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by Patricia Fry

Who Said You Cannot Get Your Book Into Bookstores?

Imagine that you are an author. You’ve just received a shipment of your first published book from your printer or POD publisher. You head for the nearest mega-bookstore to experience the thrill of seeing your books shelved there next to America’s bestsellers. You search, but your book is nowhere to be found. As any savvy marketer would do, you approach the store manager.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “We don’t carry self-published books.” WHAT? That’s certainly not what your fee-based POD publisher told you. In fact, as you recall, your POD publishing representatives claimed that your book would be sold in all major bookstores throughout the nation.

Think about it, is that really what she said? Or did she say, “We will make your book available to all major bookstores throughout the nation?” Translated, this means, “If a bookstore manager comes to us looking for a book of this type, we will be sure to tell him about yours.”

I meet numerous disillusioned and disappointed authors each year at conferences, book festivals and online. They are shocked to learn that bookstores will not carry their books and they don’t know where to turn for sales. It might surprise you to know that even some of the small and medium-sized publishing houses do not have access to bookstores as an outlet for their authors’ books. In fact, a mega bookstore can only carry around 150,000 titles. That’s just around 12 percent of all books in print.

My advice to these authors is, “If the entrance to the bookstore is closed, go through the backdoor.” I tell them, in essence, “Instead of whining and griping, expend your energies making your book irresistible to booksellers.” How? Promote. Promote. Promote. When customers come in droves requesting your book, bookstores will stock it.

Demonstrate to the powers-that-be at Barnes and Noble and Borders that your book can attract hundreds or thousands of customers and they will carry it. Here are some ideas:

Announce Your Book To The World

Have you heard the phrase, build it and they will come? Well, this concept worked in Kevin Costner’s movie, but it is the wrong approach to selling books. The author’s motto or mantra should be: promote, promote, promote.

Whether you’ve landed a big publisher, you’ve self-published (established your own publishing company) or you went with a fee-based, POD publishing service, it is up to you—the author—to promote your book. No one will buy your wonderful book if they don’t know about it. No one will know about it unless you tell them. And with so many books being published today and readership dwindling, competition is an obstacle that most hopeful authors fail to consider.

How does one get the word out? Send press releases to newspapers, newsletters and magazines. In the press release, announce your book, request a book review, offer to write an article and/or make yourself available for an interview.

Research newspapers through or Locate columns related to your book topic: cooking, pets, education, fashion, crafts, business, seniors, finance or home and garden, for example. If you’ve written a novel or historical account set in a particular region, contact newspapers in that geographic area.

Write articles or stories for an array of magazines. Locate appropriate magazines through Writer’s Market, or

Gale’s Directory of Publications lists newsletters whose editors are hungry for news about books such as yours.

Make news by doing something noteworthy. Start a charity related to your topic, head up an unusual project and involve hundreds of people or attempt a difficult fete and challenge others to participate. Create stories worth reporting and then send press releases to appropriate media.

Newspaper stories, articles and interviews sell books. If you can get even just one newspaper in each state to run a story about you or to review your book, you could conceivably attract thousands of customers. If your book is listed in Books in Print, every bookstore everywhere can order it for their customers who request it.

Talk It Up

Let word-of-mouth drive sales. That is, your words coming from your mouth. Don’t wait for others to start talking about your book. You create the buzz. Talk about your book everywhere you go. Carry a copy of your book in your purse or briefcase and a carton in your trunk.

Arrange speaking engagements. Go out and talk to civic group members, at conferences related to the subject of your book and at writing/publishing conferences. Appropriate venues for your talks might include libraries, schools, churches, synagogues, senior centers, specialty stores and/or businesses for example. If you have a book on ADHD, you might get gigs at medical conventions and PTA meetings. Schedule talks about your Civil War novel at Daughters of the American Revolution and historical society meetings as well as museums. Promote your book on business management through presentations at corporations, businesses conventions and so forth.

Carry Your Message Far and Wide

Arrange book signings and presentations throughout the U.S. Coordinate these with your visit to family in Colorado, your vacation on the east coast and your spouse’s business meeting to the northwest. Independent bookstores are usually open to book signings. If you can’t get into a bookstore, solicit specialty stores related to your book, coffee houses or other venues.

Before arriving for the event, arrange for a spot on a local talk radio or TV show. Alert at least one bookstore in this city to the fact that you are coming and that you will be promoting your book through radio station XYZ, for example. Knowing this, they will most likely take some of your books on consignment.

Be sure to get newspaper publicity for your presentation. Send press releases to all local newspapers at least 2 ½ weeks prior to your visit and follow up with phone calls.

Visit other bookstores while in the area to see if you can place books with them. If you have managed good coverage for your talk and good publicity for your book, they will probably agree to stock your books.

But don’t stop there—continue to promote to readers in that region even after you return home. How? Articles, ads, reviews in regional publications and newspapers and ongoing communication with appropriate agencies, institutions, clubs, agencies, etc. related to your book topic or genre.

Solicit the Indies—Independent Bookstores, That is

You might be surprised to know that there are still hundreds of independent bookstores around. What is an independent bookstore? It’s independently operated. The owner does not have to answer to a big conglomerate. Show an indie owner that you can bring in customers and he or she will carry your book. Be willing to leave your books on consignment and the deal becomes even more attractive to a bookseller.

Here are two publishing industry truths:

 • Having your book in Barnes and Noble and/or Borders does not guarantee that your books will sell well. Many of the books that make it into a bookstore have a very short shelf life. Just look at the competition in these mega-bookstores. Books that aren’t selling well are removed from the system within a matter of months.

 • Many authors become successful without ever stepping foot into a mega-bookstore. They sell books through specialty stores and They do back-of-the-room sales. They sell books to corporations as premiums (to give away to customers, for example). Other lucrative customers might include libraries and school districts.

Some of you have already found out that authorship is not for wimps. While you may have been in your element while writing your book, promotion is something foreign and even frustrating. Use the points in this article to put things in a more reasonable perspective. Follow the suggestions here and, with or without the bookstores, you will succeed.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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