By Patti Brassard Jefferson
Having the advantage of being both an independent author and a bookstore owner, I am lucky to be able to see the challenges between authors and booksellers from both sides. Prepare yourself for the breaking news: It is a myth that independent bookstores (or the big box stores for that matter) will not deal with self-published authors.
Then where did the false narrative start?
It could have been from a flood of self-published authors who went to the internet, downloaded lists of bookstores, and sent out mass emails and then got very little response. Or it may have begun with authors who sent out dozens of packages to bookstores that included books and marketing materials and then never heard back from the stores. Clearly, these authors did not know the following five secrets.
Booksellers do not respond well to unsolicited press releases of books by authors they are unfamiliar with—especially if those books do not fit into their niche. The survival of small bookstores is, and has always been, based on creating a niche within their community and, as an author, you should spend time doing your due diligence to see if the bookstore you are reaching out to is a good fit for your genre. A good source for this information is the bookstore’s website or Facebook page. Sending your new book release information to a vintage or used bookstore is a waste of your time as well as the bookseller’s. A children’s bookstore probably will not be interested in your steamy romance and could declare you a thoughtless, lazy businessperson. Often, this first impression of you cannot be easily undone.
Do you know what is also usually on the bookstore’s website? Submission instructions for authors! Seriously. You are not the only author interested in getting your book on their shelves, so to save time, many booksellers have created a place that outlines their policies.
Read their information and if it makes sense to you and seems appropriate for you to carry on to the next step, do so. Make sure you follow directions even if they are a challenge for you.
By the way, this is also true for Barnes and Noble. Really. Check out their website.
Your local bookseller is your best ally. They are part of the creative community, just as you are. They are also small business owners, just like you are. You can and should form relationships with them and support each other.
By definition, a relationship is a two-way street and this often is where authors falter. Selling a few copies of your book does not keep the bookstore doors open, so every now and then, go buy a book from them. Attend an event that is not yours. Do you think the bookstore staff is more likely to hand-sell the books of an author who is also a customer? Why, yes. Yes, they are. Aren’t relationships grand?!
Once your titles are in your local bookstore, be professional and friendly. If you do an event there, make sure you work with the store to promote it and drive traffic. Bring snacks for the staff. Send a hand-written “thank you” note afterward.
Why take these extra steps?
Because booksellers know other booksellers! If you are a great author to work with and have good sales or a successful event, you can approach other bookstores and use your local storeowner as a reference to get a foot through the skeptical door. Of course, keep in mind that if you are dismissive of the staff, arrive late or unprepared for your event, or call excessively, bookstore owners will warn their contemporaries and that skeptical door will remain closed to you. Again, that is often hard to undo.
Think outside the bookstore. Many non-bookstore venues may be willing to sell your books as well and often at a more beneficial split of the sale. Defining your actual target market (and no, “everyone” is NOT the correct response) will lead you to alternative options. Children’s books are often accepted at children’s boutiques, and your local garden center might be interested in your book about caring for orchids. Of course, any venue willing to take a chance on selling your book for you will thrive with the building of the relationship and your unwavering professionalism.
Oh and, as a reminder, keep good records! Happy bookselling!
Patti will be the next featured guest on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table on December 21, 2016, at 7pm. Patti and Gina Hogan Edwards will discuss “How to Plan Effective Author Events on a Shoestring.“
This is a FREE call in the Author Education Series and you can receive reminders and the call-in details by signing up HERE.
Patti Brassard Jefferson is an award-winning authorpreneur, illustrator, multi-medium artist, bubble-blower, amateur tiara model, and bookstore owner. She owns exactly zero pairs of socks, daydreams about tropical bike paths, and lives with her two rescued mutts and one rescued husband. You can contact Patti via: