How to get your self-published book into bookstores

Getting Your Self-Published Book In Bookstores 101

As a self-published author, getting your book into bookstores would be quite an achievement, wouldn’t it? Many self-published authors aspire to distribute their books through local stores across their state or even the entire country.

There’s just something special about seeing your self-published books occupying local bookstore shelves as a traditionally published book. It makes you feel like you made it as an author! 

But it’s not all fun and glory to sell books as a self-publisher. It helps you reach the local community but doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to sell self-published books since the area might not include people in your target market.

Before we dive into how you can get your self-published books into a physical store, let’s see whether you, as an indie author, should do it or not.

Do you want your book to be in the bookstores?

The book industry has evolved tremendously because of the internet. The rise of eBooks has made it easier to reach people worldwide for indie authors and get more sales than you’d get from traditional publishers and print books.

So does this mean you shouldn’t try and get your self-published book into a local bookstore? Of course, you should do it. There’s just a lot of timing and planning required to execute getting your self-published book into a physical store.

As a self-publishing author, it involves a lot of monetary risks. The cost of funding the printing and distribution of your book to a bookstore can be a heavy burden if you don’t manage to get the expected bookstore sales. 

The expenses would be slightly more if you try to get shelf space in big bookstore chains across the country than if you just wanted a few copies to reach independent bookstores. Either way, the risk persists.

You should avoid getting your self-published book into local bookstores if you don’t have a financial security net. The worst-case scenario(which rarely happens) is that you get no book sales or sell few copies from the local bookstores. 

You end up losing most of your money in the short run. But books aren’t perishable items. So they can stay in stores longer and help you make money over a period. But for the time being, you can self-publish and focus on promoting your eBook that can reach millions across the globe.

So when should I try to get my self-published book into bookstores?

The way the book industry has changed has granted self-published authors a chance to earn a living without taking on all the risks of traditional publishing.

Suppose you’re on this end of the spectrum and have successfully made a profit through self-publishing as an indie author and are willing to take the risk. In that case, you can now try and get your self-published book into bookstore chains and indie bookstores.

How to Sell your Books into Bookstores?

Know your Audience

Just like you would need to know who the target readers of your book would be in general, you would also need to figure out the type of people who live in the vicinity of a local independent bookstore. 

Gauging this will help you with your distribution strategy and recognize which independent bookstores and chain bookstores you want to sell your book to. 

Understand how they Buy Books

Indie bookstores or chain bookstores can buy books from various sources:

  • It can be from a book rep – A person who represents publishers and is authorized to create wholesale orders.
  • It can be from a distributor. An organization collects books from various publishers, stores them in warehousing facilities, and gives them to bookstores for wholesale purchase.
  • Books can directly be acquired from the publisher.
  • And lastly, bookstore owners can also purchase books by directly contacting or getting contacted by self-publishing authors.

Marketing Plan

Know how to market your book and develop a professional book marketing proposal. Your book won’t tell the unique story inside it if people don’t know or hear about it.

You cannot only rely on word of mouth to sell your book, primarily if you sell books through independent bookstores. 

Many promotional activities you conduct and marketing materials that you provide when you self-publish a book would be helpful to spread the word even when you’re planning to launch the print versions in book stores:

  • Bloggers – Reach out to book lovers who have blogs where they write about books. You can reach out to them by sending them a free copy to write a review. It can help you get traction through their following and bring the opportunity to reach new book lovers who might not have heard about you before.
  • Podcasts – Another great way to promote your book is to go on different podcasts as a guest to talk about your book. Authors can find many relevant self-publishing podcasts that talk about books and interview their indie authors. 

You can use these platforms to share details or aspects about your book that people wouldn’t get to know just by reading your book. It is a great way to attract new audiences to your followership.

  • Social Media – In this day and age, a marketing plan wouldn’t be complete without social media. It has become the primary go-to medium for advertising and marketing. Whether it is through paid or organic social media marketing, you will be able to reach thousands of people across the globe. 

Creating and maintaining a personal brand as a self-published author has become crucial. The audience you amass online will eventually buy your work, a.k.a. your books. 

