Ep. 10: The Reality of Selling to Bookstores and Libraries with Amy Collins

It’s pretty obvious that your self-published book needs to have high quality writing and packaging to be sold in bookstores and libraries–but do you know about the unique features that really matter to booksellers and librarians? 

“How do I get my book into independent bookstores?” 

“How do I get my book into libraries?” 

“How do I get my book into Target or Costco?”  

“How do I get my book into airports?” 

We hear these questions from authors every day, but the answer to each is different. All of these sales channels have different criteria that they look for when they select books, and it’s important to understand how AND why they differ. To encourage different stores and libraries to buy your book, you need to understand their motivations. Who are they serving, and what do they care about most?  

Book sales and marketing expert, Amy Collins, joins Robin Cutler and Justine Bylo to conclude Season 3 of the Go Publish Yourself Podcast. In this final episode, we discuss the nuances between sales channels, and how to give your self-published book the best chance of reaching readers. Listen, learn, and go publish yourself


Robin Cutler [00:00:08] Hi, everyone, and welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:16] I'm Justine Bylo, the Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark. Hi, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:21] Hi, Justine. I can see you, through my Zoom Meeting, and you look very tan, and I know you've been to Hawaii, on vacation.

Justine Bylo [00:00:30] Thanks, Robin. That's the biggest compliment, because I love having a healthy glow. Yes, I got back late last night from Hawaii, and it was fabulous.

Robin Cutler [00:00:39] Well, we're all completely jealous. It's the middle of winter, and I just left my home in New Mexico, covered in snow and ice, so very jealous of your trip to Hawaii. But, glad you got some rest.

Justine Bylo [00:00:53] Thank you, yes, I am too. I must admit that your snow pictures were pretty beautiful in New Mexico.

Robin Cutler [00:01:01] I have good times there, too. Speaking of good times here, we're joined today by Amy Collins, the president of New Shelves Books, one of the best known book sales and marketing agencies in the U.S. Amy is a trusted expert, speaker, and recommended sales consultant for some of the largest book and library retailers and wholesalers in the publishing industry. In the last 20 years, Amy and her team have sold, get this, over 40 million books into bookstore, library, and chain-store markets for small and mid-size publishers. We are joined here by none other than the very famous Amy Collins.

Amy Collins [00:01:45] Well, let the party begin.

Robin Cutler [00:01:48] It's always a party with you, Amy.

Amy Collins [00:01:50] Well, if there's any authors listening to this podcast, and I know that thousands and thousands of them do, just learn from my example. You become famous when you tell people you're famous. Just slip that word into your bio, and poof!

Justine Bylo [00:02:06] That is great advice from Amy Collins, right there.

Robin Cutler [00:02:10] Well, the last time I saw or was with Amy, directly, was, I think, Digital Book World that was in Nashville, and Amy and I actually went honkytonking a little bit, in downtown Nashville.

Justine Bylo [00:02:23] Oh, I'm jealous! Why wasn't I invited?

Robin Cutler [00:02:27] It was a good time, right, Amy?

Amy Collins [00:02:29] It was an awesome night. Justine, you weren't there, I'm afraid, but you were actually discussed. You did come up in conversation.

Justine Bylo [00:02:37] Oh, no.

Amy Collins [00:02:39] So, you were with us in spirit. But it was a good time. Nashville is a fun town.

Robin Cutler [00:02:44] It was fun. Okay, so let's get down to business, here, Amy. You're going to tell our listeners, explain different sales channels, what's traditional, what's nontraditional, so, let's kind of get right at it here.

Amy Collins [00:02:58] Well, the purpose of today's chat mainly came from a conversation that Robin and I were having, a couple of times, with the questions that we get from authors, when they say to one of us, "I'd love to be in airport stores," or "I really want to be in museum stores." Or, I'll often hear, "How do I get my book into Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, my local independent bookstore?" And the answer to each of those questions is slightly different. Robin and I were talking about maybe giving you guys an overview of how that works. And Robin and Justine will jump in, when, because, clearly sometimes I talk too fast. I don't make sense, so guys, feel free to jump in. But, to start with, most people understand the bookstore market, but there's some criteria that have popped up in the last five years, that has changed things and I thought we should talk about that. One of the big criteria that is separating the big chain bookstores, like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and even the smaller, more regional chains, like Deseret Books, and the like, is, more and more bookstores are requiring a price-specific barcode on the back of the book. Bookstores are getting very, very tired of small presses, independently published authors, and self-published authors, changing the price of their book, every few weeks, every few months, even every year. That, it's getting them down. They're putting a stop to it. Barnes and Noble, in the last year or two, has actually put, in their paperwork, that a price-specific barcode is required, if the small press department there,

Amy Collins [00:04:41] in New York City's going to work with an author. And, that's just one of the many things, that, if you want to sell into the bookstore market, you should, perhaps, be aware of. You should be aware that wholesalers, especially wholesalers like Ingram, want to sell your book into the bookstore market. It's in their best interest. They want to work with you on this. But, they've got criteria, as well.

