How to get carried by Bookstores Pt.1

Typesetter

I belong to a few writing groups. A question came up that often does and is worth looking at again.

“Can anyone help me with info on how to get into bookstores.”

There is nothing as rewarding as walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf. It’s up there with a random stranger saying, “I read your book.” As an Indie author, until you’ve peeled back this curtain, the process for getting carried on bookstore shelves can remain a mystery.

I’ve written on this topic many times before, but crawling through my backlogs of writing can be tedious and it’s worth bring to the foreground again since we don’t know until we know that we don’t know about a topic. Plus, I have tons of new followers since I last wrote on some of these topics. For some of you, you might consider getting my book The Indie Author’s Bible since it carries these articles in a pretty easily followed format… but I’ll link some articles at the bottom that you may want to revisit.

First, you ought to know about whether or not the bookstore is a part of a chain or is an independent. Oftentimes they will treat you the same, but many independent stores will carry unknown writers on a consignment basis.

Second, you need to know your book. Not just the story, but your book details. Write this down and keep these details handy. You need to know the following things before you begin looking any further: What is your ISBN? Is your book returnable? What distributors carry your book? What is the wholesale discount rate? Who is listed as the publisher? Is your book Print on Demand (POD) or do you have a print run sitting in a warehouse somewhere?

Bookstores are not usually scouring the internet and looking for new titles to carry. There are many advertising services that constantly pitch them with new books they could consider carrying. If you want to be on a shelf you will need to break through the noise and pitch yourself to the store manager in order to be a shelved title. That requires you to contact them and make a request (or if someone else has made a purchase request they might pick up an extra copy or two to carry.) The burden of contact is on you as the author (unless you hire a publicist who does this) and that will require you to answer those above questions.

Shelved Title
They will ask you for an ISBN right off the bat. It helps them look up your book. It will show them the details of your book. If it is not in their distributor network then they won’t be able to carry the title. If you are in Ingram, almost any store in the US will be able to get it in. But because they can access it doesn’t mean they will.

Many stores, especially those that are part of a chain, will only carry titles that they can return unsold copies. You ought to know what you look like to them;; if the publisher lists your name as the publisher it indicates that it is self-published. That is fine and doesn’t necessarily deter them, but if it lists Createspace you should know that it will probably be a no. Createspace only offers a 40% wholesale discount and does not allow returns. I only know of one store in my state that will take CS books and put them on shelves and they are an independent store.

Some stores will not take POD books at all. Books A Million is one such chain that has a chain-wide prohibition against them. It is to their detriment, and I’ve had BAM managers who wanted my books on their shelf and they pull hard to try and get around it, but it is a corporate policy. It’s worth knowing so you don’t waste precious time in vain.

For chain stores, the standard details that you want are as follows: an ISBN that lists anybody except Createspace as the publisher. Fully returnable books. Reasonably priced titles (if it’s $20+ for a paperback, it had better be over 500 pages and have a following). The wholesale price for the book should be 50-55% off of retail. The book should also meet all professional standards.
These are a pretty good norm to shoot for with any store, in fact. It makes you look more credible to bookbuyers who purchase for the store’s stock.

It’s worth noting that when you do a signing or an event in a store that has shelved you, they buy all of the copies you will sign. This means you make much less per book (and even less if there is a pile of books left over that didn’t sell and are destined to be returned) but you do not bring books with you. There should not be a table fee or any extra costs… you are essentially working for the bookstore to try an move your product which they are sourcing to customers. I’ve had some confused authors contact me for joint author events who didn’t understand this dynamic since they were only familiar with consignment based systems.

Consignment
for this option you will expect  to supply your own books from your personal stock and physically deliver them to the store (or pay for the shipping.) Many stores will want you to supply them with a copy far in advance to verify that the book meets quality standards. There are a lot of crappy books floating around like turds in the swimming pool.

The consignment rate is usually somewhere between 50-40% off of sticker price. This is something you want to watch out for, especially if you are with a small traditional or indie publishing house. That might eat up all of your potential profit on a book. Nobody wants to lose money on each book sold and it’s not right that everyone but the author makes money from the sale of his or her book. This is one of those things that you simply need to know about beforehand. If your publisher has $18 on your book and gives you an author price with a sliding scale of 40%-60% off retail depending on your copies purchased you may need bite the bullet and buy in bulk in order to not go underwater while selling.

You should also keep track of where you have books, what their rates are, and how often they pay you your royalties. Check in often. Stores do go out of business and when they do they’re not always great about returning their merchandise.

Special:
Oftentimes you can talk to local/regional managers and be carried on a special shelf or during special times when they have a “local author” spotlight. This may or may not be on a consignment basis.

 

Here are some of my older posts on these topics. If you are interested in this topic I highly advise you to check them out, and post questions and remarks in the comments section!

How to Line up Author Events at Chain Bookstores

Setting the Price of your Book (highly recommended—this must be done correctly so you don’t lose money with every copy sold!)

Books A Million and chain retailer dynamics vs POD publishers

How to Be a Rockstar at Booksignings

Book Returnability, Bookstores, and Createspace

 

We will continue this topic next week and discuss what practical steps you can take to getting carried on shelves once you have a handle on today’s info so be sure to follow this blog!

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