Getting Into a Bookstore: Should it Be Your #1 Priority?

Book Store FriesenPress Self Publishing.jpg

Getting self-published books into bookstores is often one of the first topics we are asked about in the Book Promotion Department at FriesenPress. Almost every new author wants to know how they can get their book into major bookstores across the country and they want to know the steps to make it happen. We see many authors make bookstores their first priority and when this happens, we must provide an overview of the realities of self-publishing and bookstores.

We usually begin this conversation by asking our clients why they want to be in a bookstore. Here are some typical answers to our question and our basic responses:

1. I would like to be in a bookstore because it has been a lifelong dream to see my book on a shelf next to name brand authors.
We tend to support this goal. Every author should enjoy the experience of browsing a bookstore and seeing their own title on the shelf next to other reputable authors. It takes lots of time and effort to accomplish this goal so we have to make sure that realizing this dream is worth being your number one priority for time and energy.

2. Bookstores will make it possible for people to find out about my book.
Bookstores do not advertise books and unless people have heard about a book through a review, on the radio or on the television, they are reluctant to try something unknown without a reputable endorsement. Being in a bookstore is not a method of advertising or marketing, it is simply a venue for people to pick up the book once they are convinced they want it. If you are making bookstores your number one priority so that you can gain exposure, we can recommend better ways to build your fan base.

3. I believe that being in a bookstore is the first and most important key to selling thousands of books and once this has been achieved, I will be able to sit back and watch the royalties roll in.
Being in a bookstore does not mean guaranteed sales. If no one knows about your book from an outside source, it is very rare that they will take a chance and buy it. A bookstore is also the single most competitive environment in the entire publishing industry. There are thousands of other books with lots of marketing support in the same room, competing for each customer’s attention. Having your book in a bookstore will not increase sales, for once again, it is simply another supplier where excited customers who have been marketed to can pick up a copy.

4. I have a radio interview, a book signing and many press events coming up and I want to be able to point my customers to a bookstore for purchase.
This is the correct reason to want to be in a bookstore. We will draw your attention to the fact that the number one priority is to gain exposure outside of the bookstore environment and provide more purchase options. When you approach a bookstore, you can tell them about the media exposure you are getting and create a business proposal to show an estimated number of sales that can be expected given the number of people who know about the book. At this point, we will give you the tools and coaching you need to talk to bookstore buyers and make a deal through purchase or consignment.

A Note on the Current Struggles of Bookstores

It is a fact that the chain bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and Chapters are struggling to stay in business. They have costs which online businesses like Amazon don’t have. For example, bookstores have to pay rent for their physical locations, pay to heat and light the building, pay for inventory, and they need to pay staff to stock shelves and make sales. Bookstores have to sell more books to cover these hard costs before they turn a profit. For this reason, bookstores absolutely need to sell massive amounts of books, which means they look for big names and bestsellers. Small, self-published titles that have comparatively little press, and a smaller following, will only take up valuable room on shelves and are not guaranteed to make the bookstore any money. Small name, independent bookstores tend to foster a culture of independent and local talent. Likewise, the types of customers that visit small independent bookstores are more likely to pick up unknown titles and take a chance on something new. This is often a very good place to start with bookstores and will allow you to support your community in ways that promotes buying local and supporting local arts culture. If you really want to be in a major bookstore, you must take the time to build your reputation, fan base and level of exposure.

Here are some priorities that should take place before you consider bookstores:

  1. Make a promotion plan. Make a plan that outlines the goals you need to accomplish before you start making relationships with bookstores.
  2. Build your personal network. Use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to keep in contact with your network. Attend events, trade favours and build new opportunities.
  3. Build a good website or blog. Make sure you have a presence online.
  4. Research and collect contact information for publications and businesses that align with your unique selling point. Spend time creating a list of possible media contacts to launch a well-targeted press campaign.
  5. Put together a bookstore proposal. Convince bookstores why your book is a valuable commodity by building a proposal outlining your promotion plan and upcoming media exposure.