Self-publishing used to carry a stigma, but nowadays the world understands the importance of independent artists and authors. Being able to put your art out into the world without trying to get past gatekeepers is powerful, and it’s something all artists now strive to do. But there still seems to be one major hurdle: getting your books into brick and mortar stores.
So, can self-published books be in bookstores? Do bookstores sell self-published books?
Well, yes, they can, but you need to have the right pieces in place if you’re going to see your books on the shelves. Here are 5 top tips to help dispel the myths and get your books in stores.
The first thing you need to do is understand how bookstores work, how they choose the books they buy, and where they buy their books from. Except in a few cases, few book stores will order books directly from Amazon to sell in their store.
The way it traditionally works is this: bookstore buyers receive short marketing pitches from the big publishers about the books they believe (read: want) to be a big hit this coming season. Booksellers will use this information, plus their own perception of what’s getting hype and what their customers like, to decide which books they want to buy.
Next, they put in an order with a wholesaler. The books arrive, and they put them on the shelves and try to get them into readers hands. If they sell, great, they may order more! If they don’t, they’ll return the books and get their money back.
The other key way bookstores order books is if their customers ask them to order a book for them. We’ll look into this in more detail in a moment.
You’ve got to have your book available through Ingram if you want your books to be readily available to bookstores and libraries all over the world. If it’s not, they’re going to be unlikely to find your book and offer it to their customers. This means you can’t be exclusive to Amazon.
Even if you’ve written the next Great American Novel, you’re not going to find it in bookstores with a cover that looks like you threw it together on Word in ten minutes. Know the style of covers in your book’s genre and understand that this is what the book-buying public wants and responds to. Quality of paper and size are vital to get right. A book store will want your book to sit well with the others in its inventory.
So now we know how self-published books find their way into bookstores, let’s actually take a look at how. If your book is a bestseller in its genre, then your book may be purchased for customers in the ways we outlined in point 1. However, for the majority of us, that means our books aren’t likely to end up in stores at all – even if the books are selling well enough for us to write full-time.
One of the next things you can do is start making friends with your local stores, especially the independent stores. Do you buy all your books on Amazon? If so, you’re going to need to do some work to get the stores to warm up to you. Start visiting them, buy a book or two, and see what their customers buy.
Once you’re “friends” with the store, and you know your book would fit in well on their shelves, tell them an author and ask them how you might go about getting your book in-store. Could you give them some copies and they can see if they sell? Can you do a signing or reading? If they say no, be respectful and walk away.
The next best thing to do and the best way to get your book in more stores? Ask your readers to request it from their local stores and libraries. Bookstores want (need) to make sales, and so they’re going to order in what’s in demand. Or they should if they actually want to thrive in our modern landscape. Ask your most loyal readers to request your book next time in their favorite bookstore. This will help get your book on more shelves.
For many of us, seeing our books on bookstore shelves is the dream. It’s what we’ve always imagined for our writing careers. If you want it to happen, you’ll have to put in a little work. If it all sounds a little too daunting for your introverted soul (we’re with you!) remember that online sales are going to do more for your long-term author career. Keep writing and you’ll see your books on shelves one day!