Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Bookseller Speaks to Self-Published Local Authors

As a bookseller, I've seen hundreds of self-published writers bring in their books to place in our store. We will give you a chance, but we don't want any more grief. Here's are tips for a happy, long-term relationship with your local indie bookstore:


  • Have an interesting book with decent cover art and the title on the spine. An "interesting book" is one that strangers have read and criticized, after which you considered their comments and suggestions, edited and rewrote, until you were getting glowing reports from new readers. The title needs to be on the spine, since people can't read a spiral binding, and your book is not likely to remain face-out forever.
  • If you're just modestly writing for yourself and your family, don't ask bookstores to sell it for you. If you get your book in stores, we expect you to continue working to advertise it to a broader audience.


  • When you come into the bookstore, you are now the "seller" and the bookstore is the "customer." Even if you spend money here, we aren't obligated to carry your book. We probably will, but appreciate that we are doing you a favor: 95% of the books we take on consignment from local authors lose us money because they are so time-intensive. (We handle them individually, in contrast to the automated ordering, billing, and returns of books we get from regular distribution channels.)
  • Spending time with the bookstore staff will not make us love you more. We're very busy. Please don't monopolize our time trying to "bond" with us; it won't make us fans. Be professional. Taking 10 minutes to show us your book is too long.
  • No grandiose claims: "You're going to love this!" or, "MY book is different, you're going to sell a lot of copies," and the book was an unedited piece of junk? The more wildly enthusiastic you are about yourself and your book, the less credibility you have.
  • Don't ask us to display the book on our counter -- it marks you as naive. Counter space is for proven bestsellers, not to push new authors. If a bookseller really raves about your book, you can ask if they would consider putting it on their staff recommendations. Don't bug them about it if they don't, however. They may not be as enthusiastic as you imagined they were.
  • Do not ask everyone on the bookstore staff to read your book. We're behind in our reading already. If one of us reads it and likes it, they'll tell their coworkers.
  • We don't want advice about how to run the store. Suggest the best section (e.g., memoir, fiction, local history) but leave placement and display decisions to us.
  • Continue to do your own marketing; write articles; blog; see if you can get someone to interview you. Tell your friends that the bookstore has the book for sale and encourage them to buy it at the store -- not directly from you! If the bookstore doesn't show sales, we won't keep carrying the book.
  • We sell books, but we also sell people. We will recommend your book to our customers if a) we like the book, and b) we like YOU.


  • Bother us nicely. Follow up, but don't be demanding. A call saying, "Have you had time to review my book?" is good; "I gave you my book two weeks ago and I still don't see it on display" is not.
  • The burden of follow-up is on the local author. Call us every 2-3 months and ask how sales are going and if we need any more copies.
  • If the book isn't selling, remember that you are competing with thousands of proven bestsellers and authors with their own followings.
  • Payment for your book may come through an accounting department. Follow up with the store staff but realize that they aren't cutting the checks and they may be as frustrated with HQ as you are.
  • If you get an author reading at the store, ask your own network of people to attend. We listed the date on our events calendar and put up a small in-store display, and that's all we can do. If only a couple of people show up, we figure that you didn't do any marketing for your event and we have just wasted our time trying to publicize your book.
  • Pick up the unsold copies when you said you would. If they've been on display, they're likely to be shelf-worn, which means people looked at it, and that's part of your cost of doing business.


Does this all sound too mean? It boils down to seeing it from the bookstore perspective. Have an interesting book, be considerate, don't make us run and hide whenever you come in the store, and we'll bend over backwards to accommodate you. Barbara Kingsolver started with an edition of 3,000 books and indie booksellers who handsold her book because they loved it so much.

And if your book does well? Remember your local bookstore! Come back and see us, and we'll celebrate your success along with our own.

1 comment:

Ellen Etc said...

Here's another take on the subject, and she's much funnier than me!