Robin Cutler [00:05:05] Amy, let me jump in before you move on. This is really important, in terms of the price included in the barcode. This would be, let's just spell it out very specifically, for an indie author. This is the barcode that goes on the back, generally, the back of the book, on the cover. And, it usually has the ISBN, and it also should include the price in that barcode. Is that what you're saying?

Amy Collins [00:05:37] Exactly. Running across the top of the vertical lines, that are all different widths, you will see a 13-digit ISBN, usually, if you're a U.S. based publisher, usually starts nine-seven-eight, and then another ten numbers, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, nine. At the end of that list of your ISBN, your 13 digit ISBN, is a five digit code. That five-digit code, at this point, either it ends nine, zero, zero, zero, which is a non price-specific barcode, which lets the retailer's computer know that they need to look up the price. They need to put the price in the computer. It's not embedded in the barcode. Or, it ends, the numeral five, indicating the country it came from, and the price of the book. If the price is $17.95, a price-specific barcode will end, five, one, seven, nine, five.

Robin Cutler [00:06:34] Wow, that's a lot of information there. So, in terms of IngramSpark, and how that kind of relates, so, in IngramSpark, you are able to use the Lightning Source cover template that will actually create the barcode for you.

Amy Collins [00:06:54] Oh, I love it! It's the best tool. I use it every week, myself.

Robin Cutler [00:06:59] And it asks you, "Do you want to include the price in your barcode?" Amy is telling you right now, you want to say yes, if you want to get your book into chain stores.

Amy Collins [00:07:11] There are a lot of companies out there that will charge you 50 or 75 dollars for a price-specific barcode, when, it kills me, because IngramSpark/Lightning Source gives you the opportunity to generate one for free. I use it all the time, and I tell everyone, oh, go to Lightning Source, they're a cover template generator. Go to tools, the drop-down menu, and it's fantastic. And they email it to you within seconds!

Robin Cutler [00:07:38] Yes, and it fits your book perfectly, so we always recommend that. We'll follow up with some information about how you find that. Let's not get stuck on barcodes. Let's move on, Amy, to other things that we need in other stores that our listeners will want to sell their books into.

Amy Collins [00:07:59] Well, airport stores, in particular, and larger chains, they are of big interest to a number of your listeners. I get that question more often than just about anything else. Now, they're not as picky about price-specific barcodes, but there are things that you need to keep in mind. Airport stores, the Costco's of the world, the larger chain stores, the big box stores, it doesn't really matter what they are. These are all companies that have books faced out. The covers show out. It's incredibly important, if you're going to pitch your book to one of these larger, either travel-based stores, or big box stores, that as you're working with them, that your cover be as designed and as beautifully put together, and professionally put together, as the exact same covers that you're going to be sitting next to. It is not, it has never yet worked, and I've been doing this now for almost 30 years, I have never seen a homemade cover in an airport bookstore. I've never seen a do-it-yourself templated, homemade cover on the front rack of Walmart, or any of the big box stores. The other thing I would like to mention, is one of the things that the buyers look at, they can tell instantly; I'm sorry, anyone in our industry can tell when a cover was not professionally generated, but also, on the copyright page—who designed the cover? These are things that HarperCollins puts down, so why shouldn't you? I have many, many things that will keep you in and out of some of these specialty stores, but covers are pretty much number one.

Justine Bylo [00:09:42] We've had a few books get into Target this past year, which has been a big one for us, and big box stores and airport stores are a totally different ballgame. One of the things that we realized, going into this game, that there's some risk involved. Can you kind of talk to us about how this is a totally different game than what indie authors are used to doing print on demand and sales of that nature?

Amy Collins [00:10:13] There is this, I'm going to use the word illusion, because that's truly what it is, that your local, independent store, or your local library, will sit there and wait for you to come in with your first novel. It's their heart-felt wish to support you as a local author, and that they will do everything they can to support you and your book. The reason I say that's an illusion, is it may or may not be true. Some stores, that is true. A lot of stores, it isn't. But, I can tell you that, and Justine, yes, I've seen you guys and your work at Target. It's not true for Target. Target is not interested in giving your book a chance. You have to earn your way into these stores. You have to prove yourself to them, and it not their job, nor is it in their best financial interest, to take even the smallest chance on you. You have to prove to them that you are not asking them to take any risk. And the big thing that you guys need to think about, with Target and any of these stores, is the word pockets. These pockets are planned out six, eight, nine months in advance, sometimes. And they're all planned within, you've heard the phrase within an inch of your life? These are planned down to the half inch. They are, these pockets are planned so beautifully. They know exactly how many books they're going to have. They know what the titles will be. They know when they're going to be faced out. They know what day of the week those books are showing up on. They how much they're going to make them, and they know how much it's going to cost them. If you're asking, let's say Target,

Amy Collins [00:11:48] to pull a successful, or even a middling successful book off their shelf, a book that's making them money, and replace it with your book, you better have proven to them that you're going to make them as much, if not more, money, than that book that you're asking them to replace yours with.

