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How To Connect With Bookshops – Advice From A Former Bookseller

How to Connect With Bookshops – Advice from a Former Bookseller

Nerys Hudson

Nerys Hudson, reporting from Berlin

Our Berlin correspondent Nerys Hudson shares some insights into publishing gained from the other side of the bookshop counter at the city’s excellent Dialogue Books, one of many aspects of her career to provide an excellent foundation for her current role as ALLi’s Communications and Networks Manager.

Some of us involved in the process of a book reaching a reader are not authors. My career in publishing began interning as an editorial assistant for a US literary critic, and then, I found myself behind the table at an independent bookshop in Berlin.

Fast forward a few years later, and I work at ALLi, alongside another company, which is both a publisher and a creative agency for books and publishing projects. I’ve mainly been part of that wider world of book-people, which is the primary focus of the ALLi campaign and book, Opening Up to Indie Authors. In it, ALLi offers practical ways to foster and nurture links between people like me (who work in the wider world of books, be it as a bookseller, reviewer, an association, a librarian or festival organiser) and people who are authors.

The latest ALLi guidebook, free to ALLi members, available for others to buy

The latest ALLi guidebook, free to ALLi members, available for others to buy

This post stems from a discussion from ALLi members about approaching bookshops, and if you are looking to do that, I’d recommend reading the Opening Up to Indie Authors guidebook as the advice for both sides is hugely beneficial. Maybe you want an event, maybe you are looking at some direct business to supplement a more general listing from your distributor or maybe, you just want the glory of being on a local shop’s shelf.

Maybe you also don’t want any of those things, in which case this may not be the post for you. I’m also not suggesting every author needs or wants to go to their local bookstore. But the beauty, in my mind, of self-publishing is that you are able to find a way that suits you, and have the opportunity to be informed about the paths you choose to take.

So, as a bookseller (once a bookseller, always a bookseller), here are a few tips from the other side of the bookstore table.

  • The Approach

Regardless of how much they sell, indie booksellers in particular have tight margins. Building up a two-way relationship is the best starting point for anyone approaching a local shop (you may find this a good starting point before heading on to a larger chain, as most bookstores tend to be supportive of local writers). So support the store in return. Scope out the shelves and see if they are interested in the type of genre you write in. Talk to the owner. Ask them to recommend you something (booksellers love to recommend, and sometimes, don’t get to do it enough). In doing so, you’ll be able to suss out the type of person they are and what they respond to best.

One bone of contention is Createspace books. Not all booksellers are besties with Amazon, for numerous reasons that are not really too relevant to this post. But unless absolutely necessary, try taking in something other than a Createspace paperback, otherwise you might be shooting yourself in the foot before you start.

  • Practicalities

On the practical side of things, an advanced copy of the book is useful. I personally appreciated Advanced Info sheets alongside any copies left: they clued me in on the title as well offering the bits I needed to input the book into our system.

  • Be Patient

By this, I mean don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything from your bookstore for a while and don’t be despondent if a bookstore doesn’t agree to carry your book. Whatever you do, do not hassle and follow up too frequently on the decision a bookseller gives you. Either come back to it in a couple of months or with a new release, or reconcile that they’ve lost out, and move on.

  • What’s Good for the Store is Good for Your Book:

If your bookseller wants to trial your book, go for it. Once you are in, the best thing you can possibly do is promote your book and the store at the same time. Get people to go and buy your book there. If your book sells out, unless I was stupid, I’d want more copies of that.

  • Agree the Terms

Sale or return definitely worked best after a trial to see how our customers responded to the book. Agree the terms when the store is interested in the book – either by a sheet in person or email is best. Your discount level will not be high, and can vary from anything to 30% (better for you) to 50% (better for me).

  • Build a Presence

In the case of many indie bookstores, the bookclubs, writing groups and author events are a vital way to keep them going. These can all tie into your book. Being able to offer something of tangible benefit to a store can obviously increase your case for some more room on the shelves.

  • Follow Up…

Bookstores can end up with lots of individual suppliers, and it’s sometimes hard to keep track of what payment is due. An email every so often or a visit to the shop to check progress works best.

  • …But Don’t Hassle

Do respect that even the most business headed bookseller may still have boundaries and may just be one of those people that is slow to respond. If in doubt, a monthly visit can be enough.

  • Be Realistic with Your Expectations

It’s unlikely a bookstore will sell out multiple print runs of your book. Which means yes, there are reasons for and against building a relationship with your local bookstore, which align to your aims as a writer. And just like writers, booksellers find themselves bookselling for different reasons. Some do it for the love and the community you help to foster, some are very passionate about their tastes, some are a bit more pragmatic, some want to create a good business (yes, really). Remembering that local bookselling is a personal business is probably your best takeaway when approaching your nearest store.

