Question: I’ve been trying to get my book into bookstores. Any ideas that can help?



Many authors dream of seeing their books on the shelves of their local bookstore or retail chain. It’s a commendable goal, but one where authors need to understand the challenges. There is a vast number of books being published each year and dwindling shelf space available at retail, meaning brick and mortar book placement is more competitive than ever before. Book buyers are responsible for making that valuable shelf space as profitable as possible, requiring them to be very selective about which books they purchase. For your book to be considered for placement, the content, quality, and marketability must align with buyer goals and expectations.

Bookstores and retailers primarily buy their books through wholesalers and distributors.How Bookstores and Retailers Purchase Books

Bookstores and retail chains purchase books through two main channels: wholesalers and distributors. Both act as the middleman between the authors or publishers and the retailers or book buyers. Books are generally ordered from these companies because it’s much more efficient and cost effective for book buyers to purchase in bulk from one or two trusted sources versus purchasing from thousands of individual authors or publishers. The largest wholesaler of books is Ingram Content Group, which also has a distribution arm. There are specialty wholesalers like Follett, which is the largest wholesaler of textbooks and educational books, and Baker & Taylor, which focuses on libraries.

While wholesalers will list client titles in a catalog and handle the book purchase process with book buyers, they do not actively market or pitch your book to these buyers. And, they typically won’t list books from independent authors or smaller publishers that have less than ten titles. This is where book distributors come in. Distributors not only help with marketing and selling a book directly to book buyers, but can assist with getting a book listed with a wholesaler. They work on behalf of the authors or publishers for a fee. Some of the largest traditional publishing houses have in-house distribution and sales teams to handle this process for their titles.

Independent and self-published authors can get their books listed in the Ingram Wholesale catalog, for example, by publishing through IngramSpark, which is Ingram’s self-publishing platform. This will make the title available to book buyers and librarians that review and purchase from the Ingram catalog. There are also supported self-publishing companies and book marketing providers that offer distribution and sales services, and can assist with getting your book placed in retail stores. In addition, authors can apply directly to specialty market wholesalers if they think their book would appeal to the company’s clients.

How Book Buyers Determine Which Books to Purchase

Book buyers are very choosy about which books they select, as every inch of shelf space represents potential revenue toward their sales goals. They are inundated with catalogs and solicitations weekly, forcing them to weed out books by looking at specific factors that influence their buying decisions. Some of these key factors include retail discount, return policy, book quality, author platform, market trends, and space available in the store.

Retail Discount

Wholesalers typically purchase books at a discount of up to 55% off of list price. They will keep a portion of that discount and pass along the rest to the book buyers ordering the books. Distributors generally charge authors and publishers a fee that is a percentage of net sales. Net sales are what book buyers pay the distributor. The fee can vary from 10% to 30%, depending on the distributor and services provided. If your book is not properly discounted or the list price is not competitive to begin with, it will be difficult for wholesalers and distributors to get buyers interested in your book.

Return Policy

Most brick and mortar stores will only buy books that are returnable. This means the store is able to return unsold copies of the book and get refunded for the purchase. This is an important option because of the risk involved with bringing in a book that may or may not sell.

The larger traditional publishing houses offer a returns program for their books, and some print-on-demand DIY publishing platforms offer a returns program for an additional fee. IngramSpark, for example, let’s authors choose between 3 different return options when a book up is set up on their platform. When using a supported self-publishing company for your book, there may be an optional book returns program you can sign up for to ensure your book is designated as “returnable” through the major wholesalers and distributors they’ve partnered with.

If your chosen publishing path does not provide a returns option, you may consider offering your book on consignment instead. This means a store will shelve your book and only pay you as copies are sold, and is a low-stakes way to get your foot in the door. A common arrangement is a 60/40 split where the author earns 60% of the sale price and the store keeps 40%.

Book buyers won't purchase books that stand out for the wrong reasons and your book needs to follow industry standards.Book Quality

Booksellers aren't interested in books that stick out for the wrong reasons. That’s why it’s so important to produce a book that follows industry guidelines for book trim size, front and back matter, cover design standards, professional editing, content requirements, and more. Make sure you are using reputable service providers and printers that understand the publishing industry and follow these guidelines. If your book’s quality is not up to par, book buyers will likely pass.

Author Platform

Your author platform is your ability to reach readers and sell books. For authors that want to get placed in brick and mortar stores, having a solid platform in place can greatly influence a book buyer’s decision as to whether or not they want to purchase your book. To create a meaningful author platform, you must put effort into both online and offline book marketing initiatives. Buyers are interested in how you will create awareness for your work and help drive traffic to their store, especially if you are a local author.

Market Trends

Book buyers are always keeping an eye on which genres, authors, and books are being talked about or gaining popularity. They are also monitoring the trade magazines and bestseller lists to see what books are receiving rave reviews and impressive sales. In addition, they can be influenced by the sales representatives from the distribution companies because they trust their recommendations.

Shelf Space and Seasonality

The time of year can greatly influence what a book buyer is purchasing and the quantities. During the Holiday season, for example they might dedicate more space to books with Holiday or religious themes. They are constantly evaluating their shelf space to ensure they are well-stocked with the right kind of books at any given time. In addition, the amount of space they dedicate to a specific genre can evolve as market trends shift. 