Justine Bylo [00:12:04] Yeah, and returns are a very big possibility, as well, so authors should really be prepared for that, as well, financially.

Amy Collins [00:12:13] I won't speak to your experience, because I don't know it, but I will tell you that the last few books that I have gotten into the large chains, had almost 50% of the books returned. Not because the book wasn't successful. The book did beautifully. They sold thousands of copies. But the wholesalers and retailers need to order enough to guarantee that the stores will never run out, so, they need to order an extra cushion.

Justine Bylo [00:12:37] Yeah, it's all about that cushion.

Amy Collins [00:12:39] It's all about the cushion, guys, and you need to factor that cushion into your finances. Can you afford 50% of those books to actually come back and not be paid for, and what are you going to do with them? How are you going to sell them?

Justine Bylo [00:12:52] Yep, exactly, some real talk.

Robin Cutler [00:12:54] Costco is an important customer of Ingram's, and we've had a number of titles, IngramSpark titles, that Costco was interested in. Costco only will keep a book out for a very short period of time, and then, you're almost guaranteed a huge return as an indie author. Everybody says, "I want to be in Costco," but, you know, that's a double-edged sword.

Amy Collins [00:13:21] It is, it is. And Costco, no matter how well you're doing, it's not a long-term plan.

Robin Cutler [00:13:26] No.

Amy Collins [00:13:27] Robin, you know, it's a pop, and then it's over.

Robin Cutler [00:13:30] Yep, it's over. Target, we have had more success with, and we've learned a lot. One of the things we've learned is that, it's not centralized, and so, they'll put a number of books into all their thousands of different stores, and then, one store may sell through and need more books. They won't move content from store to another, from one store that's not selling to one that is. That's a little bit of a challenge, I think.

Amy Collins [00:14:05] It is, and I know that authors have bemoaned that, and said, "But, they have 2,000 copies. Why don't,"—because it's not in their best interest. We are all here to serve them. Unfortunately, if you're not willing to do what you need to do, to get into some of these bigger stores, there's an author right behind you who is. And, I'm afraid that's the reality. I'm so sorry, guys.

Robin Cutler [00:14:29] No, it's good. One of the things that our authors that did go into Target, and Justine was really great in working with some of these authors, is to tell them about their responsibility to the store. And it could be we're just talking about an  indie store, right? And what you're saying, Amy, to take a book, take a chance, put it on that shelf, you know, you have a responsibility as an author, to drive your customers to those locations to purchase, rather than just tell everybody to go to  Amazon. Right?

Amy Collins [00:15:05] Absolutely. I tell my authors, every day, you will hear me say, "For the love of Mike, stop using the word Amazon." Now, I think we can all agree, we love Amazon, there's no problem. But, your books are available "online." Your books are available "wherever books are sold." These phrases did not show up by accident. People smarter than us figured out that you do not want to ever get caught on camera, in writing, in person, even quietly in your own room, highlighting only one part of the retail marketplace, when there's so much out there. Please, guys, stop. Stop saying your book’s at Barnes and Noble. Start saying it's at booksellers everywhere. And Robin, you're right about Justine's advice. When you get a book into any retailer, it's your job, as the author, to let the world know, spend a little money on press releases. Tell the world that your book is out there. Get a couple of blogs going about how excited you are. Take pictures of your book at the store. Start driving people to that store, wherever that store is.

Justine Bylo [00:16:12] Yes, thank you, Amy. Yes, I tell authors all the time, I'm like, "Just go to the store, take a picture of it, put it on social media." It's not that hard.

Amy Collins [00:16:21] And then tag and hashtag your wholesaler, your retailer, because it's not enough to promote your book, you have to be seen promoting your book.

Justine Bylo [00:16:30] Yes, yes.

Robin Cutler [00:16:32] Okay, let's move out of retail, and talk a little bit about libraries, because I know you're an expert in selling into libraries, too, Amy.

