Man, I love the idea of my book on the shelves of Wal-Mart and Costco. I love the vision I have of seeing eight copies of my book standing, cover face out, on the top shelf of the reference section in Barnes & Noble. What I don’t love thinking about is this: my book does not belong in any of these stores. I wish it were not so. I wish B&N, Wal-Mart, and Costco would sell my book and that it was the perfect fit for the customers who shop at these places, but it's not. The type of readers who want a book about the publishing industry (which is what I write about) are more likely shopping online and at conventions.
We all want to sell more books. But before we pitch one more store, I would like us all to take a few moments and ask ourselves some very necessary questions:
1. What kind of places will you pitch your book to?
2. Have you considered every store that might sell your book?
Get in the car, let a friend drive, and write down all of the places you see as you ride down the street. Go to malls, strip malls, main streets…Seriously. Write down every store you pass. When you get home, research them online, and weigh their value. Would your book be a good fit for any of them?
3. Do readers of your kind of book shop in stores you want to be in?
Romance novel sales have dropped in bookstores in recent years. More and more sales of this particular genre are moving online. The shelves in bookstores that stretched for miles, filled with romance novels are shorter now that folks can shop in the comfort of their own home. Cookbook sales to the library market on the other hand have exploded! Are the fans of your type of book shopping at the kinds of stores you are targeting?
4. What are your chances of getting into your chosen stores?
Okay. So you have identified the many stores where your book would fit, you have determined that the stores sell books like yours, AND that people shop at those stores looking for books like yours. Nice work! So...can you actually get your book in the stores? It depends upon a few things:
- Are your books available at the wholesalers where those retailers buy their books?
- If not, are you willing to sell the books on consignment?
- Are your books available as discounted and returnable? (This mostly matters for bookstores.)
- Are you marketing and creating demand for your book?
5. What can you do to increase your stocking in stores?
When a bookstore agrees to test a book or to place a starting order, you will most likely see an order for one or two books. (What? That’s all? Yup.) They'll order more if they sell out of those, but upfront, one to two books is all an author will get on a trial run. Take their small buy and be grateful.
If you are more focused on airport stores or major chains, then you will mostly likely get a refusal from the main office. But you can sometimes get your local venue (Costco, airport store, etc.) to agree to let you do an event. If you book a signing or an event that results in many sales, that will be enough to improve your chances of a regional stocking. If your regional stocking does well and makes the company money, then your regional stocking can become a national one. This is a very simplified overview of the process but an accurate one.
It is time to stop pushing your book at stores and do your research to find out if your type of readers buy your type of books and from where they purchase them. Drive to your local store and ask them how books in your category are selling. Ask them if your category is a strong one for them. If they say no, get in your car, go to another type of store, and ask them the same thing. Repeat until you run out of stores.
The best thing you can do in ANY case is to work to create demand. It is not enough to get your book into stores, you also have the responsibility to get your book out of them.