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Distribution: How to Get Self-published Books into Airport Shops – A Case Study with Carol Cooper

Picture of Carol Cooper novel in airport store display

Tempting impulse-buys in the typical airport bookstore

Wherever in the world you self-publish your books, your country is almost certainly served by a network of airports and train stations offering authors an enticing opportunity to get print books into the hands of travellers impulse-buying reading matter to while away their journeys.

Bookstores at travel hubs generally have a different layout and stock to those elsewhere, carefully merchandising the kind of book that appeals to travellers, compellingly priced to prompt impulse buys. If you think your self-published book would make a good fit for that scenario, read Carol Cooper’s success story in placing her second novel Hampstead Fever in a prestigious front-of-store promotion at a national bookselling chain, not only in airports but train stations too.

Planes, Trains and Paperback Books

Carol Cooper shares her journey...

Carol Cooper shares the secrets of her success in airport bookstores

The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, as the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said.

This isn’t a recipe for getting your book into a specific chain of airport stores, but rather the process down into a number of distinct steps.

  1. That first step was to write the book that I wanted to write. I can’t imagine putting my heart and soul into authoring something just because it fits in with the market as perceived at the time, and I’m sure many indie writers will agree.
  2. Did I want my novel to hold its own amongst the very best trade-published titles? You bet. Step two was therefore to make my book as good as I possibly could, with professional editing, proofreading, typesetting, and cover design. Clays did the printing, and it’s on Gardners’ distribution network, so UK booksellers can order my novel just as they would any other book.
  3. Networking was probably the third step. Here’s where publishing is completely different from academic disciplines, where you can’t learn much just by rubbing shoulders or chatting over a drink with those who know a lot more than you do. Through ALLi and the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), I got to know of WH Smith travel shops’ buyer Matt Bates, and heard him speak at the London Book Fair. He was charming and knowledgeable. And I learned that he’d even picked a fellow indie author’s fiction debut (Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade) for a promotion. So I knew he wasn’t blinkered.Fast forward a year or so to publishing Hampstead Fever, and my thoughts turned again to WH Smith. Perhaps Matt Bates would be interested? My novel, however, is a multi-stranded tale of contemporary relationships, which is about as far as you can get from Piers Alexander’s rollicking adventure set in the 17th century. Still, fingers crossed.
  4. The fourth step was to email Bates, attaching the lovely cover. He then asked to see a copy of the book, liked it, and proposed a “buy one, get one half price” promotion in over thirty travel bookstores in airports and train stations around the UK. It may have helped that Hampstead Fever was already in a number of bookshops (see steps 1 and 2), and had been featured in the local press and a number of radio shows.

That was it.

What the Deal Means to Me

cover of Hampstead Fever

Professional production is essential

The deal is hugely important to me in terms of visibility. WH Smith travel shops are where people choose an entertaining read for a journey or holiday, and this is a front-of-store spot. I think the eye-catching cover, designed by ALLi member Jessica Bell, really makes the book stand out. In my view, it also helps that it’s not an identikit image of the sort one so often sees on the front of contemporary fiction/’women’s fiction’.

It’s too soon to say whether being in WH Smith travel shops has translated into masses of sales. After all, bookstores are entitled to return unsold books.

Importantly, though, the deal feels like validation of my novel-writing skills, as well as of those who helped me make the book what it is.

And, while I’ve been an author since 1995 when my first non-fiction book came out, it was still a thrill to see Hampstead Fever on the stands at London’s Gatwick Airport.

So have I arrived? Well, I wouldn’t say that quite yet, but my book is in the departure lounge…

OVER TO YOU Have you scored a success at a specialist bookstore of any kind? We’d love to hear about it!

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2 Responses to Distribution: How to Get Self-published Books into Airport Shops – A Case Study with Carol Cooper

  1. TJ Rogers May 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

    Would you suggest the same sort of method for children’s/middle readers books? It seems a difficult market to crack.I currently have my book published as an ebook, I’m wondering if I should go for publishing paperbacks …what do you think?

  2. Clare Weiner May 17, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    Your blogpost has been bookmarked in my Hodgepublishing Business folder Carol…!

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