Amy Collins [00:16:41] And, again, authors, just call yourself an expert! No, I'm kidding. I am an expert. I do spend a lot of time with libraries. The difference, the big difference between libraries and some of these big retailers we're talking about, is the focus of the book, itself, is not on the cover, it's on the spine. Many authors, especially children's book authors, neglect their spine. In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, but let's face it, I'm brilliant. In my opinion, the spine is more important than your cover, almost. Because, in so many stores, if you want to get into an independent bookstore, and if you want to get into a library, your spine is what they see first. And, too many people phone it in, they don't think about it. The spine needs to be beautifully designed. You need to be able to spot, from across the room, what it says. There should be a gorgeous logo at the bottom that's not too complicated. Design your spine the way a top publishing house will, and that will get you much further. The other thing about libraries, and you may or may not be aware of, is that librarians are extremely overworked. And one of the things that happens when a book comes in, is they need to code that book, and they need to get it into their databases, and it's not as easy as, "boop," scanning it in at a bookstore. Dewey decimal system, and BISAC codes, and the birth date, and the death date of the author—all of this has to go into their system, because libraries are the repositories of all of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. And they take that seriously.

Amy Collins [00:18:17] Do yourself a favor, guys, get a PCIP code, a "Publisher Catalog In Publication" block, and it's easy to get. I'm sure IngramSpark's got service providers that they can hook you up with. But, putting this block of data in your copyright page will so often divide you from the pile of books that, "no, they don't want it," to, "yes, maybe." It keeps you out of the no pile, and at least, in the maybe pile. A PCIP is very important on your copyright page.

Robin Cutler [00:18:51] That's really good advice. One of the things we are working on, you know Ingram happens to have a whole library division. I've talked to you a little bit about this, Amy. One of the services we're looking to add, and we've been trying to do this for a while, now. But, one that actually catalogs your book for the library market. Not only providing that catalog information within the book, itself, but also, within the digital record of the book. One of the things, what Amy was describing, was the different work that a librarian has to go through, with what libraries do, which is cataloging content. And, it costs the library some money to be able to do that, so, if you can provide that cataloging information along with your book, you have a much better chance of selling. I totally agree with that.

Amy Collins [00:19:51] According to the U.S. Census, that put out a study in January of this year, over 55% of millennials, younger people, "children," as I like to call them, I'm kidding, as I like to call them—sorry, Justine—but over 55% of you people have been on your public library's webpage in the last month. The number of  audiobooks, and  ebooks, and  print books that are being reserved online, is huge. Now again, print books are still, now they're 41% of the library budget for a reason. Getting your print book in there—very key. But, getting your print book listed on their website is so important, especially if you're trying to go after a younger market. And, for those of you who are like, "Well, I'm not interested in going after a younger market," 70% of voting age adults have been in their library in the last month. 70%.

Robin Cutler [00:20:48] Thank goodness!

Justine Bylo [00:20:50] I love that statistic.

Amy Collins [00:20:51] Yeah, libraries are doing great, right from U.S. Census data. You don't have to take my word for it, Google it. But, because libraries are growing so exponentially, their draw and their appeal of both young and old readers, you want to get your book listed. You really need to do everything you can, in my opinion, to make it easy on the librarian, because they're overworked! They weren't used to 70% of Americans hanging out there.

Robin Cutler [00:21:17] That's great. We have just minute more. Do you want to send us off with some advice that everybody needs to make sure they take, in terms of making their book more successful in the publishing marketplace?

Amy Collins [00:21:32] I guess an overarching bit of advice that I find works best for me, is please, know what's going on in your market today. If you are a writer, that's great, be a writer. I'm sure you're talented, that's wonderful. But, if you want to be an author, that means you're joining the publishing world, and the publishing world changes. A lot. If you have written a memoir, and you are still telling everyone that it's just like Eat, Pray, Love, you don't know what's happening in the current publishing world with memoirs. Please, pay attention to the USA Today's bestseller list. Pay attention to the bestseller lists of Ingram. They've got some wonderful services. Your blog, guys, has taught me so much about market research. Go to the IngramSpark blog and learn how to stay abreast of what's happening in your industry. Because, the more you know about your genre, the cleverer you're going to be about sales and marketing, the more up-to-date you'll be about your cover, your sales decisions. You will waste less money, you will waste less time. But, if you're still chasing after yesterday's data, that, truthfully, if you're like me, I tend to fall into the belief system that because something used to be true, it's still true. You asked for my overarching advice, and my advice is, publishing, and books, and what books are required to do, changes every six minutes. If you want to be an author, please, please, invest the time to stay abreast with these changes, because it will help you become a successful author, instead of just a talented one.

Robin Cutler [00:23:18] Well, thank you, Amy. Thanks everyone for listening to this podcast, because that's exactly what we're trying to do, is keep you educated. If you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. The more positive ratings and reviews we receive, the more authors and publishers like you will be able to discover our podcast, too. And, if you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website. For more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog, as Amy said, our free online self-publishing courses available in the IngramSpark Academy. Talk to you soon.


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