How to Make Booksellers Love You

Part 1 – Getting Your Book into the Bookstore

Interior bookshelves at City Light Bookstore in San Francisco
Doing your research, presenting yourself well, and being a customer will help get you onto the shelves of your local bookstore. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News

Learning how to make booksellers love you can be critical for authors whose books are of local interest, or who have gone DIY.

Whether you're an indie author or under contract with a traditional publisher, your local bookseller and other bookstores to whom you reach out have the potential to be your partners in sales.

Here are a few DOs and DON'Ts of good author-bookseller relations to help you get your book into your local (or other particular) bookstore—and hopefully start a beautiful, mutually-beneficial relationship.

Getting Your Book Into the Bookstore
DON'T assume that every store will carry your book. Even if you have a traditional trade publisher, with all the business pressures and the number of books in the marketplace and the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, unless you have a strong author platform, you can't assume that your book will automatically be on your local (or any particular) bookseller's shelves.

DO respectfully approach your local bookstore buyer and inquire about whether they will carry your book. Some factors that may help them say "yes" to shelving your magnum opus:

DO be a regular customer. Most book authors are also book lovers and if you are too, don't be a stranger at your local store. If they've seen your face at reading and signing or (even better!) your credit card at the register before, you're more likely to get their attention.

DO thoroughly do your homework and talk to the right person at the right store. You should know the particulars about the bookstore you're approaching, and know enough to know if they carry the type of book you've written.

Then, you want to talk to the book buyer — who is not necessarily the same person as the manager or the owner who you see in the store. Make a call and inquire politely about what is the best way to reach him or her.

DO prepare to present the book appropriately. Craft a succinct "presentation" of the book—topic or quick synopsis.

In service of that…

DO know what section your book will be shelved in. Be specific an know where your book will go in the store. Your subject matter can take one of any number of forms. For example, "I've written a book about a Cajun chef," would be more usefully described as: "I've written a cookbook about Cajun cuisine"; "I've written a novel set in a Cajun restaurant"; or "I've written a history of Cajun cooking that will be great in your store's local interest section." Be proactive and don't leave the buyer to do the work for you.

DO let the buyer know the details of your marketing and publicity plan. Knowing that you and/or your publisher is working to get the book media, advertising or any other consumer exposure will help them look favorably on taking the book in. Indie authors—know that you are legion and no book buyer has time or bandwidth or hear about every self-published book. Differentiating yourself with an exceptional marketing plan can help your cause.

And if you don't know what a book marketing and publicity plan looks like, you'd better read up on how to craft a book marketing and publicity plan. The sooner the better.

For indie authors:

DO make it easy for booksellers to carry your book. If possible, try to make copies available through a book wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor, Ingram or Bookazine.

If you're unable to make that happen…

DO consider giving them book on consignment. Especially if you're an unproven quantity and your local store offers the option, it may be the way to go. DON'T argue with the bookstore's policies or terms and, while you should periodically appear in the store to check to see if your books are still on the shelf, DON'T constantly bug the store about sales.

For all authors:

DO behave gracefully if the store declines to carry your book — Bookselling is a business and book buyers know their business better than you do. At the moment, you just might not be a good risk for them.

Once you and your books have a sales track record, you can revisit them and ask again.

DO be thankful if the store agrees to take your book in from the publisher or a wholesaler and read Part 2 of How to Make Booksellers Love You to learn how to behave for best bookstore relations once your book is in the store.

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