The Inside Scoop on Getting In Bookstores – Things You Should Know

1.10.10Barnes&NobleCliftonCommonsByLuigiNoviMost people who know me online probably don’t know this, but I work in a local independent bookstore and I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while, because nothing turns me from being the ra-ra writer supporter I am with my writer friends online and locally than when I’m at the bookstore and an indie or self-pubbed author comes in with the attitude. And generally it’s the entitlement attitude. Before I go further, I want to qualify all this in case some interpret this to mean that writers owe obeisance to bookstores and should be humble and stuff. No. That’s not what I’m saying — I’m not saying bookstores are above writers in any way, shape or form. Yes, they are gatekeepers, but I’d like to think that they are/could be an indie writer’s ally or partner. Some of this post is going to necessarily be anecdotal, but I’ll also share some tips, as well as some ground-breaking changes in how distributors are handling indie books.

Be aware of how you present yourself

Just as with anything in this business, be conscious of how you are presenting yourself as this is a professional setting. Be courteous and friendly as you would in any other kind of business setting. Think of bookstores as potential clients, maybe, if that will help? This may sound like a no brainer. But let me tell you, in my role on the bookstore side more often than not, authors harm themselves in this regard. I’ve seen the following:

  • Writers who were visiting from out of town, and were only here for that day, and were upset the owner/decision maker wasn’t in at the time they showed up. And they took it out on me, the store clerk. I wanted to say to these authors they shouldn’t have assumed this and called ahead and made an appointment. I even had one go so far as to insist I call the owner (on his day off!) and tell him this author was in town for just that day. I refused and tried to explain this would only turn off the owner and he got more and more pushy and later harassed me with phone calls. He ended up leaving a courtesy copy. It later sold, but did we ever reorder? No. And it had potential as it was geared to a popular regional cooking style in the area. But the author was so obnoxious to the owner, it soured it for him.
  • We have one local author my boss won’t order any new releases from because when that author had their (I’m using a non-gender form on purpose) debut signing at the bookstore, they were extremely rude to my boss. This not only affected their future releases, but also that current one as it was afterward buried in the regional fiction section, spine out, and it’s not one they push or recommend. And we recommend LOTS of books EVERY day.
  • Writers who come in with the attitude that we’re obligated to carry their book

Okay, even I’m getting turned off by the negativity of my own post, LOL. So let’s move on and talk about how you can get in bookstores, yay! Because despite how it might sound, I DO want you to be in them.

Price your books with bookstores in mind

Most authors who come into the store don’t understand this and want to sell their book to us at the retail price. Bookstores are a business and just like any others that sell products, we order our books (products) at wholesale prices so we can turn a profit. Otherwise, how could we exist? Typically, we get a 40% discount from the major distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. We also have the ability to return them if they don’t sell (and that’s important to remember). So if you go with a small press, make sure they offer their books through one of those two distributors. That will make it a LOT easier to get picked up as the bookstore can order it with all the other books they order. Self-published? Set your retail price with enough of a margin so that giving bookstores this discount won’t cut into the production cost.

Some bookstores allow you to sell your book via consignment, but be aware that not all do (ours doesn’t). And if they do, understand that they’re doing it to support local authors knowing that they aren’t making anything off of it. Check a bookstore’s website to see their policies. For instance, this indie bookstore in Atlanta, Bound To Be Read, has this on their website:

If your book is available through a distributor such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor, please contact Jeff McCord by e-mail or by phone at 404-522-0877.  If your book is self-published or published through a small press, we may consider taking it on consignment after review.  Because of limited space, consignment is usually restricted to local authors.  Call or e-mail Jeff McCord for more information.

