Want Booksellers to Stock Your Books?

A To-Do list for Authors Who Want Booksellers to Consider their Self-Published (and Traditionally Published) Books

  • Invest time and money in editing and design before your book is published. Booksellers are in business to attract customers and to keep them coming back. “Books absolutely need to be professionally produced, from editing to design and binding,” says Jessica Paul at Munro’s Books in Vancouver.
  • Price your book reasonably: check out similar books to yours and set the cover price within the range of comparable titles. Deborah Hines at Audreys Books in Edmonton says many authors price their books too high.
  • Learn about the bookstore before you approach the staff about stocking your book. Make yourself familiar with its particular “personality,” and be ready to explain how your book is going to fit with it. Best of all, become a regular customer long before your book is published, and get to know the staff.
  • Some bookstores do not want to talk to self-published authors until after the author has read the store’s information guide about consignment sales. Ask if such information is available. If you do approach a bookseller in person, avoid times when they are busy with customers.
  • Do not ask your aunts and cousins to call the store to request your book before you offer it to the bookseller. It is also very bad form to have your friends and relatives pre-order books and then cancel their orders when the books arrive at the store, thereby leaving those books available for sale. Booksellers are not stupid, and they have long memories.
  • Know that your book will be taken on consignment. Expect that the bookstore will receive 40 percent of the cover price of any book it sells.
  • Don’t pester the staff with questions about how many copies of your book have sold, and don’t expect to be paid every time a copy sells. Like publishers, booksellers do accounts and cut cheques on pre-determined schedules: they will tell you what their terms are, and you need to conform to them.
  • Develop a marketing plan that will bring local buyers to the store – to find your book and to buy books by others. Try to get local media interviews and reviews. Arrange talks and readings in your area. Become a guest on podcasts. Encourage your real-life and social-media friends to buy your book from the independent bookseller rather than online. Present your marketing plan and a brief bio to the bookseller along with the book.
  • Expect that if no copies of your book have sold within a specified time period (e.g., three to six months), you will be asked to collect your stock or see it donated or recycled. Don’t whine or argue. Just act like the professional you are, and hope for a better result the next time. If you have built a positive, professional relationship, when your next book becomes a bestseller, the bookseller may be interested in stocking this same book again. If you have offended them, you may be out of luck.
  • Keep in mind that the bookseller is doing you a favour, not the other way around. Your book may be your baby while you are writing it, but you need a business-like approach to every aspect of marketing it. Placing it in bookstores is no exception to this rule.
This list is Part Two (click here for Part I) of an article originally published in a slightly different format in the Fall, 2018 issue of Write! Magazine, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Booksellers wishing to print and distribute copies of this article to give to authors are welcome to contact me for permission.

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