You’ve written your first book, or maybe it’s your 20th one; no matter. You want people to read it – that is, other than friends and family – and you want it in bookstores, but you don’t know how to get it there. You have what I call the “Bookstore Blues.” So how do you go about getting your book into bookstores?
I can’t tell you the best way for you to do it; that depends a great deal on you and the bookstore owner/manager. What I can tell you is how I go about it. I have found in my years as an outside salesman that there are a few key things that will boost your odds of success when you approach a bookstore owner/manager.
Prepare for your call
Go into the bookstore with your “elevator pitch” ready, rehearsed and sounding natural – not rote. Know who you need to speak with and be sure they have the time to talk with you. That may mean a phone call and appointment scheduled ahead of your visit; or, if cold-calling, a short pitch with a follow-up visit.
And by the way, even if you do have an appointment, remember that indie bookstores need to serve their customers, not you. So be prepared to have your pitch interrupted. Just back off and wait. Also, being able to chit-chat about the store’s uniqueness and the neighborhood it serves to show them that you are interested in their business. It only takes a little research to find out about them, and it will be greatly appreciated by them.
Researching the store can also save you a lot of travel and time as well. You don’t want to drive 50 miles only to find it’s a used bookstore or a genre-specific one. Some others may call themselves bookstores, but have most of their floor space dedicated to everything but books.
Give them a reason to put your book on their shelf. What is so exciting about your book to make them want to share it with their customers? In other words, how will it benefit them and their loyal customers to have your book in their store?
They were not just waiting for you to show up and save the day. Remember, you’re not the first one to knock on their door attempting to get a book on the shelf. Be ready to show what is unique about your book. Also be ready to leave a copy, flyer or some other material with the promise of a follow-up call in a few days or a week, once they’ve had a chance to look over your work.
Show you’re really in the game
Treat them as if this is the beginning, not the end, of your relationship. Suggest activities that you can do to help boost sales, such as signings or readings by yourself or with other local authors. How are you going to help move your book off the shelf?
Be ready to negotiate
Especially if your book is non-returnable, be prepared to have it put on the shelf on consignment. You can negotiate the split with the store. Usually, it’s somewhere between 60/40 and 75/25. (Don’t forget, you are absorbing the cost of printing). And while the latter sounds much better, it is a business and they might be more inclined to sell a book when they get a higher percentage of the selling price. Unless, of course, you have a best-seller on your hands – then go for it!
With these five things in mind, take a deep breath and remember that while you may not be a salesman (or saleswoman), most bookstore owners/managers will give you a chance if you present yourself as professional, knowledgeable polite and concise when you approach them to get your book in their store.
And finally – have fun!
MJ Maccalupo, Ed.D.
Michael is the author of three novels: Where the Road Begins, Murder at Ravenswood Hall and The Allentown Murders (the Hap Pozner series), and a collection, The Almost Definitive Collection vol. 1 (short stories, essays, poems and a play). His books are available online and in bookstores in Southeastern NC, Western PA and Western NY. He has appeared on radio and television (cable and network) with his books. His books have also been reviewed in magazines and newspapers. Currently he is working on several novels to be released late this summer and fall. He lives with his family in Wilmington, NC.