So it’s good to incorporate regular content publishing habits and experiment with different platforms and media formats. Pictures, written posts, videos, and live videos are all types of content you can explore. 

All the marketing activities mentioned above will get people talking about you, your work and potentially lead people to purchase your books from bookstores or online. It’s a win-win either way.

Discount Strategies

Providing limited-time discounts or bookstore-only discounts is a great way to pull people towards visiting a bookstore and getting their copy of your book. 

It also acts as an incentive for bookstore owners to give your book prominent shelf space so that people can easily spot and buy it. 

When discounting your books, you need to make sure that you’re still earning a profit. Do the necessary calculations to ensure that you’re not losing money trying to get more book sales. 

Contact Independent Bookstores

Pitching your Book:

As mentioned previously, self-publishing authors must approach bookstore owners and pitch their books to be kept in their physical stores.

Traditional publishers would have a sales team that would go and pitch various books. In the case of an indie author, you must yourself be the sales team and become the person who convinces bookstore chains to keep your book.

Ideally, you would do this by telling them how your book can increase footfall and lead to sales that increase the revenue of their outlets. If you can convince them that your book will generate more demand, then you’ll be able to sell them your books.

You can do this by telling them about any awards your book might have won, any special media coverage it might have received, notable reviews that make your book credible, and any bestseller list that your book might be featured on.

Think Local, Act Local:

Many independent bookstores are proud to support local authors. So using this sentiment as a way to occupy shelf space in your locality is a good tactic.  Local indie bookstores have become one of the wonderful community gathering places where you can host author events.

Book buyers are also excited and intrigued when they discover that a writer/author is in their vicinity. It makes them more likely to buy your book due to a sense of belonging. 

Create an Audience for the Indie Bookstore:

Another great way to convince a bookstore owner to let you sell through their stores is by hosting a book reading or book signing event that brings a crowd to the store.

Although book signings and readings are not as extravagant as they used to be back in the day for traditionally published books, if you manage to get a media publisher to cover the event, it can still be great marketing for the event provider, i.e., the bookstore. 

Risks involved in Selling your Books to Bookstores

  • The pricing 

While an average customer buys your book at a retail price, bookstores and independent booksellers purchase your books at wholesale discounts. It is a norm so that the bookstores can earn a certain amount of commission through the sale of books.

So depending on what kind of discount you provide to bookstore owners, you’re pretty much cutting your profits in hopes of selling print books.

Well, this system seems fair, doesn’t it? Although it is, it puts you at a disadvantage. 

Suppose the retail price of your book is $20 and the wholesale discount rate that you provide is 30%. This means each copy that a bookstore owner buys from you will be worth $14. So when a bookstore can sell your book, they get to keep the $6 as their commission. 

And you receive a profit only from the $14 after cutting the cost of printing and shipping the books. It leaves most self-published authors with a shallow profit margin. 

Sadly, the situation is not that great for the bookstore either. To receive your discount rate, you must sell your books in a higher quantity, and the bookstores don’t have any assurance that your books will sell.

  • No Print-on-demand

Printing is wholly based on estimates. You decide how many books you want to print and distribute. And it would be best if you did this before people choose to buy, unlike selling books online, a print-on-demand service where each book is printed after an order is placed. 

Print-on-demand ensures there are no extra printing or shipping costs involved. When distributing to bookstores, there is no way to prevent this expense from taking place. 

  • Having to make books returnable

Most independent bookstores and vendors have a clause to make the book returnable to you if they don’t sell regardless of the reason. In this situation, you must pay them back the amount they purchased your book for.

Even if the bookstore goes out of business, bookstore chains make sure to put it in their contract to make the books returnable, and else they won’t buy it. The worst part is, if such a situation arises, you’re going into loss as you’ve already paid for printing and shipping the books. There’s no way you can recover that cost. 

  • Bookstores don’t sell your book for you

Bookstores already receive low footfall these days. Add to that the massive amount of books kept in the store, where your book will easily get lost on one of their shelves. 

Bookstores only give prominent space and visual emphasis to books from bestselling authors and national or international award winners. So for indie authors, it becomes tough for your book to stand out in a bookstore.