If you’ve been following The PBS Blog you know that I have been on a bookstore journey where I am visiting bookstores to see if I can better understand the process. The update is that I’ve been stocked in one store, two are currently reviewing two of my books, and I am hosting a double book signing event this month. Today, I would like to share a few things I’ve learned about the power of being prepared and how it has allowed me to cut through a lot of red tape.
But first, why bookstores? Aren’t brick and mortars over and done with? Not quite. Large stores like Barnes and Noble may be on the decline but Independent Bookstores are making a comeback which can have major positive benefits for Self-Publishers.
“Just take a look at the membership numbers of American Booksellers Association (ABA), a trade organization that works with independent bookstores: In 2009, ABA membership hit a low, with just 1,651 locations. Like a phoenix, that number has risen for the last seven years, reaching more than 2,320 locations in 2017. Book sales in independent stores are also up. According to the ABA, book sales in U.S. indie shops grew more than 10 percent in 2015 over the previous year, and in 2016 sales at independent bookstore were up nearly 5 percent. Even Amazon is getting on board with the brick-and-mortar concept. So far, the online giant has opened 11 physical bookstores across the U.S.” – Indie Bookstores Embrace the Side Hustle
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Some forms of preparation to keep in mind when getting into bookstores:
– First, have a professionally produced book to show off (or if you have many books written choose the most professionally produced one to send out into the world.) This should be the book that has the best story, the best book cover, edited, properly formatted and preferably, has the most Amazon reviews.
– Having books with you when you show up. This is already a long process. You can speed things up if you already have books set aside for review purposes. When they tell you they need review copies you don’t have to go home, order them and then wait for them to arrive. If you already have them with you, you can drop them off on the spot and then you only have to wait for them to get back with you on a decision. Have at least three copies set aside for review purposes (three books per store) even if they may just ask for one.
– Choose stores that match your book’s genre. Another form of preparation is to choose to market to the stores that match the content of your book as they won’t want to include books that aren’t already in accord with their vision or message. This is similar to the book review process. It is much more likely to get balanced reviews when we target reviewers who are interested in our genre. People who aren’t interested in the genre of your book are less likely to give you a positive review. For me, I’ve been sticking to Black Independent Bookstores. These are stores that focus on African Americans and Black History. This is because this is what my books are about.
– Research. Do your research on the stores you go to as fiction and poetry don’t tend to sell well in some stores. In fact, poetry is really hard to sell. It is probably much better to go to Open Mic Nights and live performances than to sell poetry to bookstores. Although, I am still trying to…it’s always worth a try!
– Business cards. Be sure to have some business cards handy so that they can get back to you. Always have some on you or in the car and be sure your number is current. Having a one-sheet is good too! One sheet is a single document that summarizes a product for publicity and sales. My one sheet for Renaissance is below curtsey of A Writer’s Path Writers Club! It’s got an about me section, my author photo, ordering information, contact information, book cover, blurb, and social media.
– Dress for success. Be sure that you are dressed decent but don’t overdo it. Just wear something casual and comfortable that is professional and have your business cards, one-sheets and review copies of the book with you.
– Ready to pitch. Be ready to explain in 2-3 minutes or less what your book is about. So far I’ve learned that it only takes seconds for the store to know if they are interested. Your pitch itself should be a short, interesting description of your novel that captures its best qualities. Also (and this is just me) I wouldn’t lead with “I’m a Self-Published Author.” That sounds a bit amateurish because if it’s an Independent Store, chances are they accept both Traditionally Published and Independently Published books anyway so the “I’m a Self-Published Author” introduction is not necessary. Remember that your appointments will only be for 5, 10 or 15 minutes each (no longer than 20mins) and much of that is made up of questions and small-talk. Keep it short and sweet.
– Patience. It can take 4-6 weeks or more before your book has gone through the review process before you hear something back. Your book, once it’s stocked, will also need to actually sell. Unlike online where our books can sit on electronic shelves for eternity, physical bookstores do not allow for such privilege. If your book is on the shelf for two and three months without selling it is just taking up valuable space and will be returned.*
(*Keep in mind there are no returns on books published through Createspace for bookstores. The best option is to publish through Createspace and Ingram Spark, Createspace for Amazon and Ingram Spark for Bookstores. You can also sell the books directly to the bookstores, as you are in a better position to negotiate the discount—since you save on author copies when you purchase copies at your discount— and you can accommodate returns if you wish.)
– Follow-Up. While it takes 4-6 weeks for the stores to review your book, don’t wait around for them to call you. This is like looking for a job. You don’t submit applications and sit around, you call them. So, be sure to call and follow-up on your status if you don’t hear anything after the maximum 6 weeks. Also, go to the store every now and again and purchase a book! Call, ask questions and show your face so they don’t forget who you are. (I was buying books from the store weeks before they stocked me) Additionally, once you are in the store, remember that this is not online where you can stay on e-shelves indefinitely or send out a tweet or mass Facebook post and get a few sales. You will have to get out and about and get people walking into the stores and buying your books. You only have a few months to prove that they can sell.