Book Soup in LA has this posted (misspellings are theirs):

All consignment requests must be made in writing. We regret that we are unable to accomodate walk-in visits. In keeping with our general inventory only bound books with legible titles on their spines will be considered. To submit a book for consideration, please drop off a copy of the book along with a one-paragraph letter including your telephone number, mailing address, and promotinal material and a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient return postage. The submission should be marked “Consignment Request” and dropped off at the Book Soup information desk or mailed to the store address. Requests which fail to provide the information listed above will not be considered. Our review process takes four to twelve weeks. The book (not the promotional materials) will be returned in the self-addressed envelope, along with a letter notifying you of our decision. Books submitted without a self-addressed stamped envelope will be held at Book Soup information desk for pick-up. After 90 days, books not picked up will be recycled. If your book is accepted for consignment, you will have the opportunity to discuss your work with our buyers. Unfortunately, prior to acceptance, requests to contact bookstore personnel in person, by phone, or by email will not be granted. With this in mind, the decision made by our buyers is final. Book Soup is proud to support the writing community through our consignment program. Our buyers do the best to provide shelf space and display opportunities for consignment books, while still keeping in mind our inventory needs and the interest of our customers. Consignments are books that Book Soup agrees to add to our inventory with the understanding that payment will only be made on completed sales. We look forward to reviewing your work and we thank you for your interest in Book Soup.

Let friends know it’s there!

Okay, you’re in the bookstore, yay! But like with any other aspect of indie publishing, you need to promote. Let folks know it’s there. We have some local indie authors who do well because they tell their friends we have copies. One local author even has her car wrapped! It worked at least once, because someone came in the store saying they’d seen it and had checked out the blurb online and came into our store and bought it. We have others though that don’t take this step and the book never sells (only making my boss more reluctant to buy books from other authors since he can’t return them if they don’t sell and he doesn’t take consignments).

Make the decision easier

I asked my boss what would make it easier (besides being available through Ingram) and he said to give him a review copy and a flyer with the blurb, how to order, and reputable reviews (not reviews on Amazon–his words, not mine). I also think it makes a difference making an appointment or catching him when he’s there. Sending it via mail is too easy to put off. A review copy is important because the decision maker needs to be able to determine whether they can SELL the book to their customers. They’re not going to outlay money for a book that will just sit on the shelf collecting dust. Indie bookstore owners know their local market and what sells. Plus, they could become a new fan and actually actively pimp your book if they end up loving it! We definitely have some faves at the store that we pimp.

New policies at the distributors have changed the landscape!

I read about this initially on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog back in April and thought at the time it would be a great addition to this post if I ever got around to writing it. But I think this post on Judy Goodwin’s blog summarizes it succinctly and has a link to Rusch’s post if you want to read more. Basically, the two major distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor) have changed their policies and now list indie books mixed in with traditional titles and offer the 40% discount and same return policy. This is HUGE folks. As it also means you also have a chance of getting picked up by the chain bookstores too! It’s not all indie books–I think it’s only with books in CreateSpace’s Extended Distribution and other qualifiers– Goodwin’s post has the deets.

In summary, put yourself in the bookstore owner/manager’s shoes and understand this is a business, not a lending library or non-profit whose mission is to carry your book. And like with any other aspect of this business, do your homework and research what your stores’ policies are. I also apologize if any of this came across as scolding–that was not my intention. I want to see indie authors be successful but just have witnessed too many fail due to things they can control, and I hate to see that.

What about you? Have you had trouble getting in local indie stores? What have you found that works? What are your indie stores policies? Do you have any other tips to share?

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Photo source: By Nightscream (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Trading up to Hardcovers – Which do you do?

Are you like me in that you might buy a book more than once? I’ve bought books on Kindle that I later wanted to own a physical copy of, and so I did. I also have certain books that I happen to have the soft cover version and am slowly exchanging them for the hardcover, primarily first edition versions.

If so, what makes you do so? Here are some of the reasons for me, and I’d love to hear yours.

Kindle to Physical

Usually this happens when a book’s been recommended to me and it was on sale, so I got it. After falling in love with it, I wanted to loan it out and couldn’t. I’ve actually bought physical copies so I can loan them.

The other times it’s happened is when, back in my early Kindle days, I didn’t realize I don’t like research or writing craft books on my Kindle. I just can’t seem to ingest them as well as the physical version. Now I always buy the hard copy of writing and research books. Something about the tactile nature helps me learn. I also can’t have two places open at once and mark it up with arrows, stars and drawings that help me understand the concept better.

