Selling Self-Published Books at Barnes & Noble

Learn How to Get Your Work on the Shelf

Barnes & Noble
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Programs at Barnes & Noble make it possible for self-published authors and unproduced screenplay writers to get their work onto the (actual) shelves of "the World's Largest Bookstore."

Learn more about these significant Barnes & Noble NOOK Press opportunities and Adaptive Studios innovations for content creators, below — and get some real-life hints that will help you get your own self-published book into a NOOK Press program.

Self-Published Author Sales Opportunity at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble instituted in-store NOOK Press print-on-demand service for self-published writers in 2014. This program enables authors to submit their NOOK Press book for consideration for distribution in-store — and even for inclusion in marketing programs — on a local, regional or national level and even get included in critical store marketing events, such as book signings.

In June 2016, exploiting the power of their store presence, the enhanced NOOK Press program offers “coordinated, national distribution for self-published authors who will benefit from in-store placement at Barnes & Noble stores and online at BN.com," according to Fred Argir, Chief Digital Officer for the bookseller.

This is a significant development for self-published writers because it represents an opportunity for books to have an in-store, on-shelf, physical presence — the same as a book from a traditional publisher.

In the best-case scenario, it can close the gap in reader and media perception between traditional and self-published books.

This also represents an opportunity for Barnes & Noble to sell some books. The 640 bricks and mortar locations in 50 states remain a destination for book and cappuccino lovers.

With the increased importance of author-reader engagement to the marketing efforts, this represents a significant competitive advantage over Amazon.

Of the program, New York Times best-selling author H.M. Ward said, “This is a game changer and shows that Barnes & Noble has the capability to change the self-publishing model in a way that no one else can.”

How B&N NOOK Helps Self-Published Authors Sell Physical Books

Barnes & Noble has a staff of category and department buyers who work to review the hundreds of thousands of books that are presented to them each year from traditional publishers. Needless to say, these book buyers are crazy-busy.

What the NOOK Press Program does is give qualified self-published authors the opportunity to get their books reviewed by the very same buyers — in the Small Press Department buyers and in the appropriate categories — that traditionally published books get. Because these folks are so busy, there are parameters that need to be met in order for a book to be considered.

How to Sell Your Self-Published Books at Barnes & Noble Stores

The qualifications for getting into the NOOK Press in-store program:

  • The book must be published with NOOK Press, B&N's own self-publishing arm.  
  • The book must have sold at least 1,000 ebook units (presumably through NOOK Press and not other digital presses) in the previous year.

For self-published authors, getting to these levels isn't easy — but, remember, these levels plus any momentum that might be gained by the in-store print presence help build sales momentum towards potential attention from a major publisher if that's your goal.

Of course, sales numbers don't tell the whole story, so even if your sales figures hit the minimums, it doesn't hurt to give your pitch a little help. Here's how:

Make Yourself a Viable Business Proposition for B&N

Make a good case to the buyer of why the B&N stores should carry the book from a business perspective — that is, show yourself as a professional who understands the bookselling business and respects that your book needs to sell.

  • Make sure your book looks good with a professional-looking cover and interior layout design and is well edited. Yes, this is self-publishing 101 but it is possible to not do those things and still move some ebook copies. Remember that traditional publishers do a lot of vetting of manuscripts and book design packages. If you want your book to hold its own in that arena, you'd do well to make sure the buyers who are reviewing it see that you understand the demands of the print reader marketplace and that you show yourself as a worthy pro.
  • Let them know about your author platform. How are you working to keep your book and yourself in front of people? Blog, radio, Twitter followers, speaking on your subject expertise – your media platform is important to those who want to sell your book. List where you regularly contribute and/or have appeared. This
  • If the book is of "local interest," make sure to let them know. Self-published books of local interest generally do better. Even if they can be enjoyed broadly (like a novel), books that are tied to a local or regional area in some way generally start out stronger in that region where promotion can be focused first on those who for whom the local subject matter or background information or landmarks are likely to resonate. Learn about promoting local books at Barnes & Noble, below.
  • Let the buyers know about any of your marketing efforts. Make them understand that you are a partner in this endeavor and you are working towards book sales and media attention. If you have a marketing or publicity plan, share it.
  • Give the B&N the "social proof" that will help them decide to sell your book. Essentially you're saying, "Don't go by me — listen to what others are saying." Social proof can be blurbs from established writers, positive snippets of book reviews from (digital, print or broadcast), or even the comments from readers (see caution, below).
  • Understand the competitive book publishing marketplace. DO NOT mention or send links to Amazon or any other bookseller. This is poor publishing etiquette and best avoided. If you are using Amazon reader comments as "social proof," make sure you strip away the source.

