The holy grail of starting a book publishing company: getting your books onto bookstore shelves.
I’ve focused most of my efforts on ebooks and print-on-demand Internet orders for physical books. It’s a great model since it has such low overhead cost. It’s a pretty new model too, with ebooks taking off in popularity only in the last four years or so.
But I have my eye on getting my authors’ books onto bookstore shelves.
The biggest thing holding me back is the nature of returns. Basically, books go to bookstores on a consignment basis. The books sit on the shelves and if they don’t sell, they get returned to you for a refund. You shipped out a bunch of books, got paid for them (at the steep discount that bookstores get) and then months and months later all that money has to be refunded! It can be a nightmare for a small business’s cash flow.
So you can’t count on any of the bookstore money until there are actual sales.
Okay, once I’ve got some money saved up so cash flow isn’t an issue, what is the process to actually get books into bookstores?
Who Is Your Distributor?
Createspace and Lightning Source both use Ingram as a distributor which means that working with them your books will show up as available for bookstores to order. The only trouble is, they set the terms not you. And they tend to set terms that aren’t attractive to bookstores. If you want bookstores to stock you, you’ve got to be willing to accept returns and give them a significant discount so they can maintain their profit margins.
I had a friend who works at a bookstore look up our books in her system and they are marked as unreturnable. That means the store is not going to take a chance on them.
Lightening Source may claim that with a fee you can make your books returnable, but my friend said in practice they are still effectively unreturnable.
The reason why? Because it is literally “print on demand” they don’t have a warehouse for returned books. The book is created when someone buys it so there is no inventory sitting around. I’m told that you may be able to tell bookstores that they can buy through Ingram but return directly to you. I’m going to try that out before I start looking for a non-POD printer, but that is probably in the future for this company.
Book Sales Representatives are people who travel to bookstores and present various potential books to the bookstore buyers. You can hire them to add your book to the list, but the issues with that are:
- Your bad terms still show up if the bookstore is interested in buying some stock
- It’s very expensive
- Your book is just one of a bunch they are representing and if it isn’t as flashy or exciting as another book they’re repping, then yours might not get much attention
More on hiring book reps here:
Talking To The Manager
It seems like the best way for a small press to start getting into bookstores is through the local route. Get to know the book sellers in your area. Go in and talk to them.
If you are the author or you are nearby the author, present your books as local. A lot of bookstores have a special section to highlight local authors.
Just ask if you can do a test run of books on their shelves. If they stock just five or ten copies, that’s a start!
Once those books are on the shelf, make sure they sell. Tell your friends and family, ask for help. The most important thing for bookstores is that the books sell. No matter how small the first run is, if it sells out than they will be interested in getting more copies in.
(Here is a great description of how an author did exactly that: http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/selling-self-published-books-in-bookstores/)
Ask if you can do a test run on a consignment basis where the bookstores don’t pay for your books up front but they pay you back a percentage on sales. (Here is a list of examples of different bookstores and the terms they offer for self-published authors [which are going to be at least very similar to the terms for small presses particularly if they’re using POD technology]: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/how-to-sell-your-self-published-book-into-bookstores_b51732 Note how important it is to be up to date on industry pricing).
You can also call bookstores and speak to the manager about your book. Here is one author’s advice on how to get them to carry your book:
But … if your self-published POD book is not picked up by Barnes & Noble corporate (the dream, as it saves plenty of time), you can still get it in the stores. How? By calling the stores individually, or hiring a salesperson to work on commission. This is what I do. Though several hundred Barnes & Noble stores still need to be called (ugh!), the book has been ordered by nearly 100% of the stores individually contacted.
Here’s the spiel. First, you give them the book’s title or ISBN number. Then, as the bookstore staff person is looking it up in the computer, say, “Though it is POD, it is through Ingram and fully returnable with regular terms.” If you do that, nine times out of ten Barnes & Noble will at the very least “short order” the title, that is, order two or three to see how it goes, before they place a larger order. This is assuming, of course, that you can sell the virtues of your title.
Shouldn’t be a problem, though, if you add, “Could you just short order a few and see how it goes?”
You’ll be surprised at your results. –http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/how_to_get_your_self.htm
Just, check and make sure that it is fully returnable and if not, remember to say it can be returned to you directly.
Set Up A Signing
Ask your local bookstores if you can do an book signing at their location and offer to supply the books yourself. Bookstores like events that will draw people in and if your book is selling well, they may consider stocking it.
Make sure that you get lots of people to your signing. Again, call in any favors you’ve got! If you bring the bookstore traffic, they will be interested in working with you.
Ask Fans To Request the Book
You can also create demand for the book before it is on shelves. Ask your fans to request them. If a bookstore doesn’t have the book, it can be special ordered for a customer. Tell your fans to ask at the customer service desk. Enough demand and the buyer at the store may want to stock it.
Up next for me are to look into getting a non POD printer and hiring my own distributor. I plan to make some connections to help me do that when I go to Book Expo America next May!
I’m super excited to have a booth at the trade show. This will allow me to present my books to bookstore buyers, library buyers, big chain buyers, as well as distributors.
It’s expensive to attend but it has fantastic potential to grow my business. Later on we’ll talk about booth set up because it’s important for both trade shows and bookstore signings!
One of the nice things about doing ebook first is that I have a sales record to show buyers and reps. I have books that have shown their market potential already. That’s a big benefit!
As the publisher, you’re going to be thinking about sales and proving your book’s sales potential. That’s a big part of the job or a publisher.