Softcover to Hardcover

These are for the authors I really love and I discovered partway or after their hardcovers were first published. Slowly I’m replacing my softcovers for the hardcover and preferably first edition. I’ve almost got all of Ann Rice’s paranormal fiction in first edition, hardcover, and am working on Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Phillip K. Dick, and Christopher Moore.

I know I’m not alone in this as I work in an independent bookstore and we’ve been noticing a trend–some folks are coming after having read a book on their eReader and wanting to get the hardcover version (not the softcover), so we’ve been making sure to stock hardcover commercial fiction and noticing it sells better than their mass market paperback versions (which I think is what the eReaders are replacing).

This is why I don’t think physical books will go the way of the Dodo. They might be reduced in print runs, but I think they’ll always be around because too many people like the physicality of owning one, and running their hands over them, and smelling them, and just giving a big sigh when they gaze at their bookshelves.

What do you think? Which softcover or ebooks are you exchanging for hardcover?

Monday Hunk Who Reads – Johnny Depp

By alotofmillion (Photo by Anna Altheide.) (Johnny Depp) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 Johnny Depp

Since I had to pull down earlier posts to work out copyright issues, and since there’s new book-hunky news about Depp, I’ve pulled up this original post and update it to the new format at the same time.

There’s several pictures of him reading floating around. Here’s a blogger who’s posted several, though some are stills from movies. In the course of doing that I came across this blog: Johnny Depp Reads.

I have been a long-time fan of Depp’s from back when he did Cry-Baby and Edward Scissorhands. He always seemed to pick interesting and quirky films to do and I loved it. It’s obvious he has a brain and that’s sexy. He’s also a book collector, can he get any more sexier people?

Last year, this article asked what he was reading, and at the time it was Dylan Thomas’s poetry and Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and re-reading James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. He’s been spotted reading: Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, and Keith Richards’ autobiography Life.

This article on his book collecting gives a peek at his love of books and says that he started collecting books back in 1991 when visiting Jack Kerouac’s hometown. He mainly collects modern first editions, especially beat writers and poets. He relates this wonderful moment:

One of the most incredible moments I’ve ever had was sitting in Vincent’s trailer . . . I was showing him this first-edition book I have of the complete works of [Edgar Allan Poe], with really amazing illustrations. Vincent was going nuts over the drawings, and he started talking about The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Then he closed the book and began to recite it to me in this beautiful voice, filling the room with huge sounds. Such passion! I looked in the book later, and it was verbatim. Word perfect. It was a great moment. I’ll never forget that.

In September he spoke at a reading for Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, at Echols’ booksigning for his autobiography Life After Death.

Last month he joined Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon in collaborating with a Swedish production company to bring classic literature to TV.

Last month he also launched his own imprint at HarperCollins called Infinitum Nihil.  His line of books will feature books that reflect the actor’s “diverse interests and passions” … from both “celebrated and unsung” writers.

“I pledge, on behalf of Infinitum Nihil, that we will do our best to deliver publications worthy of peoples’ time, of peoples’ concern,” Depp said in a statement. “Publications that might ordinarily never have breached the parapet. For this dream realized, we would like to salute HarperCollins for their faith in us and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship together.”

A day later his first book was announced on Publisher’s Marketplace:

Folk singer Woody Guthrie’s only fully realized novel, HOUSE OF EARTH, the portrait of two hardscrabble farmers struggling to survive in the Texas Panhandle during the Dust Bowl, completed in 1947 but available only now, with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp, to Michael Signorelli for Infinitum Nihil, by Nora Guthrie at Woody Guthrie Publications. UK rights to David Roth-Ey at Fourth Estate.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, guess how Depp wooed literature-loving actress Amber Heard when she asked for the new couple to cool things off from their summer romance? Every day in September, he wrote her an original poem accompanied by a bouquet of flowers!

I think he deserves the Ovaries Exploding Award, don’t you?

So that’s this month’s Hunk Who Reads. If you like these articles, please comment. They’re fun to write, but are time-consuming 🙂 — on that note, if you run across any photos of hunks reading, please let me know. If you know of an intellectual hunk you’d like to see profiled, let me know that too.Reading is sexy people!

For further opportunities to idolize men and books:

Do you have any photos of male celebrities reading?

