Selling books through your local bookstores
The reception an author will receive when approaching stores about ordering in a stock of books to display on shelves can vary considerably, even between locations within the same chain. The store manager has to decide which titles to discourage outright (refusing, giving any convenient excuse) and which to encourage, based on economic reasons. The manager will be estimating how many copies will sell. Remember that stores must decide which titles to stock, picking from 500,000 new titles released each year globally, plus the millions of previously released titles.
It is our understanding and experience that most store managers are approached by dozens of self-publishing authors every month. Sometimes the manager will decide to carry a local title and offer to set up a book signing event and/or reading. That manager may wish to buy copies directly from the author, or may buy through a distributor/wholesaler or River Sanctuary Publishing (RSP). Alternatively, the author may arrange with the bookstore to have copies placed in the store on a consignment basis. In this case, the author would negotiate his or her own terms.
In our local area, Santa Cruz County, California, a good example of a local store that encourages local authors to display their books is Bookshop Santa Cruz, a storied and favorite locally owned shop that has a special section dedicated to local authors. They make it very clear that they welcome local authors by providing a printed brochure as to how to place one’s book in the store. There is a reasonable placement charge of $25 for your books (5 initially) plus options, such as their “shelftalker” that provides a description of your book in 50 words or less, and a program to maximize the book’s exposure in the “new and recommended” table within the shop. All placements are on consignment and the store will pay you 60% of sales to the author within 60 days.
Authors selling direct
RSP authors may order books themselves for re-sale to bookstore or gift shops. You pay the printing cost and the shipping charges (and keep all the profits for yourself!). You may resell the books to the public and to stores at any price and on any terms you wish, though bookstores will generally expect the following terms:
The bookstore pays you 60% of the retail price (they receive a “40% discount”). These days it is more often a 50-50 split.
Books are returnable (RSP sells on a non-returnable basis, but the author may decide to accept returns)
Gift shops will generally want a 50-55% discount, but they will buy on a “firm sale” basis, so you needn’t think about unsold books being returned to you.
Payment (for only those copies sold) will typically happen within 60 – 90 days.
Who pays the shipping costs, if any, from you to the store is negotiable.
1) Talk to the buyer
When approaching a local bookseller, be aware that you will want to talk to the “buyer” (who may be the owner or manager). It is best to call ahead, find out who does the buying and make an appointment.
2) Bring a review copy
Come prepared with a polished, efficient sales pitch, and a review copy of the book for the buyer ( be clear whether you intend this to be a reading copy the buyer may keep, or if you expect to have it returned). Make sure to mention any media coverage you have gained. Even if the store doesn’t take your book immediately, leave them a copy of your news release or other promotional material. Store managers often look favorably on published reviews, so if you’ve had your book reviewed, make sure to bring a copy! Some stores might add your title’s information to their database so their clerks will be able to find your book easily when a customer asks for it.
3) Generate publicity and tell the buyer
Let your local bookstores know if you are doing any publicity such as radio, TV, or newspaper interviews – you might be surprised how much interest a good local radio interview can generate (and they’re often east to arrange). Interest is piqued by this type of publicity for a limited time, so it will be to your advantage (and the bookstore’s) if you can tell potential buyers that there are copies of your book in specific stores. Be prepared to fill any rush re-orders from the bookstores – before the interest fades.
4) Arrange signings/readings
Signings and readings are a great way to demonstrate that your book has sales potential. After the signing, a store may be more willing to keep a few copies in stock, and may even feature them as “local talent.” You can use our promotional posters, bookmarks, business cards and/or postcards to advertise such an event).
5) What are the terms? Expect “consignment” basis sales
Be aware that many bookstores wish to work on a consignment basis: i.e. you leave the books with them and you will receive payment only when they have sold. If you supply your books on consignment, it will be up to you to check in from time to time if you have not heard from the bookstore. As mentioned above, gift stores often prefer a deeper discount and will buy on a firm-sale basis. As a self-publisher, you have the ability to negotiate your own terms.
6) Take an invoice (or receipt) book
When dropping off books make sure to bring an invoice book, so you have a signed receipt from the bookstore staff. Information on the invoice should include the ISBN, title and retail price of your book, the discount (usually 40%) and quantity you are leaving with the store, your name and contact information, the name of the store, and the date you left the books with them. Write down the name (and get a signature) from the staff member who is receiving your books. Be sure to state the payment date terms (“net 60 days” or “net 40 days” are common) on the invoice, and leave the store a copy as your statement for their accounts payable person.
Bookstores can, and do, special-order any title for their customers. Each bookstore has access to Bowker’s Books in Print which lists all books in publication. Obviously, retailers do not stock every new title (RSP or otherwise) submitted, as they simply do not have the space for them.
7) The best opportunities may be with other types of stores
Don’t be shy about approaching other types of stores where your book might sell well. Less than half of all books sold are bought in bookstores, so the potential is certainly everywhere. Supermarkets, gift and card shops, toy stores and pharmacies, even coffee shops, for instance, often have some pace set aside for book selling, and may be happy to feature local content. You may well get better exposure, less competition and a more focused client base in some of these non-traditional outlets.