Ep. 06: How to Sell a Book to Independent Bookstores

Join us as we discuss what your indie book needs in order to find its way onto indie bookstore shelves.

If you’re trying to share your book with as many readers as possible, don’t forget your local independent bookstores! On this episode, we talk to indie bookseller and store co-owner Karen Hayes about what your book needs in order to be considered for this sales channel. Get a better understanding of wholesale discounts, trade standards, returns, and hear how bookstores achieve success by understanding their local communities, something you also need to do when pitching your book to bookstores! Publish with IngramSpark today for access to more distribution channels, like indie bookstores.


Robin Cutler [00:00:09] Hi everyone, welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. This episode is sponsored by BlueInk Review, providing honest, objective, professional reviews of self-published books. All reviews are written by professional book reviewers and are between 250 and 300 words. IngramSpark publishers receive a special discount of 25% off the cost of BlueInk Review. Hi everyone, I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:38] I'm Justine Bylo, the Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark.

Robin Cutler [00:00:42] Hi, Justine.

Justine Bylo [00:00:42] Hi, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:44] On this Episode Two of this season, we discuss the importance of diversifying your book sales channels by being sure to enter global pricing, so your book can be sold internationally. Why limit your book's potential sales if you don't have to? IngramSpark distributes your book everywhere readers expect to find them, including independent bookstores, which is why we're thrilled today to have Karen Hayes with us, co-owner of Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, to help share what independent booksellers look for in any book, including self-published books. Welcome, Karen.

Karen Hayes [00:01:22] Thank you.

Robin Cutler [00:01:24] We're so happy to have you. If you were lucky enough to be with us when we celebrated the IngramSpark birthday in July, our fifth birthday, we actually had Karen here presenting to a number of participants who came by, and we were so taken by the advice that you gave to our own customers about how best to work with an independent bookstore, so you're the perfect person to help us kind of navigate this. Give us your number one thing that you think authors and small publishers need to make sure they have in order before they even talk to their local independent bookstore.

Karen Hayes [00:02:09] Well, they have to remember that there is a middle man, so the pricing structure needs to work for a brick-and-mortar store. We're not online, we've got extra expenses. We have staff that have to be paid. Basically, the lowest discount that we will take to consider a book for our inventory is 40%, and that is really much lower than the industry standard. Major publishers are doing at least 46%, if not higher. We are kind of extending a little extra to small publishers and independent authors.

Robin Cutler [00:02:58] Justine, you're an expert on this, so when Karen says 40% for an independent bookstore, how does that translate in the Ingram world, and what a customer would have to do?

Justine Bylo [00:03:12] That's a great question, Robin, because you just can't put 40% in our system for it to translate to 40% for Karen, which kind of blows people's minds a little bit, because it kind of makes no sense. But the way that it works is, you need a book distributor in order to get books to Karen, and that book distributor, like Ingram, has a lot of work in between to get those books to her. There's printing and shipping, and picking and packing, and you know, all those people, staff, that go into those processes, so there is money built into that. For us, that's a full-trade discount in our system, so that's that 53% to 55% that we talk about all the time. That 53% to 55% will make sure that Karen gets that full-trade discount, and make sure that you're happy, which is what we want.

Karen Hayes [00:04:15] We love working with Ingram, because normally we do get a trade discount, and we also need free shipping, and we need a title to be returnable.

Justine Bylo [00:04:26] Oh, that's a big one.

Karen Hayes [00:04:27] Those three factors are what we look at just baseline, but there are other things we look at too.

Justine Bylo [00:04:35] A lot of our authors have a hard time understanding why you need returnable titles. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Karen Hayes [00:04:42] Well, we're sticking our neck out, obviously, and we don't like doing consignment, which a lot of bookstores do. We just don't want to keep track of the paperwork. If we're bringing in something, especially if it's for an event or things like that, we're bringing in larger quantities than we normally would for just putting it on the shelf, so we need it to be returnable. Even if we are bringing it in, we need it to be returnable. It's just the way the industry works for the most part. And I don't know if you realize, the book industry, we get a lower discount than regular retailers. They get a much higher discount, usually at least 50%, even though they're working with non-returnable. It's just a completely different model. But this is the model for the book industry.

Robin Cutler [00:05:34] If you're not lucky enough to live in this beautiful city of Nashville, which is where Ingram is based and where Parnassus originates from, then you may not have actually come into your store, but when did you start Parnassus?

Karen Hayes [00:05:54] We opened in 2011.

Robin Cutler [00:05:56] Okay, and since then, it is on every "Best Bookstores in the Country" list that I've seen, so congratulations for that.

Karen Hayes [00:06:08] Thank you.

Robin Cutler [00:06:08] What do you contribute that kind of success to?

Karen Hayes [00:06:14] Well, it helps if, a lot of your people who are listening to this do not know, I am partnered with Ann Patchett, the author, so that is the vast majority of it. We immediately got a national profile when she said, "I am opening a bookstore with Karen Hayes" when she was on tour for one of her books. This was well before we had opened the store. It was the summer before we opened in November. It immediately got a reaction. So, we have a very high profile, but we have to live up to that. We try to make the store a very inviting place, and we have shop dogs, we make the decor of it really fun, we have really smart, friendly booksellers that make great recommendations. We have an online literary magazine called Musing that interviews great authors, showcases our staff recommends, does the Shop Dog Diaries. It's a really great thing. Our social media's very, very widespread. We really work hard. There are so many great independents, I would never say that we're better than the others. We just had a bit of a leg up with Ann, but we've worked hard to deserve the reputation.

Robin Cutler [00:07:40] Yeah, I agree. Where you think the store and where the bookselling community, indie bookselling community is going, can you give us any idea about…?