Come back on the first Mondays of each month to see the next Hunk Who Reads…

Past Hunks Who Read/Related Articles:

*previous Ovaries Exploding Award winner

Books vs. e-Readers: Both are here to stay

At the end of last month a blogger I follow posted 8 Reasons Regular Books Will Become an Endangered Species which touched on what many people feel is the way of the future: the many conveniences of having an e-Reader. This caused another reader to post Why eBooks Won’t Replace Real Books.

I think I tend toward the latter poster, though I also agree with some of the advantages of the first poster. I guess I’m a tweener. Last January, I broke down and bought a Kindle, and I still own it. In fact, one of the books I’m currently reading is on it. I’m tempted to sell it though when I replace it with the Android tablet I plan to buy soon. That way I can still read e-books, but I get the additional functionality of a tablet (minus the e-ink).

Here’s some of my likes, not mentioned by these two posters…

Why I like my Kindle:

  • One advantage not mentioned in the first post is when you’re sick, the e-reader comes in handy. Last year, I was horribly sick but had blown through my TBR pile. So I shlepped to the bookstore and stood in line dripping and wheezing and about ready to pass out, to buy a stack. Now if I’d had my Kindle then, I wouldn’t have had to put myself through that and also perhaps not have spread my germs. (I told the clerk to disinfect the credit card swiper).
  • Another advantage not mentioned is the cover shame some feel when reading Romance books. I’m guilty of feeling this way. I find most covers insulting and cheesy, and so I can read these in public without worry. I thought it would actually replace most of my Romance buys because I usually don’t keep them, but it’s actually not. I still like browsing in a store and seeing what pops out at me, and I quickly realized I couldn’t trade them in at the used bookstore. Now I’m only buying the ones that I can only buy digitally.
  • I do like getting classics I’ve been meaning to read for free on my Kindle, and seeing the passages highlighted that others like too.

Why I love physical books:

  • I’ve found, to my chagrin, since I’m having to buy the paper versions to replace my e-book versions, that I don’t like digital writing craft books. These are the only kinds of books I do mark up and highlight and dog-ear. I can’t seem to “get my bearings” in an e-version. Sure I can highlight passages on my Kindle and then see an index of them, but it’s not the same. Especially if I’m needing to look at two sections of the book at the same time. I guess like editing my drafts, I like to have the paper version in these instances.
  • I also, like the second poster, LOOOOVE the physical version, which I can smell, hold and admire. I love being surrounded by them visually in my room. They’re comforting. It’s probably why I hardly use the library. I like to OWN my books.
  • As mentioned above, I can trade in those Romances to get more, or sell them if they’re still fetching a good price on Amazon.

I guess I thought the money I saved (I stupidly thought e-books were cheaper) would offset the cost of the Kindle. Not sure that it has yet, hence why I think a tablet will be the better answer for me.

Which brings me to my prediction: e-books will will endanger the mass market paperback trade not physical books in general.

As mentioned above and by other posters, owning the physical book is something tactile, something you can sense with other senses besides sight. But usually it’s the hardcover books we love to collect. And if it’s possible, get signed. However, it will become more costly to produce these printed books. So, my theory is that books will revert back to what it was like before paperbacks came around–owning a physical book and having a library of them will be a sign of wealth… Mass market paperbacks came about to satisfy the emerging middle class and the literate poor who wanted to read, but couldn’t afford the cover price. And, oddly, the self-pubbed and indie pubs are mimicking the cheaply produced chapbooks and pamphlets that were cranked out by local printers and bookshops toward the end of the 1800s: if you had something to say, you just found someone to do a small print run for you and hawk it on the street or from the bookstall of a bookseller that printed it for you. That ability has now returned, but electronically. Funny how things have come full circle. Perhaps the books that used to just go straight to paperbook, will now just go straight to e-form.

Some final thoughts

I remember reading recently (but now can’t find the link), that younger people are eschewing e-books and seeing physical books as a chance to escape from the constant use of electronics in their lives.

I also thought e-Readers were more environmentally friendly, but apparently that’s not the case?

What about you? How have you noticed your book buying habits changing?