I was prepared for the effort of taking my manuscript and creating a book from it, but despite all the help I had getting books produced and the ease of which they magically appear on my doorstep, it still fell to me, as a first time indie author, to get the shops to carry them. It wasn't easy, but here are some of the things that worked for me.
I’m not a global bestselling author just yet, but I have just completed my first book signing and Digitox is on the shelves, not only in my local bookstores, but also in Waterstones, WHSmiths, Blackwells, and even at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of Winston Churchill.
Don’t Fear Rejection
My first words of advice? Expect to be let down, and don’t give up. On the day I received my first box of books (cue Marty McFly moment as George opens a box full of his new novels at the end of Back To The Future), I took a copy to our local bookstore, introduced myself to the owner, and asked if they would consider stocking it.
She asked if it was self-published, I said that it was, and that was pretty much the end of the conversation. I persisted and explained that I was a local author and a customer, and that I’d really appreciate the help, so she finally agreed to take a copy and read it through.
A few days later, I popped in again to find that 'without a publishing team,' she wasn’t sure of the information in there, and didn’t feel that she could trust it on the shelves, offering the book back to me. I asked her to pass it on (in the secret hope that whoever got it would love it).
Two weeks passed, and I went in to check if the book was available to order through their wholesalers (which it was). She hadn’t passed her copy on, but had read it, enjoyed it, and taken some of the steps I suggested. But still wouldn’t stock it.
Similar story at the next store I tried, except this time they asked if it was available online. I explained that it was, but I liked to support local bookstores. While complaining about the influence of the internet, she politely refused to stock my book locally. Argh.
Third try, and a bookstore ten miles from home took some copies, and sold them within a few days—bless you Woodstock Book Shop for being so kind, and giving me some confidence.
Persistence is key, and I was lucky too.
Create A Media Story
As I continued to meet with bookstore owners, we were being featured in magazines, national newspapers, local radio, and on TV shows. We worked hard to contact journalists and media outlets, focussing on stories we thought could be of interest—“first time to school with a smartphone”, “social media impacts on education”, “the internet and faith” and of course, “Crazy dad stops his kids from using the internet for one day a week”…
As the story built, so did my ‘narrative’ when I walked into a new book store. But rarely do I get the book stocked first time.
With a stack of press coverage in one hand and a copy of the book in the other I would stroll into a book shop and ask for the manager. We’d talk, they’d take a copy, and a few days later I would return for another conversation. Sometimes I’d pick up the phone, but wherever possible, trying to build a face-to-face relationship with the manager worked best for me.
Trust Store Managers
It took me three emails, two phone calls, three visits, and one wonderful manager to get the book to Waterstones Oxford—and here is another word of advice. Don’t be pushy. Ask for help—they know their market, know books better than you ever will and are the very best source of knowledge for reaching other store managers. Think about how many people come through the door hopefully clutching their baby (sorry, their book) and expecting wonders.
While looking for a copy of a magazine we were featured in, I struck up a conversation with the manager in our local WHSmith—he offered me the chance to do a book signing in the Oxford store fifteen miles away and put up the posters I had made around the shop advertising the event.
Ask For A Book Signing
I was stunned at his generosity and had an amazing time in store chatting to customers, signing books, and answering questions. That interaction was key—the store manager told me that some authors just sit behind a desk and hope people visit them, which may work for celebrities, but certainly not for the average indie author. I loved introducing myself and talking to people as they passed by—try not to be shy!
The sales I made on the day may lead to national inventory—I can only hope. But they certainly led to more interest and invitations to speak at schools.
So don’t be afraid of rejection, seek advice from managers of bookstores, never give up and keep a smile on your face. I promise you it’s worth it.