As a self-published author, you must have daydreamed about going into a big bookstore in the heart of your city and marvelling at the sight of your self-published book standing proud and tall on a shelf meant for bestsellers.
Snapping back to reality, you must have wondered - do bookstores even sell self-published books?
Let me give you the simple answer:
Bookstores sell self-published books, and the balance is only getting better for indie authors as the years go by.
It was not always like that
For a long time, bookstores averted their attention from authors who claimed to have 'self-published' their book and wanted the store to sell copies of it.
It was a fair reaction: back then, self-published books did not go through the intense editing and rewriting as traditionally published books did. So there was always a reasonable doubt about the quality of the writing.
Other than that, there was no way to out-market the massive advertising engines put in place by traditional publishers. Add to this the unavailability of printing, and you have self-published books that were not consistent in print and build quality.
Why would a bookstore take up a book like that – one that would just sit on the shelves occupying space and catching dust?
Indie authors have upped their game
In the past two decades, a lot has changed. Social media and many other platforms have made large-scale marketing accessible for individuals and made it possible to hire freelance editors and designers to help improve the quality of books and design beautiful and attractive covers.
The advent of print-on-demand services has also solved a significant problem: self-published authors can now supply high-quality copies of their books to bookstores willing to sell them.
So now you have self-published books that give traditionally published ones tough competition when it comes to capturing audiences and bringing in sales.
Despite all these advances, getting your book into bookstores is still a complicated process and one that requires a lot of careful effort on your part. Let's take a look at how you should go about it.
How do I get my book into bookstores?
The central idea you need to understand is that if you’re going down the self-published route, you are no longer just doing the job of writing your book. You also have to do everything that a traditional publisher would otherwise do including mass-marketing and promotions, managing inventory, building a brand, and striking deals with bookstores and libraries.
Sure, self-publishing is liberating but with more freedom comes ever more responsibility. Here are some tips that will help you successfully get your self-published book into a bookstore.
Know your audience
To convince bookstores that they should sell copies of your book, you need first to understand the bookstore very well. One thing in general that all bookstore owners dislike is authors who cannot stop going on about their success on online marketplaces like Amazon. Imagine how you would feel if someone asked you to sell their product but kept on talking about your direct competitor – when you’re in contact with a bookstore, keep their goals in mind.
Next, you should also get yourself on the radar of the people who run the bookstore. Go and visit the bookstore personally, buy a few books from them, build a relationship with the staff and owners of the bookstore. This will ultimately make the task of convincing them to sell your book easier because they don’t have to take the risk of trusting someone who they do not know.
Another thing you should consider is the demographics of the bookstore:
What group of people often frequent that bookstore?
Do they consist mostly of children?
In what kind of neighbourhood is the bookstore located?
What genres sell the most in that area?
These factors will help you shortlist the bookstores that will benefit from selling your books, where you will get the most bang for your buck and the best long-term relationships. There’s no point in getting a science fiction novel into a bookstore that is known for young adult fiction and has only a small shelf at the back of the store dedicated to science fiction work.
Make sure your book is top-quality
A bookstore will always have its staff go through your book to determine its quality – they will never take your word for it. This is the litmus test that most bookstores will often use to make their job easier by merely rejecting books that are uninteresting and poor in terms of quality.
How can you make sure that your book does indeed meet their criteria?
Go through several rounds of editing on your own and be ruthless about it. Every sentence in your book must earn its place. Don’t stop there, hire a couple of professional editors to then repeat the same process – you will be surprised by the errors and inconsistencies they will find in your book (which you were blind to!).
Have a strong marketing plan
The quality of your book is a factor that bookstores strongly consider, but understand this: having an excellent book clog the shelves for months on end isn't the bookstore's goal. The ultimate goal for the bookstore is to empty those shelves quickly so that they can be re-stocked with more copies.
Your fantastic book will be rejected and returned relatively quickly by a bookstore if it doesn't seem to be selling. How do you make sure that it does?
You do this in several ways; build your following on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Grow a YouTube audience. Find a large number of people to know you as a person who provides value. Once you've established a social persona with thousands of followers, your book is going to start selling quite well because people won't be stumbling upon your book when they visit a bookstore, they will come looking for it.
Another way you can market your book is by getting reviews. A short search on goodreads.com will show you the top reviewers in your genre – send them a well-drafted email requesting a review. If you get it, you can use that on all your platforms to further promote your book.
One more method to gain a lot of traction is through influencer marketing. There are loads of 'influencers' on various platforms who have millions of followers and are willing to promote products and items they like. Find people who are followed by precisely the kind of people who would love to read your book. Strike a deal with them so that they speak about your book on their platforms. This is undoubtedly going to rake in a lot of sales in your direction!
Make your book easy to order
Bookstores have a set group of suppliers that they procure books from and who they have long-term relationships with. Whenever you’re targeting a bookstore, figure out where they get their books from, and see if you can get your books supplied through the same company.
This can become quite a hassle, so here's an easy (and effective) way out of this: make an account on a wholesale service like IngramSpark and make use of their print-on-demand services.
IngramSpark has affiliations with a vast list of bookstores and will make the book ordering task incredibly easy for whichever bookstore you are targeting.
Go ahead and start contacting bookstores
This is the much-awaited call to action. Once you’ve understood everything I’ve outlined above, made your marketing plan, understood your audience, and set up the logistics for your book, it’s time to get down and start contacting bookstores!
For some, you will have to walk in and speak to the owners who may ask you for a copy so that they can review it. Some might have a separate section on their website (search for these sections!) where self-published writers can submit their work to be considered by the bookstore. You might even have to send cold-emails to bookstores and hope to get a reply.
Whatever you do, remember that the quality of your pitch matters. At the end of every day, you should not measure the number of emails/pitches you've sent; you should measure the number of quality, well-thought-out pitches and emails that you’ve sent.
What are other ways I can distribute my book?
Getting into bookstores is one recipe for success.
What else can you do?
You can make your personal website a one-stop-shop for buying your book. Add links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound.org, and any other online bookstores where your book can be purchased through print-on-demand services. This way, whenever a potential buyer visits your website and decides to buy your book, they will be able to seamlessly receive the copy at their home through their preferred service.
Don’t forget – nobody will visit your website if you don’t market yourself properly, so everything I’ve said above applies to this choice as well!
There has never been a better time for authors to go down the road of self-publishing.
I hope my tips and advice help you get your books into bookstores and become a successful writer.