How to get your book into a book store. Q & A with a Former Bookstore Chain Consultant


Warren Layberry is one of our editors here at FriesenPress. For over thirteen years, he worked for Chapters/Indigo, both in Ottawa and Montreal. He was, for a time, the regional purchasing consultant for Ontario, and the unofficial publishing consultant for the Ottawa area stores. He spent a good deal of time and effort fielding questions from self-published authors and eventually helped to standardize and implement the consignment policies across the chain. Through this question and answer segment, Warren will help dispell some of the mysteries and myths of getting your book into a major chain bookstore.

Warren currently lives in Victoria BC, where he works as a freelance editor and ghostwriter. He can be reached at

Q: So tell us, Warren. What IS  the ratio of traditional to self-published books in major chain stores?

A: Here is the hard and honest truth. The ratio of self-published books to traditionally published books found in most large chain stores is extremely small. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which, by the way, involve cruel or uncaring store employees. This thing you must realize is that a chain store has no discretionary purchasing budget. None at all. Everything is purchased centrally. The money that goes into the tills does not belong to the store; it belongs to the chain.

If an author wants to get his or her book on the shelves of a chain store he or she has only two routes. First is to approach the central purchasing office. The second is to investigate possible consignment opportunities within individual stores.

If you hope to approach the purchasing office of a large book chain, you need to know that, unless you can meet the minimum terms expected of the traditional publishers, you are wasting your time. The absolute bare minimum of terms would involve a 40 percent margin, the publisher paying the shipping and handling, and books being fully returnable. It must be remembered that those are the terms demanded of all publishers, and you cannot expect a chain to offer better terms to a self-published author than the ones forced upon the big publishers, like Random House and Harper Collins, who are their bread and butter.

This usually leaves consignment as the one viable option for authors with self-published books. By way of a consignment contract, an author may be able to leave his or her books at a store for a predetermined period of time. At the end of the contract, the unsold books are collected, and the author is paid a portion of revenue generated by those copies that have sold.

Q: So what are the right steps for self-published authors to stand out and get their books into a chain store?

A: Let’s assume that we are still talking about consignment. If you are planning to approach a chain store with your book, and you wish to stand out, here are a few things you you might consider.

·       you should phone ahead and ask if you are able to make an appointment

·       when you meet with individual in charge of consignment, have some sort of marketing plan drafted out. If you have already had successful signings or reading, have your sales and attendance numbers handy. If your book has already sold at other stores, again, have your sales figures ready. If you have social media planned let the person you’re meeting with know the details.

·       you should arrive with a copy of the book that can be left at the store in case the individual in charge of consignment would like a chance to peruse it prior to making a decision

·       you should have a professional looking cover letter with your name, contact information, and the title of your book. It should be polite and indicate that you are open to discussing possible consignment terms

·       you need to be patient and polite at all times and realize that whoever is handling the consignment program at a chain store has many other pressing responsibilities as well

·       as for the book itself: it must look professionally produced, it must be reasonably priced, and –most importantly– it must be a book for which the store feels there will be some level of interest

Q: What are some of the most outrageous questions or requests authors have made to you?

A: The outrageous questions that I most remember all involve authors who simply did not understand the reality of the book industry. There were authors, for instance, coming to me with their books, on the day they received their copies, looking to set up some sort of wine and cheese gala for their launch — as if the mere act of having a book published would somehow generate interest in it. It would then fall to me to point out, as gently as possible, that the store was filled with the new releases of award-winning, world-renowned authors who, over the course of their careers, have built up large loyal fan bases, and on whom publishers regularly spend thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands, of dollars in marketing. In short, I would then have to conclude, if no one has heard of you or your book, you are a very long way indeed from picking out cheeses and wines.

Q: What are some of the best success stories of a self-published author that you can think of? And what did they do to get there?

A: In Canada the big self-published title that always stands out is Dave Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber, though this came out slightly before my time in the book industry. The LooneySpoons cookbooks by the Podleski sisters (helped by Chilton by the way) were also wildly successful, especially in Ottawa, where I was working when they started to publish. The secret to their success is fairly straight forward: hard work. They were –and remain, I am sure– dogged, savvy, and relentless self-promoters. Ultimately, if you have self-published a book, and you want it to reach a wide audience, you need to recognize that the actual writing of the book was the easy part.

Other notable titles, which were originally self published and went on to enjoy broad success, include the Chicken Soup For The Soul books and The Celestine Prophecy.

Q: What is a better method of sales for authors, in your opinion: bookstores or online?

A: For self-published authors, especially in this day and age, there is no need to assess their opportunities as an either/or situation. The financial realities faced by bookstores will mean that self-published authors will often be unable to share the opportunities earned by traditional publishers, but that is certainly not to suggest that consignment programs don’t offer a viable –and potentially valuable– piece of the puzzle.

These days, an ambitious self-published author trying to generate interest in his or her book ought to have an active blog of some kind, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Social media is the best — and most accessible — means for most self-published authors to raise awareness and drive sales.

Furthermore, if you can generate sufficient interest in your book through your social media efforts, and you are able to demonstrate that interest to someone looking after the consignment program at a chain store, perhaps by letting him or her view your book’s Facebook page, your chances of landing a consignment contract are much increased.

Post Created by Warren Layberry, FriesenPress Editor