Online stores are the most common venues for indie authors to sell their books, whether in digital or print format. And while digital publishing gives authors access to readers around the world, many self-published writers are also eager to get their books into neighborhood bookstores. So if you’re an indie author interested in getting your book in your local bookstore, here are a few tips to consider.
1. Know the Store’s Policies
Most bookstores list their indie bookselling policies on their websites. Before you make a sales call, familiarize yourself with the way they do business and make sure you’re okay with those policies.
For example, many indie bookstores have a consignment policy, which means they’ll stock your book, but they will only pay you if and when it sells. Some stores, such as Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, have a reading fee. This fee compensates the staff for the time it takes to read your book, discuss it with each other, and make an evaluation of whether it’s appropriate for their shelves.
If this, or any other policy, is not agreeable to you, don’t try to talk them out of it. It’s their store, their policy and their financial model, and they get to make the rules.
“When submitting your book for review,” said Mark Tiedemann of Left Bank Books, “have a realistic attitude.” That means waiting patiently for the staff to read and evaluate your book—and respecting their decision. If your book is rejected, don’t talk trash about the store. Other bookstores in the area will find out, and they will be worried about what you may be saying about them.
2. Market the Book—and the Store
Selling your book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore is a partnership. The booksellers want to know that you’re making an effort to raise awareness of your book to potential readers and let them know your book is available there.
“A lot of authors are uncomfortable with promotion,” said Tiedemann, “We don’t want them to do anything they don’t want to do. But they can give their readers some notice that the book is available at our store.”
That means having an author website and adding a link to the store’s website on those pages. When you do other marketing promotions, mention the store as a place where your book can be found. Finally, if you’re invited to do a book signing, market the event yourself to ensure you’re not stuck behind a table with a stack of books and nothing to do.
3. Come to Bookstore Events—Other Than Yours
Most local independent bookstores have a large local author collection. “We get to know people in the community really well,” said Tirzah Price, a bookseller at Great Lakes Book & Supply in Big Rapids, Michigan. “It’s part of being part of the bookish community.”.
Even before you finish writing your book, become a member of your local store’s community. Go to readings. Hang out there and talk about the genres you know and love. Your participation will encourage the staff to be enthusiastic about stocking and recommending your books when they are ready.
“Many authors come to our store because they want to talk to other book lovers,” said Price. If you’re a writer, you’re probably also a reader. Show your support by buying other local authors’ books.
One note though: if you are unable to get to the bookstore on a regular basis, either because it’s not convenient or it’s physically difficult to do so, please don’t “dump and run.” Dumping and running is the practice of leaving your book at a store and never coming by to check in, to speak with the booksellers, or to pick it up if your book hasn’t sold after an agreed-upon time. Shelf space is limited at bookstores.
“Don’t forget you left your books here when the window of your contract is up,” said Tiedemann.