Bookstores: How to Succeed in Getting Your Book in Bookstores

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

July 6, 2023

When you started writing, you probably dreamed about seeing your book in bookstores. Whether your plans involve being on the shelves of a small, independent bookstore or a major retailer, there are ways to get your books on those shelves. Here are some ideas worth trying.

Know the Process

If you want to get your book in major chain retailers, you must speak with the book buyer for those chains. Bookstores buy from book reps, book distributors, or publishers. They also buy books from independent authors. To get your book on the shelves of a chain bookstore, you must contact the corporate office of that chain.

Libraries get their books directly from distributors. They don’t deal directly with publishers. Libraries also get e-books from publishers who sell them a license for a copy of the book. To get your book in a library, find out who the acquisitions librarian is. This is the person who makes the final decision about which books the library plans to order.

Although libraries have increased their stock of e-books, they still overwhelmingly prefer physical books. If you want to approach a library, you must have a print version of your book.

If you want to reach independent bookstores, contact the American Booksellers Association. It’s an organization that represents independent bookstores. It has programs that can help you market your book to the small bookstore owners you want to reach.

Be a Good Bookstore Customer

If you want your local bookstore to support you—and other local writers—it’s only fair that you return the favor. Support your local store by being a regular customer, cultivating relationships with employees, and urging your friends and family members to shop there. Write positive reviews about the store on social media sites.

Independent bookstores often mirror and support what’s going on in the community. They host readings, support causes, and champion local artists. Do the same. When the time comes to ask about making room for your book, you’ll find a receptive audience.

Research the bookstore before you approach them about your book. Most bookstores have a specific customer base with a preference for certain types of books. Learn what the store’s specialty is. What is their demographic, and what genres are popular with them? Does your book fit what its customers buy? If it does, mention that when you make your pitch to the bookstore manager or owner. If it doesn’t match, you’re wasting your time pitching to that store. Find another one that fits with the genre of book you’ve written.

Create Professional Marketing Sheets

You can’t get your book in bookstores without professional marketing materials. When you meet with a bookstore owner or a librarian, you are likely to have only a few minutes to make your case. If you apply to a retailer like Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, your application must stand out among a very competitive, crowded field of books.

You can give yourself an edge with marketing materials that look professional. Here are some items you should have.

  • ISBN Number: A book can’t be sold to libraries or bookstores without an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). This is a unique number assigned to every book. It is not difficult to get one, but it requires some time and involves a fee.
  • Book Sheet: A one-page book sheet should have your book’s title, your name, the ISBN, and a captivating blurb about your book. Include a full-color picture of the book’s cover.
  • Marketing Plan: You can make the case for your book by showing bookstore buyers and book distributors that you have a solid plan to market the book. Nobody wants to take on a book that isn’t going to sell. Knowing that you’ve developed a strategy to sell your book will make their decision to buy easier.

Produce the Best Book You Can

Buyers and distributors for bookstores and libraries are used to working with professionally produced books. To compete, your book should be scrupulously proofread and have a professionally designed cover. You won’t get a book in bookstores unless it looks like it belongs on those shelves. If you have a well-produced, high-quality book, you stand a better chance of convincing buyers and distributors to work with you.

Be Prepared to Donate Copies

Libraries operate on tight budgets. Unlike commercial booksellers, they don’t have much flexibility when it comes to spending. If you want to get your book in a local library, consider offering one or two copies as a donation.

Don’t Publish on Amazon

To get your book in bookstores, don’t publish on the Amazon self-publishing platform. For several reasons, many independent bookstores don’t want to buy from Amazon.

Sell Directly to Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble is a large retail chain that competes with Amazon and Books-a-Million. The company now has a self-publishing platform besides its retail stores. To get book in bookstores owned by Barnes & Noble, you can contact them directly using the “Sell Your Book at B&N” form that’s available online.

Offer a Book Signing That Will Bring in Customers

If you have a strong following and a solid email list, use it to your advantage when approaching a bookstore. Show the owner that you could potentially bring in lots of new customers, and offer to do a book signing or reading.

If you can get new customers to a bookstore, you’re offering something invaluable. In exchange, the store owner may be happy to host a book event for you. If you can cover the associated costs, all the better.

Understand the Limitations of Bookstore Sales

While your desire to see your book in bookstores is understandable, always remember that you will never make much money from bookstore sales. Even getting your book into a large chain store won’t bring in much money. The rewards of seeing your book on store shelves are emotional rather than financial.

Be realistic about the possibilities of selling your book this way. As a self-published author, your time may be better spent marketing your e-book and selling your printed book through other means.

Getting Your Book in Bookstores Requires Commitment

As you can see, getting your book on the shelves of a bookstore or library involves considerable time, effort, and expense. You must print many copies of the book, create a marketing plan, contact distributors, and work with book wholesalers.

You must offer your book to booksellers at a discount. If your books don’t sell, the bookstore owners have the right to return them. That’s an additional expense you will have to consider.

That’s why some self-published authors prefer to avoid the risks and costs associated with the attempt to get their books into stores. You may find that selling your book yourself—through social media, your author website, and other self-directed ways – offers better returns for your time and effort. However, there is no question that seeing your book on a shelf is immensely rewarding. If you can’t shake the dream, go ahead and give it your best shot.

Start with Professional Design and Printing

At Publishing Xpress, we can help with professional printing to get your book ready for the bookstore market. Contact us today to learn more about our fast, expert printing and excellent customer service.

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