Indie author Roz Morris explains how she got her novel stocked by bricks-and-mortar bookstores – and how self-published books meet independent booksellers’ needs.
Like many indie authors, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get my books into shops. I made print editions because it was unthinkable not to, and I did what I could to get widespread distribution. So I was all ready to be stocked… if bookshops knew to look for me. Always the hardest part.
Frankly, I had no idea what I would do about this. Then a friend invited me to read my work at an event in a pub. It went well (thankfully) and I got talking to someone from a bookshop. They said they happily stocked indie authors’ books and offered to stock mine. I had no idea it could be that easy. Emboldened, I decided I’d approach the two independent bookshops in my part of London.
What I said
I didn’t ask ‘do you stock self-published authors’. Although I wanted to be up front, I thought that might come across as defensive. Instead I asked ‘Do you stock local authors?’ In both shops, I showed my books and I was in. I realised that booksellers understand why authors self-publish. We simply have to go and say hello.
But then came… the special shop
As I reported recently on the ALLI Facebook Community page, I’ve just had a dream Amazon review… from an indie bookshop: Barton’s in Leatherhead, Surrey. Barton’s has been more than usually supportive of my work. They invited me for a signing, want me to do another when my next novel is ready, and my titles are displayed in a prominent position by the till.
How did I get in their good books?
The funny thing is, I didn’t set out to sell to them at all. Because of various commitments, Leatherhead is my second neighbourhood and I shop there. I wandered into Barton’s at Christmas, looking for books that friends and family wouldn’t have found from online algorithms (ie what bookshops do best). So I chatted to the owner, Peter Snell, and we scooted around the shelves, hunting for treasure. I noticed he had a lot of books I already owned, so I’d say ‘have you got anything like this’ or ‘what do you think of that’.
Once I’d gathered a stack, I asked if he had any writing books, and then had to explain why I’d read everything he had. That led – without the slightest premeditation – to him looking me up and taking a fancy to my novel. I gave him a copy and the next time I went in, he’d read it not just once but twice – and said he wanted a word about my bizarre imagination.
Now, when I drop in, he finds a way to mention to another customer that I have this rather interesting novel with a snazzy red piano on the cover. The locals are usually impressed that they’ve met a real, live author and there’s another sale!
Independent bookshops want you!
Remember too what independent bookstores want. They want an eclectic stock so that they are a boutique alternative to supermarkets and Waterstones. Booksellers want to know about exciting, convention-bending work. And who’s providing that? Indie authors.
Have you approached local bookshops? If so, how did you do it? Please share your experience and any advice in a comment. (Questions welcome too.)
(Next Saturday Roz will be sharing some practical pointers for getting your books into bookshops, e.g. what discount to offer, what terms to agree.)
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The independent in my town closed down before I finished my first manuscript and the others in the area are all used places.
HOWEVER, one of the used/rare shop owners does a Sunday book column about authors from the state and a friend’s mother suggested over a year ago that I should write him and tell him about my books. Should I do that? How should I approach him on the issue?
What a fascinating story, Roz. Thanks for sharing. I especially like the part of what you said, “do you support local authors.”
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I’m just smiling and loving the generosity of writers – we are so good about sharing information that we’d otherwise have to pay a pretty penny. Thank each of you for something that I, in my ten years of writing and selling myself in order to sell my books… hadn’t thought of, yet!
Hi Janis! I’m also immensely appreciative of all the generous bloggers who’ve shared their experience and enabled me to publish.
Great post! I’m published by a small press so much of the marketing and promotion falls to me. My book is in four area independent bookstores. My approach for each one was different.
Gosh, Melanie – you’re an old hand at this. I bet you have some tales to tell.
Chapter 8 in my book about book promotion, “Sell Your Books!”, includes an in-depth interview with my friendly local indie bookshop owner, who made it much easier to see the situation from the bookseller’s point of view. He’s the gloriously named Hereward Corbett (brother of the famous children’s literacy consultant Pie Corbett) and has two shops in Gloucestershire – The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth and Tetbury. As he’d also worked for WH Smiths, Waterstones, etc before going indie, he was a mine of information.
Ebook available from Amazon for just Â£3, plus print copy too. Apologies for the shameless self-promotion here, but I learned loads from talking to Hereward and would like to spread the word!
The key is being professional and friendly. Last year, a few months before the scheduled publication date, I’d prepared some mental notes, had some business cards printed as well as a bookseller information sheet. I took a deep breath and went into what had been my local Waterstones.
