As self-publishing becomes more popular it is important for authors to know the ins and outs and getting their books into brick and mortar bookstores, without having a big time distribution deal. Recently, it has become common for independently published books and self-published books to only be distributed electronically (i.e. Kindle and ePub flies), but some still want to have print books on shelves. Here are some industry tips for authors who want to do that.
First, there are two important questions: What is your budget? & What is consignment?
Well, let us address the thing that will dictate your options for distribution, which is your budget. No, independent book stores should not be asking you to pay them to sell your book. If they do that is a major red flag. Never do that.
Your only expense in doing self-distribution through indie bookstores should be shipping costs. Point. Blank. And the period.
Next, consignment. Now this is extremely important friends and fellow book lovers. Consignment programs are designed to allow local self-published or non-traditionally published authors space on bookstore shelves. When an author consigns a book, the bookstore agrees to stock the book on their shelves for a period of time, and pay the author for the copies that have sold at the end of the contract.
Each bookstore has their own consignment policy; however, from research at the time of writing this article, it was found that the above definition from Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY is the norm. Just be sure to read the consignment policy of each bookstore you wish to send your book to, to make sure you are not wasting money sending your book to a bookstore that will not sell your book for some reason or another.
Further research also confirmed, it is possible that if an author sends a copy or copies of their book to an indie bookstore, without first following the instructions in the consignment policy that the bookstore warns when your book arrives they will simply hand your book to customers for free.👀
Now some very important thoughts from Ms. Megan, the events coordinator of Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina and Josh Cook, the bookseller of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA both of whom I reached out to with a list of pertinent questions about authors seeking consignment. They respond to my questions with some seasoned advice!
NOTE: Never be afraid to ask questions and put yourself out there. Sometimes you just might get helpful responses. 😉
Ms. Megan from Park Road Books’ answers to my interview questions are below:
Q: How should an indie author reach out booksellers?
A: We prefer that authors/publicists contact the store via email. That way there is a written record of the conversation. We suggest sending an email to the general email and after one to three business days, follow up with a phone call. That way the person in-charge of handling inquiries will have a chance to look the email over. If the author prefers an in-person conversation, we suggest emailing to set up an appointment. This helps make sure the person the author needs to speak with will be free to talk.
Q: What should be included in an indie author’s email/letter/phone call to a bookseller to inquire about getting their book in a brick and mortar bookstore?
A: The author should include, their book title, the publisher of their book, the cost of their book and if they are local to the area or have family/community ties to area. When it comes to indie authors, the stronger the ties to the area, that the better the sales of the book.
Q: What is the expected wait time for a rejection or an acceptance?
A: The wait time differs from store to store. At our store, we try to respond to inquiries in one to three business days.
Q: Is it possible for an indie author to request a special display/retail marketing for their book (like a display table or an End Cap display) in the bookstore through the bookseller or would the author have to contact someone else for that?
A: Our store does not offer special displays or additional marketing for any authors. However, they can create what is called a “shelf-talker”. It is a small sign that attaches to the shelf. We also recommend utilizing social media platforms to promote that the book is carried at our store. We do make an exception to this rule when the author schedules a book signing.
Q: Are smaller indie bookstore booksellers easier to reach than larger indie bookstore booksellers?
A: I haven’t heard from authors about a difference in smaller vs. lager indie bookstores. The larger indie bookstores response time might be longer since they probably have more requests.
Q: What are your thoughts on reaching out to airport bookstore booksellers?
A: Personally, I say it can’t hurt to any all booksellers.
Q: What are your thoughts on reaching out to international indie bookstore booksellers?
A: It can’t hurt to reach out to international booksellers/stores. Keep in mind if the publisher does not ship books internationally, the cost of shipping the books will out way any profit made from sales.
Please keep in mind that this information may vary from bookstore to bookstore. I hope that this information helps. – M
Josh Cook’s perspective (in italics) below:
Here’s what I came up with. More of a perspective than specific information, but you’ll see why. I hope this is useful and thank you again for reaching out to us.
In many ways, all these questions boil down to one, not terribly useful answer: all indie bookstores are different and so will all have different relationships with self-published authors. Some don’t work with them at all, others have paid programs for self-published authors to have events and display space, and still others will be more informal, making case-by-case decisions as they come up. And this goes for all sizes and types of independent bookstores in all locations. Porter Square Books has a consignment program for local authors. (http://www.portersquarebooks.com/porter-square-books-consignment-program) We also often host self-published authors for events at the store or at off-site locations, but that is a different process from our consignment program.
But there is one really important thing to keep in mind as you reach out to bookstores: not every good book is right for every good bookstore. Shelf and event space are limited and the difficult decisions booksellers have to make aren’t really about sorting the good from the bad, but finding the right good in all the good. They have to balance what they know will sell with what they hope will sell and need to respond to their community and lead their community. So, think about pitching your book to a bookstore in exactly the same way you would pitch it to a publisher. Find out if the bookstore even carries self-published books. If they do, follow their process. Get to know the bookstore by shopping there, looking at their website, reading their staff picks, signing up for their newsletter, and attending events. Imagine your book on their shelves. Does it look right? If it stands out, does it stand out for the right reasons or because it looks out of place? Then frame your pitch not around how good your book is, but how well your good book will fit with the store. Is there a specific bookseller it might connect with? Is there a specific component of their community that would buy it? And then understand if the store says “no.” You may have a good book, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right book for every store. Booksellers put a lot of thought and respect in deciding what books to stock and it will only help you if you show that same level of thought and respect in your pitch. If you do that, even if this book doesn’t fit, booksellers will be much more open to listening to pitches about future books that might.”
Much thanks to Josh and Megan for their helpful advice! If you need a good long list of independent bookstores to contact go to https://www.indiebound.org/indie-bookstore-finder! 👍
Notice, for a moment, the second to last question to Megan of Park Road Books, “What are your thoughts about reaching out to airport booksellers?”
This question was asked for a very particular reason. There is a not so secret, secret in the publishing industry that there is monumental promotional potential in getting your book in an airport bookstore. See my next post in the February edition of #CTM and we can look a little closer at the intriguing potential behind getting your book in an airport bookstore and how to do it!
All the Best Writers,
The Novel Gent