Get Shelved: 5 Tips for Being Stocked by Bookstores

An open book in a library

Though many people buy books online, it’s not just gratifying to see your title on a bookstore’s shelf—it’s also smart business.

We still like to hold something in our hands before we buy it. When a book is on the shelf, a reader can find it even when they’re browsing the store for other things. And you cannot put a price on the worth of the passion of a bookseller selling your book face-to-face to a reader. Here are a few points to consider as you go for the bricks-and-mortar gold:

Be proactive. Start early when it comes to your relationships with stores and your relationships with readers.

  • Buy books yourself from the bookstores you want to carry your book. You’re not bribing them—and they still don’t have to stock your book; instead, you’re becoming a part of their community and putting action behind your words. You want the store to be around to sell your book? Shop there yourself.
  • Introduce yourself as a new author. Engage with their stores on social media.
  • If you plan to travel, contact bookstores there ahead of your visit. Ask if you can stop by, and then bring copies of your book to show them. (It helps if you have ties to that community and/or if your book’s subject matter connects to that store’s customers.)
  • Be prepared to share a sample of your book with booksellers.
  • Know your target market, where they can be found, what they enjoy, and how you plan to get your book in front of this market. Bookstores want people requesting and buying your book. If a bookseller believes you have done the work to nurture an audience, they are more likely to want to carry it on their shelves.

Think about your book from the bookseller’s perspective.

  • What’s in it for them if they carry it?
  • How will your book delight their customers?
  • How can selling your book make the store money?
  • Will it bring them some positive new media exposure?

Be confident in answering those questions when you meet with the bookseller. Focusing on these questions also helps steer you away from the temptation of bulk emailing. Each store is unique—treat them as such and engage in one-on-one emails or, better yet, call or visit in person.

Make sure your book is available in multiple formats. Give book buyers as many choices as possible. Hardback and large print are essential to bookstores. E-books and audiobooks are also great, especially for those stores with smaller physical spaces. Make it easy for the seller to sell to everyone, regardless of their preference in format.

Make sure your books are returnable. If a bookstore buys your book and it doesn’t sell, they have three options, and only one works in their favor: (1) return it to the wholesaler to get their money back, (2) mark the book down to a clearance price to get it off their shelves, or (3) throw the book away.

The bookstore loses some or all of their money with those second two options. A returns option, however, is like insurance for them. It lowers the risk when it comes to carrying your book. This is especially important when you aren’t a well-known author who’s proven your books can and will sell.

Schedule a book event or signing. Both you and the store will appreciate a captivated audience who are sure to buy copies—and who may buy other items while they’re in the store. Remember that hosting an event, in person or online, is work for bookstore staff and can appear risky since they need to commit to ordering several copies of your book so that everyone in the audience can buy. For this reason, ramp up your marketing efforts to fill those seats. Offer to write something for the store’s newsletter and let local press know that you’re available for interviews. Record the event, so you can use clips in future marketing efforts.

Outskirts Press’s Publishing Consultants can help you set your book price and establish a returns program for your book (we call it Retail Returns). In addition, our Personal Marketing Assistants can guide you in developing a sound book marketing plan, including using our First Chapter Preview option, which sends an excerpt of your book to more than 3,000 independent bookstores (as well as libraries, reviewers, and other select readers). And, of course, all our top publishing services include Ingram wholesaler distribution and availability, the top pick of most booksellers, big and small.

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