Steps You Can Take to Increase Your Chances of Bookstore or Retail Placement

There are several steps authors can take to make their books more available and more appealing to book buyers. Some of these steps can be initiated before the book is published, while others are an ongoing effort once your book is in the marketplace:

Produce a High Quality Book That Meets Industry Standards:

As mentioned above, booksellers will only shelve books that meet or exceed the standards set by the publishing industry. Do your research to make sure all aspects of your book align with these standards.

Make Your Book Available Through a Major Wholesaler or Distributor:

Do your research to understand the necessary steps to get set up with one or more wholesalers or distributors. At a minimum, you want your title to be listed with Ingram Wholesale.

Understand Book Sales Terms:

Make sure your book’s list price and wholesale discount are competitive. You will also want to ensure you understand all costs associated with publishing your book and are making a profit at the end of the day!

Build a Presence and Following Online:

You’ll want to be active on at least one social media platform leading up to your book’s release, and find creative ways to entertain, inform, and engage with readers online. With some effort, you can build a loyal group of followers over time and increase your discoverability online.

If you don’t currently have an author website, you should consider creating one. A good website will serve as a central hub where you can send readers, the media, and book buyers to find out everything about you and your book. A simple website or blog can be created for free using platforms like WordPress and Wix.To get the attention of book buyer, build a solid presence and following online.Get Professional Reviews of Your Book and/or Endorsements:

Reader reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads are important once your book is released, as are professional reviews from sources like reputable book bloggers and independent review outlets.

Endorsements and testimonials are blurbs from experts or other authors that lend credibility to a book, and are an important marketing asset. When acquired prior to publishing, you can include them on your book’s cover, in the front matter, and in any marketing copy.

Build relationships with local booksellers first and prepare a compelling pitch.Prepare a Pitch That Shows a Win-Win:

Book buyers are most interested in working with authors that are professional and prepared. Don’t approach these buyers until you have a solid pitch that includes why your book is a good fit, what you are doing to promote and create awareness, and how can you support their business and drive traffic. Be sure to avoid speaking about where else your book is available for sale unless specifically asked, and always provide a one-sheet with your book’s critical information. You can also offer a copy of the book for review.

Build Relationships with Local and Regional Booksellers First:

Many authors find it beneficial to start close to home, and then try to work their way up. Having your book placed in stores locally and regionally with good sales results can help build your credibility when approaching major chains and retailers. Creating a buzz locally can build momentum for your book, and every in-store opportunity adds to your sales and discoverability.

Don’t Forget About Other Sales Channels for Your Book

At the end of the day, you don’t need to have your book placed in bookstores and retail chains to be successful. There are many different distribution and sales channels available to authors. The best way to optimize your book sales is to make it as easy as possible for readers to purchase your book, which means offering multiple purchase options and formats.

Look into online retailer catalogs

Most authors understand the value of having a book available for sale on the largest online book retailer, Amazon, but underestimate the importance of diversifying. There are many other online booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and Target. Even if your book isn’t placed in their brick and mortar stores, there are still opportunities for placement in their online storefronts. You will want to make sure your book is available through a major wholesaler or distributor first so that it can be easily purchased by these buyers.

Authors can sell books direct through their own, simple website.Sell direct

Some readers don’t want to support Amazon or big box stores and would prefer to purchase a book directly from the author. If you have your own website, you can add an ecommerce integration or upgrade your account to include ecommerce features, depending on the platform you used to set up your website. This will allow you to sell books directly through your website.

Many authors sell direct to readers at in-person events such as speaking engagements, school visits, book festivals, and more. Readers love meeting authors in-person and will likely purchase from you on the spot if you create a good connection or have a compelling pitch prepared.

Offer additional formats

It’s no secret that eBooks and audiobooks continue to grow in popularity year after year, yet many authors still publish a paperback or hard cover version of their book and never consider digital formats. Publishing an eBook or audiobook version of your manuscript is an excellent way to expand your distribution, reach new readers, and improve your online discoverability.

Think outside of the bookstore

There are numerous selling opportunities outside of the traditional bookstore, and local business and shop owners love supporting local authors. People hanging out at coffee and bake shops or waiting at airports and hospitals have extra time. They might look for something such as a book or magazine to keep them occupied.

Did you write a historical book? Try selling it at a museum gift shop. Did you write about animals? Try selling it at a zoo gift shop. These niche storefronts can target your audience more effectively, increasing your chances of getting sales.

Pitch to libraries

Many authors underestimate the power of their local libraries. As with local businesses, libraries love to support local authors and help create awareness for their books. You will want to make sure your book is available through a major wholesaler or distributor first so that it can be easily purchased by librarians. It is also beneficial to acquire some professional reviews since librarians rely heavily on these when making purchase decisions. In addition, offer to do readings or book signing events to drive traffic.

Getting books placed on the shelves of brick and mortar stores is challenging for all authors. The marketplace is more competitive than ever and shelf space is decreasing. Book buyers are very particular for these reasons, but you can increase your chances of standing out to these buyers by following the steps outlined above.

If you would like to research bookstores in your area, you can find directories of booksellers on the Author Learning Center’s “Publishing Resources” page..

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