This post is part one of a two-part series on getting into bookstores.
Do you dream of seeing your book in bookstores?
Many authors dream of seeing her book in bookstores. But if you’re self-publishing, hybrid publishing or working with a small press, realizing that dream of spotting your book in bookstores can feel out of reach.
But I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can (and even should!) make it happen. You’ll need to lay some groundwork (be sure to have your own ISBN – you can read about why here) and you should take time to strategize your approach to booksellers. But it’s something that you can do with the right tools and some determination!
I asked my friend, Michelle Oucharek-Deo, to answer a few questions about her experience in getting her book in bookstores such as the Coastal Bookstore in Port Moody, British Columbia. Sometimes hearing it from someone who’s done it herself is the best way to get you ready for your own bookseller approach!
Q: Why did you decide to pursue bookstores?
There is something special about finding the perfect book to read in a bookstore. Taking a chance on an author that you have never heard of, running your hand over the cover and hoping, beyond hope that the book will offer you just what you are looking for; I wanted my book to be ‘that’ for someone. So when I published my first book back in 2016 I began the adventure of finding a bookstore that would take a chance on an indie author. I searched unsuccessfully for about a year. Then stopped until 2021 when I found just the right fit for both me and my books.
Q: How did you choose which stores to approach?
In the beginning, I went with the cold canvas theory. I chose a couple of stores that I liked and reached out directly to find out about their policies and then went in with a pitch. Those first attempts though were clumsy and my book was rejected. It was not until I gained more confidence and realized there needed to be some relationship development done first before I could approach the owner with the possibility of carrying my series.
Q: How did you approach them? What materials did you bring? What questions did you ask?
Approaching the store where I was eventually successful in getting my series in, started with a little bit of luck and then some specific follow-up work. Let me explain:
- I was running a contest at a local bank displaying my book titles and offered a free consultation for anyone thinking about writing their own book.
- One of the people who won the draw mentioned the owner of a local bookstore to me. To follow up I contacted the owner, introduced myself, and asked if I could come in and see the store and say hello.
- In that initial chat there was no conversation about selling my books. I just let her know that I was a local author and her bookstore had been recommended to me and that I would love to come in and chat with her. When she said yes, I was so excited but nervous. In preparation for the meeting I gathered six books, three of each book in the series. I was not sure if she would even want to take any of my books, but I brought them just in case.
- The goal that day was to leave two promo books for her to read. After a fun conversation about writing, authors and the development of her bookstore she accepted the two comp books but she also asked if I had brought more for her to buy. She bought the other four books right on the spot.
- It is important to note that when selling directly to bookstores, you need to give them a significant discount. An average discount would be 40% of your retail price.
Q: What was the negotiation process like?
The first time she took the books I did not know exactly what to ask.I was just so excited. We brokered a deal of a reduced discount the first time I sold the books and in the next order that she requested I increased it to 40% as that was more to market and I wanted to make sure that she felt respected in the negotiation. During the process she posted a picture of me holding the book in her store on her social media site and I took several pictures in the store and did a video which I posted on my author’s facebook page and on my IG account.
Q: What were this store’s requirements? Did it have to be in Ingram? Did they want to sell on consignment? What were their discounting/pricing requirements?
This store has no formal policies about indie authors but she did check to see that it had a barcode and was properly formatted. She also checked the metadata to make sure that the product would fit in with the other material that she was selling. Several of the larger bookstores that I tried to get in with previously did sell on consignment but I have not yet been able to break into that market yet. This year I will be returning to several of those stores to try again now that I have more than one book.
Q: Did you do anything special to cultivate the relationship before asking her to stock your books?
I think the most important suggestion I could offer was that I did not walk into the store the first time with the expectation that she was going to buy or consign my book. I went in with the intention to create a relationship with someone who was doing the impossible in this day and age; and running a small indie bookstore. I gave her the first two books in my series so that she could read them and brought them in a lovely bag, handing it to her like a gift.
Q: Once they picked up your book(s), how have you worked to continue this relationship?
Yes, after selling the first set of books, I continued to follow her on social media and posted little pieces about her and the bookstore encouraging people to go in or to do special orders with her. When I received the call the first time that she needed more copies of my books she also mentioned she was having a difficult day, so I picked up a little gift letting her know I was thinking of her.
Since that time the relationship has continued to develop. She has purchased more copies of my books and I will be giving a workshop in the store in May on the Power of Journaling. She also offered to host my launch party for the third book in the series which is coming out in September 2022. I can not say how important it is to create honest and heartfelt relationships without any expectations beyond mutual respect for someone who is working as hard as you are to make a living in a difficult industry.
Q: Have your books in bookstores been selling?
Yes, my books in bookstores have continued to sell. Please note though, that this did not happen on its own. I have promoted the bookstore on my social media sites regularly and mentioned when a new shipment of books were dropped at the store. Promotion and marketing will always land at the feet of the author.
Q: What advice would you give to authors who want to get their books in bookstores?
- The first thing I would say is do your research. Find stores that are no more than a 30-45 minute drive from you.
- Have a budget set aside to buy a book from a local indie bookstore.
- See what kind of books they sell.
- What kind of social media presence do they have? Does it fit with your author brand?
- Can you see your book on a shelf in their store?
- Stick around the store and see who is coming in to buy books? Do any of the patrons fit into your ideal reader profile?
- If you did not get an intro like me, introduce yourself with a hello and then come back again if you think it could be a good fit. Remember they get a lot of people trying to get their books on the shelves. They need to know that the product is worthy of being on their shelves and that you are going to do your part to promote it.
- Be genuine and stay in contact with the bookseller.
- Offer a discount that is to market.
- I also have little promo cards in the books that I sign that the patron receives as a small gift.
If being in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore is important to you. Give yourself time and don’t let the “no”s stop you from knocking on the next door and having fun!
Thanks so much to Michelle for giving us her best advice and sharing her journey with us! I hope it gave you some ideas of how you can get your book in bookstores near you. Be sure to check out her book, The Girl in the Peachtree right here at the local indie she described in her interview, Coastal Bookstore, or anywhere books are sold!
Be sure to read part two of this two part series – HOW to get your book into bookstores.