On my last post about publicity, Briane had a great question about getting into bookstores. My answer might benefit all of you, so I’m making a post out of it.
You want your book in as many physical locations as possible. In a brick and mortar store, your book is only competing with the titles in its section. Online, it’s competing with all the books ever written in your genre. You do the math. But because of this, it can be difficult to get a self-published book in a store. Even those of us who believe in self-publishing and who have self-published know there are a lot of really terrible self-pubbed books out there. So your book, aside from being excellent, must stand out in other ways or have connections to the locations you’ve targeted for it to get on the shelves.
Let’s start with the cover. This could be more important than the content of the book, itself. Sad but true. If you want a store to put your book on its shelf, it must look like its peers.
My book, Receive Me Falling, is set in two time periods and is written in the style of Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) or Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring.) Most of the books I read are historical fiction, and most of what I write is historical fiction. I spent a lot of time looking at the covers on my own bookshelf and in stores to get a feel for the look of historical fiction. Because my book is built on themes of sin and redemption, the plantation in it is called ‘Eden’, and there is a Benjamin West mural on the wall in the book, I knew that West’s Expulsion of Adam and Eve would make great cover art.
I went through the steps to get permission to use the image from the National Gallery of Art, paid for the rights ($500-ish), and got a cover design company (AuthorSupport.com) to lay it out ($600-ish). It wasn’t cheap, but it was well worth it. I’ve had numerous stores tell me that the cover is why they’ll carry it. Many of the self publishing companies will charge $1000 or more for the premium cover package, so it was a good investment. This is my front cover:
Now, armed with my book, I went to my favorite bookstore haunts and pleaded my case. I live in Annapolis and shop both chain and independent bookstores. My book is partially set in Annapolis, so I had this in my favor. The independents didn’t give me any trouble at all. We worked out a consignment agreement (60/40, I get 60%) and I check in periodically (in person) to see how books sales are going. I also set up a signing with my favorite haunt, Hardbean, and that went so well, I’ve set up more. I take classes at St. John’s College (and one of the characters in the book teachers there) so they were happy to carry it in their bookstore. I am also and alumni of Stevenson University in Baltimore, so I set up a talk there, and they also carry it in the bookstore.
The chain stores are a bit more difficult because they are used to getting books for free from publishers that they can return if they don’t sell, yet they can’t sell on consignment. Self-published books are usually print-on-demand and must be paid for up front. The Annapolis Borders was great to work with. They seem to have an indie spirit even though they are a chain. They agreed to buy ten copies of my book, and we set up a signing. I was able to sell all ten, so they ordered ten more. Barnes and Noble isn’t able to buy books up front, but they were able to set me up with a group signing of local, self-published authors.
Selling self-published books through bookstores is a partnership. They will be willing to work with you if your book looks professional, you spend time in their stores, and you have successful signings.
Best of luck!