If independent bookstores are part of your sales strategy, it's important to understand what booksellers are looking for in the books they carry, but first you'll need to get their attention. Booksellers don't always have the largest budgets or the most free time to work with, so if your book marketing materials communicate how your book helps them help their store and represents something they can utilize for in-store marketing, they're more likely to use your marketing materials. And when a bookstore not only purchases a copy of your book, but also displays it with your marketing materials, that means more attention for your book on the shelf.
1. Advance Reader Copies (ARCs)
Advance reader copies (also known as advance review copies or galleys) are copies of your book prepublication, intended to build excitement for your title and potentially gain advance blurbs from booksellers. Bookstores receive hundreds of advance reader copies per week, so consider a unique package treatment. For example, if your book is about a rock and roll star, you could consider putting a neon green sticker on the outside of the envelope that said "Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll Inside" to encourage bookstores to take interest in your package over another. Mail your advance reader copy at least six months prior to your publication date so booksellers have time to genuinely consider your book for their store and so that you have time to incorporate any blurb they may give you onto your book cover and into your title metadata.
2. Shelf Talkers
Shelf talkers are designed (most normally with elements from the book cover to make it easy, at a cursory glance, to tell which book on the shelf the shelf talker goes with) and mailed with finished books to help your book stand out on the shelf. Shelf talkers may include a strong quote about your book from booksellers or other important people consumers might recognize (meaning not from a family member, friend, or yourself). These quotes are usually gained from early book reviews or galley feedback. If you don't have blurbs or reviews, you could consider putting strong quotes directly from your book on your shelf talker to highlight the writing/story or you could include fun facts about the book. No matter what you decide to put on your shelf talker, it should grab the attention of consumers as they browse the shelves, give readers a good idea of what's inside your book, and motivate them to buy it. If your shelf talker is well done, there's no reason a bookseller wouldn't include it on the shelf to help them sell your book.
3. Cash Register Giveaways
There's a fine line here between printing promotional material just because and investing in creating promotional materials that booksellers can actually use. Buttons, bookmarks, and stickers are all things that are relatively inexpensive for an author to produce on their own that can be useful for booksellers and make an impression with consumers. Booksellers will frequently have these kinds of tchotchke items at the register for customers to grab on their way out; why not make that bookstore freebie something that could help spread the word about your book? The trick here is to make your button, bookmark, or sticker quirky or creative enough that someone would pick it up or consider attaching it to their backpack or journal.
4. Sell Sheet
A sell sheet is a page of quick takeaways for the bookseller to know why this book, and you as an author, are perfect for their store. This isn't the time to brag about how great your book is; you should be bragging about what you and your book can do for their store, demonstrating to them that you're a professional who understands they need to sell books and cares about their particular store's needs. Include your book marketing strategy on your sell sheet so they know how you plan to get the word out about your book. If booksellers agree to carry your book on their shelves, they want to know how you'll be marketing it to get it off their shelves.
5. Designed Reading Guide
Bookstores frequently host book clubs, and if you provide a reading guide for them to share with their book clubs, you're already ahead. You've essentially provided their programming for that month's club read, which is work a bookseller with very few hours in the day won't have to do later. Your reading guide, much like your shelf talker, bookmarks, etc. should be designed with elements from your book cover and have discussion questions about your book. Be thoughtful here. Don't provide cliche questions or questions from very specific scenes of your book. Provide broad, but meaningful statements that can't be answered with a yes or no.
One of booksellers' biggest reservations about stocking a book from an independent author is the nightmare they imagine in trying to order books from an individual. Consider it this way: would you rather go to several different stores to get one item at each store or go to one store to pick up everything you need at once? Booksellers appreciate the one-stop shop, ordering books from the same source where they order all of their other books. When you tell them your book is available for order via Ingram, and that your book has the standard trade discount and is returnable, you can watch their faces relax as you just made their lives a million times easier. And you can bet that they'll carry your book before they carry someone else's who can't provide them with an easy ordering method.