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.
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.
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!
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends on social media.
“Authors: #toptips on getting into #bookstores by @neryshudson via @IndieAuthorALLi: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/bookshops #publishingopenup”