While Chanticleer Reviews was exhibiting books vetted by our reviewers and writing competitions at several Independent Bookseller Association trade shows, I was able to observe (a marketing habit of mine) how professional booksellers buy books in action. Their traits were consistent with what they were seeking to fill their shelves. Also, I was able to ask the book buyers what they were looking for in particular to make their book buying decisions.
Book buyers “walk the show” rather quickly as they scan for covers that pique their interest enough to stop and inquire. Book covers had, maybe, two or three seconds to catch a book buyer’s attention. They do this because this is how most readers (aka customers) shop for books in their bookstores. Most independent bookstores carry approximately seven thousand books. Inventory must be refreshed constantly to keep the core clientele coming back and to attract new clients.
Top 10 Observations from Independent Bookseller Trade Shows
- Bookstore buyers attend shows to discover “new finds” for their patrons—not just the New York Times bestselling books. Many said their patrons shop at their stores in order to discover new authors.
- They want to know what the author is doing to push sales on all fronts (websites, point-of-sale, social media, etc.) Book buyers want to know if the author is reaching out consistently and specifically to his/her targeted audience.
- Do authors supply point-of-sale promotions (extras like shelf-talkers, shiny award stickers)?
- Is the book an award winner?
- Does the cover list review blurbs and endorsements?
- Is the author willing to do an event at book stores (not just a reading)? Events add value to a title and author brand.
- Booksellers LOVE series! They love series and the promise of works to come.
- Booksellers can tell the quality of a printed book in a heartbeat and at thirty paces. Independent booksellers care about the quality of the books (content, cover, editing, formatting, and design) that they stock on their bookshelves because the books reflect the overall quality of the bookstore. Your book must look professional in order to end up on their shelves.
What Booksellers Think About Indie Books
- Booksellers do not care if a book is traditionally published, indie published, or small press published. They care if the book will sell itself as it sits on the shelf. Will the cover reach out to the targeted audience and pique interest? Booksellers want to know what the author/publisher is doing and will do to create book buzz regardless of whether the book belongs to a self-publisher or a traditional publisher.
- Booksellers want to offer independently published books that have been vetted, but unless the authors are local community members, they want the books to come through the typical distribution channels like IngramSpark.
- Accepting books “on consignment” is considered a “community service” and not a profit generator for an independent bookstore.
What Booksellers Consider When They Buy Books
- Covers — book covers must be compelling, well-designed, targeted, and sell the book by itself while sitting on a shelf. The cover must convey: genre, sub-genre, time period, mood (humorous, scary, romantic, light reading, intense, etc.), age appropriateness, targeted audience, tone, and the title. The cover must convey ALL of this information in seconds. The cover sells the first book, but the content inside that first book is what will sell the second and build a fanbase.
- Professional reviews (editorial reviews)
- Professional editing
- Professional formatting, typography, and graphic design and layout
- Availability through traditional distribution channels (such as Ingram and IngramSpark)
- Conventional credit terms that are available through the distributor.
- Are the books returnable to the distributor?
- A minimum of 40 percent discount off retail price (but 53% percent is even better)
- Ease and reliability of re-ordering from a stable supplier/distributor/publisher in order to restock a bestselling book quickly
What independent booksellers care about is meeting their sales goals so that they can stay in business. To do this, they must keep their clientele coming back by offering unique books and great “discoveries,” hosting events, and providing excellent service.