How to Get Your Self-Published Books Promoted at Barnes & Noble

In-store appearances give authors the ability to easily sell print books, meet fans and, hopefully, draw in new audiences — clearly an advantage for those who are self-publishing and also those who have a local following.

Author Ward said, “Barnes & Noble and authors can make self-published books available in stores and at events, which is something the competition can’t do.” Indeed this can be an advantage for authors with something to teach, or those who have enough of a fan following to draw a crowd.

To participate at in-store events, NOOK Press authors have to have sold at least 500 ebooks in the previous year, which makes them eligible for an event review from a Barnes & Noble store manager.

All that said, B&N Store and Events managers want the same things that the buyers do: to sell books. Which means bringing a crowd into the signing. So before you click on that email, get your marketing ducks in a row to appear worthy as an author and an event promoter.

  • Local is good. Remember, to draw an in-person crowd, you need to have a local fan/friends/relatives following (or loved ones willing to travel) or a book of local interest. If you can prove from previous experience of some sort that you can get people to come, your chances will be better. To give some evidence of this…
  • Show you can promote the event to your friends, fans, and followers. Do you have an author newsletter? Tons of local social media followers? Good relations with local press? A snail mail postcard list? A publicist? Are you willing to exploit all of those for the sake of getting people to your bookstore reading or signing? Demonstrate that you're willing and capable of promoting your own event as much – or more – than the store will.
  • Marketing and publicity plans and social proof are important here, too. As above, your marketing and publicity plans are important here, too. Traditional book publishers create sales momentum at the book launch with both author appearances and publicity during a book tour. That way, the consumer in the area who's a potential book buyer might hear the author's or book's name from several places at once – newspaper, interview with author, radio spot. Use that same strategy here. If you're going to make a marketing effort around the time of signing, make it focused and local and let B&N know you're willing to coordinate efforts. This will call attention to — and help them sell — the book after the signing, as well.

And, if you get a signing, follow best practices for author readings and signings

Other Stories Get B&N Opportunities, As Well

Though best-selling books are often repurposed into a variety of media, today's best-selling books and blockbuster films may also have origins in more modest media beginnings. Digital content, newspaper articles, video games, social media, amusement park rides, or self-published books (like The Martian) may be the basis of the next big hit.

And that's likely the impetus behind Barnes & Noble's partnership Adaptive Studios, developed to give "customers access to new books from reimagined and reinvigorated stories."

Adaptive Studios (a media company whose credits include HBO’s Project Greenlight) creates and acquires intellectual property such as unproduced screenplay ideas and scripts, and repurposes it across a range of traditional and digital entertainment platforms including books, film and TV properties, and digital series. Their Adaptive Books division will publish ten "high concept" books and graphic novels annually, sold through an exclusive retail arrangement with B&N.

Likely, the book presence will help grow audiences to boost the properties salability in other media — and vice versa. T.J. Barrack, Founding Partner, Adaptive Studios said, “Starting with our concept, every Adaptive property is a collaboration between us, the creator, and our audience. This partnership will allow our stories to reach a much larger group of readers and viewers, and we look forward to working with Barnes & Noble to continue to develop titles that speak to customers around the country.”

As the publishing landscape changes, there will no doubt be more innovative cross-pollinating of content and more programs across the landscape that will help give momentum to talented, motivated authors (self-published and traditional) and storytellers in all media.