For many authors, it’s not enough to see our books on Amazon and other online retailers. We want to see our books in bookstores. A bookstore strategy is important for appearing on major bestseller lists, like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Well, the good news is that some independent bookstores do sell and promote local and independent authors. The bad news is there are so many books available, both traditionally published and self-published, that bookstores can’t possibly sell all of them. So, how do you make your book stand out?

In this post, we’ll discuss the strategies that will put your book in the best position to be accepted, where to find independent bookstores, understand the needs of the bookstore owner or manager, how to approach a bookstore, and the potential pitfalls of employing a bookstore strategy.

How to put your book in the best position to be accepted?

If you have a book that has been professionally edited, professionally designed, and hits a market that is in demand right now, you have a great start to approach independent bookstores. A well-crafted hook or original spin on a topic will go a long way to make your case for a spot on the shelf. But that is just the start. You also need a few essentials to get into the good graces of the bookstore gatekeeper.

Listed in Ingram catalog

In most cases, your book must be available in the Ingram catalog along with other books they order. That means your book needs to be published through IngramSpark. Although books published through KDP and Expanded Distribution are in the Ingram catalog, the discounts are only 40%, and the books are not returnable.

When you publish through IngramSpark, you have the option to list your book as returnable or not returnable. Bookstores want to know that if your book, or any book, isn’t selling well, it can be returned for a refund. It takes the risk out of purchasing books.

However, some bookstores may buy directly from you or list your book on consignment. Be sure to ask about the terms of the arrangement before you agree to the partnership.

The wholesale discount

You also have the option of setting the wholesale discount for any bookstore that purchases your book when you publish through IngramSpark. You can list books at a discount between 40% and 55% off of the list price. Bookstores, of course, want the highest available discount of 55% so they can earn the most money off of each book sold. You also want the highest royalties for your book. However, bookstores will gravitate toward books offering the 55% discount, especially if you aren’t a well-known author.

As I previously mentioned, Amazon/KDP only offers a 40% discount. Leaving an incredibly low margin on an already low-margin business. To survive, independent bookstores need a 55% wholesale discount on books sold in the stores.

Your author platform

Because bookstores want to be the place to buy the best books, they will stock their shelves with books that have the highest probability of success. To give bookstores confidence that your book will sell well, focus your attention on book reviews first and then sales. Encourage readers to leave reviews on sites like Amazon or have them send you reviews to post on your website.

It’s also important to build your social media following and email list to illustrate that you can generate buzz for your book. Demonstrate how you will promote local bookstores that sell your book and not simply link to Amazon on your website and social media. Doing so not only helps you with bookstores but also spreads the love to local indie bookstores. As authors, we need indie to thrive. With that, our communities thrive too.

Where to find bookstores

For a list of indie bookstores, go to http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder. Once you plug in your zip code, you can locate bookstores within 100 miles. If you want to expand your search, find a zip code out of the 100-mile radius and start the search again.

Because indies love locals, start with the stores closest to you and work out from there. Once you have a track record of sales, bookstores farther afield are more likely to take a chance on your book.

How to approach a bookstore

Before you reach out to bookstores, it’s important to understand the needs of the bookstore owner or book acquisitions manager.

  • Easy
  • Returnable
  • Increase revenue in store
  • Be the place to find the best books

Every time a bookstore acquires a new book, it takes more effort than throwing it up on a shelf. Make it as easy as possible for the bookstore owner or manager to evaluate and stock your book. Prepare a book one-sheet so that all relevant information is at their fingertips. See the post on preparing a one-sheet for you and your book.

To decide how to best approach your target independent bookstore, first check their website. There, you may be able to discover if they accept self-published books and the process for doing so. They may have criteria for being accepted or dates for when and how they accept submissions.

Additionally, many local bookstores feature local writers with a shelf or a section in the store. If you wander into any of the stores, look for this section for a clue. Browse through the section to see the types of books they offer to ensure they carry the genre you wrote.

As part of your query, ask if they do book signings and how and when they schedule them. For some authors, doing book signings can be an important part of their sales efforts. However, scheduling, travel, and expended mental energy have their price. The opportunity cost of book signings may be in the time taken away from digital efforts that may have a broader reach.

What about Barnes and Noble?

If you’ve published through IngramSpark or used KDP Expanded Distribution, your book is available on BN.com. Barnes and Noble’s stores have been known to hold local author events and stock books for these events. However, the physical stores are less likely to carry the physical books otherwise. If you’ve wandered into one of the stores lately, the selection of books has decreased while the number of other products has increased.

Needless to say, while local indies may carry your title to fill up the local bookshelves, Barnes and Noble will only accept the very best indies. The book and your platform need to appear as if they are jumping out of a big New York publishing house with a professional marketing plan attached.

According to the Nonfiction Authors Association, you can mail one copy of your book along with marketing and promotional materials to:

Barnes & Noble
Small Press Dept.
122 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Pitfalls of employing a bookstore strategy

Aside from the aforementioned time and energy used for getting your book into bookstores and for doing book signings, there is also a financial risk in getting into bookstores. We mentioned the discount required by bookstores, leaving you with a small royalty per sale. When you enable returns, anytime a bookstore returns your book or books, IngramSpark charges you to do so. In addition to the wholesale cost of the book, IngramSpark charges $3.00 per book returned. If you would like the books returned to you, there is an additional fee. There is also no guarantee your books are in saleable condition once returned to you.

The good news is that most bookstores will only order a small quantity at first to judge the demand for the book. Books may find their way to the bargain bin before returning them.

Finally. . .

While there are some risks in employing a bookstore strategy, for most authors, a local effort is likely worth it. Once you and your book generate a significant buzz, a broader bookstore strategy makes sense. At the point of ongoing high demand, you may even consider engaging with a distributor to facilitate this effort. Until then, enjoy the hands-on approach with your local and surrounding communities as part of your book marketing efforts.

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