Indie authors who are looking to position their books in local bookstores will first want to check if that bookstore has a consignment program, which we wrote about in detail here. If the bookstore doesn’t have a consignment program and isn’t interested in starting one, authors may want to try approaching booksellers directly. Here are some tips on who to approach, what to say, and how to ensure your book is shelf-ready.
Find the Right Contact
Sylvie Drescher, the Publishing & Local Author Coordinator at Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, suggests first identifying the buyer who handles your genre: “We have about six buyers, who each deal with different markets, so you wouldn’t want to approach our cookbook buyer about your new sci-fi novel for example.”
If getting a meeting with the right buyer at your local bookstore proves tricky, don't give up—you can start with the appropriate bookseller for your genre. Once you’ve found that person, offer them a review copy. Drescher notes, “Most booksellers don’t have buying power, so they may take your book, read it, and like it, but they still wouldn’t have any say in purchasing the book for a store’s inventory.”
Still, there is still value in finding an in-house advocate. “Getting a recommendation [or] review from a bookseller that you can mention to a buyer might help with your sales pitch … and signals to a buyer your book was worth the time to check out,” Drescher says.
Prepare Your Pitch and Your Product
Of course, it's not enough just to shyly thrust a review copy at the section bookseller or buyer; you must be prepared to give the staff a succinct and compelling plug for your project. (Check out our tips for writing an "elevator pitch.")
Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books and Café, in Wichita, Kansas, offers a reminder that your physical book also needs to put its best foot forward: “When producing the book, look at other books—especially trade books—and include as much information as possible on the cover. Make sure the title is on the spine, make sure the title is succinct and communicates something that will resonate with the local market, and be cognizant of the competition for recognition.”
Consider This a Partnership
It’s important to be aware that you’re establishing a partnership with the bookstore, says Bagby. “Self-published authors should understand that we sell books online, through our website. On their promotional material or webpage, the author should include a link for customers to purchase from our site.”
Another point worth remembering is that it pays to buy books from the store you’re pitching and to be professional. “Be nice to all the booksellers,” encourages Bagby. “They make contact with the public and can influence sales. They’ll remember who isn’t accepting of their job and how they work.”
NB: Consignment programs can a low-risk way to build a local following, assuming authors help promote their books, and test print sales. And should a local bookseller not currently have a consignment program, indie authors can consider suggesting one. Village Books’ owner Paul Hanson generously offered to consult with booksellers about launching their own programs and will happily share his consignment forms.
—Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.