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.

How Self-Publishing Authors Can Get Bookstores to Carry Their Books

Imagine it. Your book on the shelves of your local bookstore. A dream come true? Well, read on.

When trying to negotiate a sales agreement with a brick-and-mortar bookstore, self-publishing authors need to have a few things in place:

Trade Discount1. Wholesale distribution through a major book wholesaler like Ingram. Yes, bookstores can order books directly from your publisher (and they’d even get a better price if they did, at least from some publishers), but in reality, most bookstore prefer to order using their accounts directly with Ingram, so your book must be available through either Ingram or Baker & Taylor (or preferably both).

2. A generous trade discount. This is the discount that is passed through the wholesaler (Ingram) to retail buyers (usually bookstores or online book retailers). While online book retailers rquire much less of a discount, brick-and-mortar bookstores rarely have interest for books with less than a 35%-40% discount – which means you will need a 50%-55% trade discount (since Ingram takes 15%).

Trade discounts affect your profit (royalties), since more money is going to the retailer, less is going to you.  Makes sense, right? There’s only so many slices of pizza in a pie.

Returns Program for Your Book3. A returns program for your book. If your goal is to “go after” brick-and-mortar bookstores, you should have a returns policy in place. This, like your trade discount, should be chosen before your book publishes, although the beauty of POD publishing is that many POD publishers will allow you to change your trade discount and add Retail Returns after publication if you want (although additional fees often apply).  Changing such major characteristics about your book after publication is also not ideal because it may take bookstores a while to recognize your “returnable” status and/or different discount if it isn’t already present upon publication.

Why all the fuss about the returns program anyway? Well, bookstores don’t want to carry any liability for your book when they put it on their shelves. If they buy your book and it doesn’t sell, they have three options: return it to the wholesaler to get  their money back (if you accept returns), mark the book down to a clearance price in order to get it off their shelves (they will likely take a significant loss on this), or throw away the book (they’ve lost all money at this point). Naturally, the bookstore is in the business of making money. The returns program is like “insurance” for them. It protects them from significant liability when it comes to carrying your book. This is especially important when you aren’t already a well-known author who has proven their sales-“ability.”

4. A sound book marketing plan. You must identify your target market, where they can be found, what they enjoy, and how you plan to get your book in front of this market. This is important because it can be the “make it or break it” point for your book. Self-publishing companies like Outskirts Press can help you put #1, #2, and #3 into place, but you still may not be able to reach your goals of getting your books into brick-and-mortar bookstores if you don’t have the right plan in place to reach your readers.  Bookstores want people walking into their stores and requesting/buying your book.  That is the real way to get bookstores to want to carry it on their shelves.

Need help with any of this? Outskirts Press offers an opportunity for authors to get assistance they need and deserve. We can help with any of the following (and much more): setting your own trade discount (with guidance from one of knowledgeable Publishing Consultants if you need it), establishing a returns program for your book (we call it Retail Returns), and developing a sound book marketing plan (our Personal Marketing Assistants have written hundreds of these!). And of course all our top publishing services include Ingram wholesaler distribution and availability, which gets your book on all major online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, plus countless others.

You’ve got a book inside of you. We’ve got the knowledge and experience to help you get it “out there.” Let’s talk…