Karen Hayes [00:07:55] It's growing. When we got into the business, we looked at it because our independent in town, Davis Kidd, was closing because they had been bought by a larger entity that just went under. But the bookstore itself was, at 30,000 square feet, still profitable. It probably wouldn't have stayed that way for a while, but I could see that there was still an opportunity in Nashville, and I would've never considered opening a bookstore while they were still there. There was an opportunity for that to be my next step. I've been in the book business since 1978, so that was my next step. The location that they had was really great, in a really good shopping center area of town. We found a great landlord, and we opened a smaller store, and we really just worked in fitting our community. And I had looked around at stores like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, Malaprop's in Asheville, and Carmichael's in Louisville. They've been there for decades, and what they had in common were, they were smaller stores and they fit their community first. They weren't trying to offer a full selection to anybody that might walk in the door. You can't compete with an online retailer that shall not be named. You really fit your community first, and you reach out and then start growing in that community and reaching out to the rest of the city. That's what booksellers are doing. There's young people getting into the business now that weren't when we kind of started this, our store.

Karen Hayes [00:09:51] There were a few people, but it's just bloomed since then. And Borders went out of business that same year.

Robin Cutler [00:09:57] Oh, yeah, that's right.

Karen Hayes [00:09:58] That opened the gates to a lot of younger people getting back into the business when their communities lost their bookstores, and a lot of them had their Borders, and they appreciated having them.

Justine Bylo [00:10:10] For our authors, do you have any advice to them when they're approaching you as a bookseller?

Karen Hayes [00:10:18] Yes. Basically, what we look for, outside of the discounting and returns, is does this book have a community basis? Does it have local interest, number one, or does it have a local connection? Is the author connected to the community? Some of our bestselling books during the year are small published books. For example, Cal Turner, the head of Dollar General. That's a big-selling book. He's high-profile in Nashville. We've got, for years, ever since we opened, Ridley Wills has published these series of books that are about Nashville. They're just about certain streets in Nashville, a whole book on Granny White. It's just he's got a high profile in Nashville, but also, these books have gotten a reputation. Or there's been people who have no name that have published wonderful little books about picture books about Nashville, Goodnight Nashville and things like that. It really needs to have a basis in this city, so that it'll sell.

Justine Bylo [00:11:35] That totally leads into what you were saying about building your community with your bookstore, and that whole theory and all of that. That's really interesting. Once you do get your book on your shelf, you know, it's not enough to have it on the shelf. What do authors need to do to actually get those books to sell?

Karen Hayes [00:11:55] We don't put it on the shelf if we don't have those two components, you know, a local connection or a local interest. That person has to have a base and they have to work on it.

Robin Cutler [00:12:08] How do you suggest they contact, and this would be like for any independent store, how do you suggest they best contact the store?

Karen Hayes [00:12:19] We've got a form on our site and a lot of independents do that. If you can't find it on their website, just contact the store and say, "How do I submit my book for your recommendation?" We rarely take a finished book because just get, we see thousands of books a year. You just have to make the case that this is a book for the store. We have two forms. We have one for inventory submission and one for requesting an author event. It tells you exactly what we need for both of those, so it makes it really clear, and it makes you understand, as you're filling it out, "Oh, this might be something that they really could do, or this might be something, I see why, you know, I'm not fitting their--"

Robin Cutler [00:13:08] Yeah, and I always say, don't wait until you've published your book to first go into the bookstore. You should be a customer of the store, you should be a patron of the library, they should know you, you should know them, and you're part of the publishing ecosystem, as an author, and you need to support that ecosystem.

Justine Bylo [00:13:33] You have to be a good literary citizen.

Robin Cutler [00:13:35] I don't want us to leave or sign off without talking a little bit about IndieBound, because I'm not sure everybody knows what that site is. IndieBound is a service, an online service, where you can find your local bookseller. You just put in a zip code, it will give you all the local booksellers that are in your area. You can also post their site when you're promoting your own book. You can have a direct link to your local bookseller, and I encourage you to do that.

Karen Hayes [00:14:14] If you have a local bookseller that you love, you can actually just put a link to their website and encourage people to buy the book there.

Robin Cutler [00:14:21] Yeah, don't always put that link--

Karen Hayes [00:14:24] Unless they are carrying the book.

Robin Cutler [00:14:25] Yeah, make sure they are.

Karen Hayes [00:14:28] No, talk to them beforehand. Ask them if this is something they can handle. Some smaller independents may not have the capacity to mail books or special-order books, so work with the ones that can work with you and understand if they can't.

Robin Cutler [00:14:46] Yeah, and be respectful. Be nice, and I always say be as nice as you can, polite, understand. Don't go into the bookstore with a December pub date on December first--

Karen Hayes [00:15:01] Please don't.

Robin Cutler [00:15:02] And think that you're going to get anybody's attention.

Karen Hayes [00:15:04] Yeah, exactly, yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:15:06] Anyway, be respectful, be mindful. This is a professional business, and be a customer of that store.

Karen Hayes [00:15:16] Yeah, thank you.

Robin Cutler [00:15:17] Thank you. Well, thank you, Justine. It's great always talking to you.

Justine Bylo [00:15:21] Thanks Robin, Thanks Karen.

Karen Hayes [00:15:23] Thank you.

Robin Cutler [00:15:24] Thanks so much everyone for listening to Go Publish Yourself. We hope these episodes inspire you on your publishing journey, and if you would like to hear, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. If you're ready to publish today, visit the IngramSpark website, and for more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog and free online self-publishing course, available in the IngramSpark Academy. Talk to you soon.

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