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…