To explain: I’d moved to France over two years before, but had bought so many books from this shop I could start my own library. I’d been born and brought up in this town, so I considered myself a local girl.
I asked for the events manager, did my pitch and then asked her for a book launch event. She looked INCEPTIO up on her system (I’d ensured it had been listed as ‘Coming soon’) and she agreed.
Following a successful launch (where I had to sell more to them after their ordered stock ran out), they agreed to stock INCEPTIO. I do sometimes get a friend to check it’s still available on their shelves, but I’m determined to ensure it is always there!
The English language section of my local (French) bookshop also stocks my book. When I’m next in the UK, I’ll be doing the rounds…
You sold out – brilliant! And I love that phrase of yours about having shopped so much there you could start a library 🙂
Success goes to the bold. My experience was similar to yours, Roz. I walked my book in to all the independent bookstores in Des Moines – fortunately there are several – and explained that I was an author with a new book out. Would they take a look and consider taking some on consignment? Also, would they be interested in holding a signing event? They all said, yes. When I had three signings set up, I took a news release to the newspaper – local author, local events. They ran the news and more. That got the attention of bookstores around the state who contacted me about stocking my book and holding signings. A very successful launch. My take away on all this is that it never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is, no. And more than likely they’ll say, yes.
Fantastic! What an inspiring story. 🙂
And confidence breeds confidence! Good for you for grabbing extra publicity. When I got my signing, I went to the local press and buttered up a few journalists. One of them interviewed me and sent a photographer on the day – result!
Thanks for the great post, Roz. I just did the same thing myself, earlier this week. And as you said, I just approached 2 local bookstores and asked if they would carry a novel by a local author that takes place locally. Here’s how it went for me:
After consigning my book at the first store, I hung around and shopped – and ended up buying 2 books (to help her, since she’s helping me.) While I was shopping, the owner read my bio on the back cover of my book and struck up a conversation about an Academy I graduated from, which her son was considering. So we made a personal connection. I also asked about author signing events, and she said they would have a group event for indie authors in the fall, so she will let me know when she sets the date for that.
In the second shop, I also got to chatting with the saleswoman after she read and commented on my bio. Another personal connection. That led to her inviting me to speak to a writers group that meets there about how I became a published author. By the way, this was a used bookstore that had only a small display of new books – right inside the front door. So don’t hesitate to contact used bookstores, too, to see if they carry any new books. In both cases I suggested autographing the books, for added value to the independent bookstore customer, and both owners said, “By all means, yes!”
When I got home from consigning my books, I sent out an email to my address book announcing the publication of my novel and where to find it online and in stores. I put in an extra plug for the two shops. One of my contacts emailed me back that he immediately ran out and bought an autographed copy from one of the shops before they were gone. Win-win!
Oh congratulations – and it shows what a difference a personal connection makes. Onwards and upwards!
That’s a great point, Roz! Never thought of it like that.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Thanks, Teddi! Once I realised that, it made me more confident that I might get proper consideration. Good luck!
Well done as this does take determination. On 30 June 12:00 GMT we are releasing our “How 2 Place Your Ebook In Online Stores” which may provide some alternatives along these lines. Will be a ‘Pay as You Give” Kobo FreEbook so we hope we can empower 1000’s of ‘selfies’ to have more visibility with online storefront windows.
[…] You can read the rest of the post HERE. […]
[…] Much of it was luck, I have to say – I clicked with their tastes. And I’ve had a hit and miss relationship with other bookstores. But if you’re contemplating approaching bookshops with your print editions, you might find my expe…… […]
Just what I have been planning. Thanks for the boost. I have just approached one shop with a sample book I had printed and am waiting for their response. I have e-published this novel,Island of Steel, and three novellas in the Detective Ladies of Baker Street series. All selling well. The novellas I shall print-publish as one volume. Both will be out by end of July via Amazon, but I intend to publish them myself to reach a different audience. Exciting times.
Good luck, Peter – and thanks for stopping by. Each bookshop is different, so the perfect one might be the next one you try.
Fab! Well done, Roz. I’m just wondering how to find the Alli community page. Not coming in my search.
Thanks, Carol! Alas I can’t help you with directions to the community page… but I can recommend the Facebook group as supportive and useful.
Carol, the ALLi community group page is a closed one to which ALLi members can be added on request (a perk of being a member of ALLi!) I’ve just looked at your website and couldn’t find your Facebook id – but if you email it to Karen Lotter or Orna Ross, they can add you in to the group. It would be great to see you on there!