Selling to Independent Booksellers

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This is one part love letter to independent booksellers and the other part encouragement to independent authors on how to approach them.

Dear independent booksellers, I can’t remember our first kiss. Even so, my love for you is real. It’s almost as if you know me better than I know myself. Like the time you pointed me to Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. Murakami is a favorite, but you, my paramour, saw me wander book-lined aisles, restless in want of something I couldn’t quite articulate. Then voila! You nudge me to “staff picks,” and there before me is my next big read.

It’s not just the recommendations you make, your dreamy, musty, ink-stained pages or your tall, smartly wrought tales, it’s also how you understand and rally behind the independent spirit. Independent authors and independent booksellers should be natural born friends.

You two have likely met (no writer doesn’t read, afterall), but if the mighty independent bookseller intimidates the mighty author, I offer these tips:

  1. Nothing Woos Like Sales: Dear author, it’s up to you to woo. So when a bookseller agrees to sell your title, and this will likely be on consignment, get your readers to the store—and rather than having your website link to Amazon, make sure visitors know it’s available “wherever books are sold.”
  2. Tough Love Ain’t Love: Don’t forget Amazon owns Createspace (and there’s a difference to independent booksellers between a self-published book and one published on Createspace). In case you were unaware, independent bookstores and Amazon don't get along, so the platform you use to self-publish matters here especially.
  3. Matchmaking and Chemistry: When it’s not an immediate, combustible, love-at-first-sight sort of love, my advice is to take it slow. After selling a few books, booksellers are more willing to host an author event. When one is organized, don’t depend on the bookstore to market, and make sure the people you invite are ones who buy books. If a bookseller says no though, respectfully accept that he or she knows the store and the types of books that sell in it better than you do and expend your efforts elsewhere.
  4. First Date Jitters: Call before showing up. And be specific. Take the time to know who’s likely to read your book. Be able to describe your demographic and demonstrate that you understand the demographic of the independent bookstore you're trying to sell to. You should have a clear marketing plan (and your plan shouldn’t completely depend on bookstores). Don’t be shy about other marketing efforts you’re making. Booksellers want to know how you're getting the word out to help sell your book. It's not just about getting a book on the shelf, it's about getting it off the shelf and into the hands of a reader too. Readers read—and you both want them.

Just as I will always believe that making good books matters, I believe that we don’t just read books, we climb inside and live in them. And when it comes to finding our next story to love—we readers depend equally on writers to create them and sellers to get them into our greedy, hungry, love-starved hands.


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Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.