  • A Final Tip

And if, after all that, you do want to approach a local store, don’t be afraid to talk to a bookseller. I spent many lovely hours over many years with customers because, like authors, good booksellers  are always interested in stories.

OVER TO YOU

Like to ask Nerys a specific question about dealing with booksellers? Got a top tip of your own to share? Join the conversation via the comment box!

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This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. Thanks heaps for that Nerys 🙂 I actually put together a post on how I got my books into bricks and mortar stores on my blog last year: http://ebookrevolution.com.au/2014/04/how-to-get-your-print-books-into-your-local-book-store-in-7-steps/

    I sort of break it down from an author’s point of view:

    1) be professional
    2) know your numbers
    3) promo material for signings (best way I’ve found to move books in a store and get owners on your side)
    4) How to approach a store
    5) how to set up signings (best days etc)
    6) What to expect at a signing (most people ignore you 🙁 )
    7) Handling invoices and following up.

    Thing haven’t worked out with two stores, and I’m on good terms with another two stores. So as you mentioned, it’s hit and miss sometimes, but definitely a good experience. In saying that, I’m limiting my signings this year and focusing more on online promotion. The physical promotional activites are hard work and can be demoralising. In saying that, I got way more attention from friends and family once I started pursuing the book stores, so you just need to weigh it up.

    1. That’s an especially interesting comment towards the end there, Emily – that your friends and family take more notice when you’ve got books in a physical shop. I think it really does add crediblity, and helps make you more of a local celebrity. One of the bookshops near me put my book of Christmas stories in their front window in December and I was surprised that so many people noticed and congratulated me. Not sure how many books they sold on the strength of it, because I’m sure some people who saw it will have orodered online (sorry, Nerys!), but I did feel it make a real difference. Having bumped into someone the other day who I hadn’t seen for years who said to me “I hear you write ebooks now”, in a slightly disparaging way, I’m all the more convinced that I need to keep up my good relationship with our local physical stockists!

      1. Excellent post Emily! I think it’s hugely beneficial to see it from both sides 🙂

        Debbie, I’m all for books being sold wherever in theory, and to have a bookshop act as a shop window for an online sale could be a massively beneficial thing if bookstores maybe embraced it a little more (and there was the technology to facilitate that a lot easier)

        I think there will (and this is my opinion) always be a case of for ebooks, and for physical books, and for online stores and for a bricks-and-mortar establishment. The more choice and more ways, the better. Not everyone reads the same, or feels the same about books in terms of their content and also format. Interesting times I reckon when there is the chance to explore those various options, and find what works for you!

  2. Thanks for providing this information. 🙂

    I did have a few questions:

    1. You mentioned an advanced info sheet… what type of information should be included on one?

    2. Do authors/publishers usually offer a free “sample” book for the bookstore to look over and consider?

    3. In your experience, does not allowing for returns prevent bookstores from trying out a book?

    4. How many copies should an author approach a bookstore with (major chain or independent)?

    5. You mentioned Createspace being a turn-off, what about printers like Ingram Spark?

    1. No worries Stephanie.

      1. An advanced information sheet is the type of sheet a sales rep would usually take round to stores. That will give a bookseller the basics, from release date and ISBN through to the “back cover” copy, which could include book description, a small author bio, any review quotes you wanted to add in. For a bookseller, it’s the first introduction you have for understanding what the book is about, and I guess where it fits in the market.

      2. A free sample is sometimes welcomed – it does depend, some booksellers may be happy to try it out without reading, and others would prefer to read, and some may not have the time to read all of it. Always offer though.

      3. I’d be less inclined to try out a book without returns on it – or put it this way, I’d want a higher discount on something I’m buying from you there and then, rather than if you offered me it on sale or return. A trial is always good on sale and return – and if the book sold out, I’d be more tempted to buy it. You can always put a returns period on it – say 30 or 60 days, and then after that, invoice the store.

      4. Totally depends on the size of the store. I’d start with around 2-5 copies and see how they go. Obviously if they sell out, I will take larger orders (but that’s speaking as someone who worked in quite a small shop, so like I said, it’s really dependent on the store). This is where events can be really handy, as I’d stock up on 20 copies if we were hosting an event or bookclub.

      5. IngramSpark is a pretty safe bet. Ingram is a distributor with strong ties to booksellers, their VP is a former bookseller, so you’re in much safer territory there! And as a side note: not every bookseller will be bothered with where your book is printed – but those that are, are pretty vehement in their stance towards Amazon and by default, CreateSpace 🙂

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