’s like over there. We are busy, exhausted and stressed from the past two years, and we are hungry to do our job well and ensure quality books get into the right hands of readers. Time is precious and so is our energy. Sifting through requests for storage space or author events from self-published authors can seem like the proverbial straw on the camel’s back – especially when it seems that these authors are often not very knowledgeable about the operation of the business.
But there are all sorts of reasons why people self-publish. Yes, some people are not as informed as they could be. I’m not going to deny it. Some people blindly go into self-publishing without researching best practices, and most likely never writing anything beyond a first draft. There are terrible covers, badly written covers and badly conceived stories.
But there are also many, many serious writers and entrepreneurs in the freelance writing industry. Some people, for many valid reasons, prefer self-publishing as a business model. And others of us, our hearts having been repeatedly broken by traditional publishing, see it as an opportunity to get our book into readers’ hands rather than languishing in our metaphorical bottom drawer.
I can’t speak for all self-published authors, but here’s my story: I’ve been writing seriously for 13 years. I’ve read dozens of craft books, earned an MFA, and taken countless courses. I was shortlisted for a prestigious award in the UK. I had two agents who got excited and pitched two different novels to publishers. These publishers have been so kind and enthusiastic, saying all sorts of nice things about my writing, comparing me to authors like Jojo Moyes, and then politely refusing to publish me for reasons that often have nothing to do with quality. of the book. .
Then having a bookseller in an independent bookstore – which I love, which I defend – looks at me with suspicion or even with a sneer breaks my already very bruised heart. It also means that I will probably never spend money there or recommend anyone else to.
So my number one advice for independent bookstores is this: please don’t make assumptions and please extend the grace. You’ll have to say no often, but please do it kindly.
Tips for Freelance Writers
Long before you publish, make friends with your local independent bookstore
The store whose staff will be most happy to support you is the store where you are known. Maybe you spend money there. Maybe you bring your friends and recommend books and get them spend money. Maybe you regularly post beautiful photos of the store on social media.
Follow the instructions on their website
Before approaching a bookstore with your book, take a look at their website. There’s probably a process to go through, and the people who decide which books the store stocks aren’t usually the people you’ll meet at checkout. Follow the instructions. If the website says shipping is currently paused, make a note to check back on the website in a few months – don’t just walk in and hope the booksellers on duty can undo that.
Know the right language to use and the right information to give them
Most bookstores get their books primarily from a source like Ingram. They pay a wholesale price when selling or returning, which means if they don’t sell the book, they can return it free of charge. Love or hate the system, it’s what allows bookstores to take risks and stock all kinds of books rather than surefire bestsellers – they don’t lose money if those books don’t end up selling.
This means that, in most cases, your book should be available through Ingram, either for sale or for return, at a standard 55% discount, if you want your book stocked in bookstores. And telling staff that your book falls into this category lets them know you’ve done your research and understand how the industry works. It also tells them that the process of ordering your book will be relatively easy, which is another point in your favor.
Some bookstores also take books on consignment, but it’s more administrative for them and for you, and sometimes there’s a charge for shelf space. This is one way to proceed if for some reason your book is not available through Ingram. But it’s also one more hurdle to overcome in the process, and if there’s one thing no author or bookseller needs, it’s additional hurdles.
Whether or not your book is available on Amazon is irrelevant to your conversation with them – bookstores don’t buy their books from Amazon and then resell them. That’s not how the model works. And mentioning Amazon is absolutely not going to endear you to them – Amazon isn’t just the competitor; he is considered by many to be the greatest existential threat to the independent bookstore. For some booksellers, even an Amazon link in a first email you send them is a giant red flag.
Make information concise
The best way to ensure that all the information the bookstore needs to decide whether or not to stock your book – and how to sell it once they do – is to create a fact sheet (sometimes called AI sheet or single sheet). Where possible, in bullet form, include basic information such as cover price, the wholesaler the book is available from, your social media accounts, and any good reviews or press your book has had , as well as the basics such as your cover, book description, and author bio. For bonus points, include some details about your marketing strategy. Booksellers will want to know that you have a plan beyond putting the book on the shelf, because unfortunately selling a book takes more than that.
Generate sales once your book is in stock
Once a book is available at a local independent bookstore, be sure to regularly tag it in social media posts about your book and mention the store whenever you mention your book. If they see you using their storage space and then exclusively telling people to go to Amazon, they won’t be… let’s say charitably, not thrilled. Depending on the bookstore, they might like the idea of you signing stock for them, or including swag or goodies with pre-orders.
Like authors, booksellers take pride in doing their job well. They have a million different things to balance to do that. Respect his time — if he asks you not to call him, for example, don’t call — and, if he Nope is the answer, politely accept it. It’s hard not to take it personally, I know that. But there is always the next book.
Want to know more about this topic? Find out how our beginner’s guide to finding great self-published fiction and some recommendations for great self-published books.