Ep 05: How to Sell Your Book to Indie Bookstores

What's book distribution without independent bookstores? Get tips for how self-publishers can improve the odds of getting indie bookstore placement. Learn more after listening!

Independent bookstores are small but mighty, and numerous. Their recommendations hold weight with readers. Get tips for how you can get your book on their shelves as we discuss the importance of quality, content, relevance, and familiarity for this particular book distribution channel.


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

Justine Bylo [00:00:16] And I'm Justine Bylo, and I manage our Author Acquisitions Program.

Robin Cutler [00:00:20] Hi, Justine. It's so great to be again here with you today. Did I say that wrong?

Justine Bylo [00:00:26] Yeah, but we're going to let it slide, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:28] Anyway. We've had a little bit too much holiday cheer over the last couple of days.

Justine Bylo [00:00:33] Yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:00:35] We're recording this right before the Christmas holidays 2017.

Justine Bylo [00:00:38] Which is our busy time here at Ingram.

Robin Cutler [00:00:41] Yeah, we're very busy this time of year, which is really a great thing. But today, we're really happy to talk to you about a topic that a lot of you have come and talked to us about. About how to sell your book into bookstores.

Justine Bylo [00:00:57] This is a question we get most often when we're on the road, "How do I see my book, as an author, on a bookshelf?"

Robin Cutler [00:01:07] I feel like this is still one of the primary goals for most authors, don't you think, Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:01:13] Oh, yeah, it's a thrill! I get excited when I go to a bookstore and see my author's books on shelves.

Robin Cutler [00:01:19] I get excited when I see any IngramSpark author's book on a shelf.

Justine Bylo [00:01:23] Oh, yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:01:23] In fact, I will go into airport stores sometimes and I actually have seen some of our author's titles in an airport shop.

Justine Bylo [00:01:32] How cool.

Robin Cutler [00:01:32] I'm just so thrilled every time I see that. It's just so fantastic. We're really lucky to have, as part of the IngramSpark team, one of the authorities within Ingram, about booksellers and about bookstore sales. This person is Josh Floyd. He is the Manager of Global Sales for IngramSpark. So, welcome, Josh.

Josh Floyd [00:02:00] Thank you, Robin, and thank you, Justine. Thank you both for having me today.

Justine Bylo [00:02:03] Thanks for coming on.

Josh Floyd [00:02:03] Looking forward to this.

Robin Cutler [00:02:05] This is a hot topic among booksellers. Josh, I know that you work with a lot of booksellers, especially in the U.S. You're one of the key people that speaks at a lot of bookselling conferences to talk to booksellers about what they're doing to support indie authors. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Josh Floyd [00:02:30] Absolutely. You're exactly correct, I do quite a bit of travel and quite a bit of events where I'm actually facing bookstores and booksellers, and also with independent authors mixed into the groups. One of the best things I hear from independent bookstores is their enthusiasm and excitement and openness to continually growing and curating their collections, and part of doing that includes these independent titles that are being published outside of traditional methods.

Robin Cutler [00:02:58] I just love to hear that because, you know, when we started IngramSpark about five years ago, I think the standing comment that we would hear would be, "Don't even mess with indie bookstores, it's not worth your time." But, I know that you have a whole different attitude about that.

Josh Floyd [00:03:18] I do, actually. I have a background as an Ingram Bookstore rep, so I have traveled the country selling books to independent bookstores, all the way from South Carolina, to the Keys, to Kansas City, out to New Mexico. And everywhere in between, you're going to find that every one of these independent bookstores are niche. They're indie in their own right. There used to be a feeling amongst them all, there was a shared feeling of, these POD books, these self-published books, you would see a little bit of resentment or spite when the bookstore owner or the bookseller would be talking about these books. That was five, six years ago. With the progression of IngramSpark and the way that we all have continued to add to this service in the way these authors are coming in and bringing in such great content, it's started to change the mind of bookstores and booksellers.

Justine Bylo [00:04:07] What actually did change their minds about this? Was it just the content or what? What happened to make this shift?

Josh Floyd [00:04:17] I would say the increase in content. The quality of content is getting better.

Robin Cutler [00:04:24] Yeah, I agree with that.

Josh Floyd [00:04:25] And the quality of production is getting better. Even looking at Lightning Source in IngramSpark, the printing procedures and methods that we have used have changed over time and have gotten better and better with each passing year. The better the quality of book, the physical quality of the book, aligned with the better quality of content, it really opens the door for these booksellers to try out some of these books where they normally wouldn't have tried them before.

Justine Bylo [00:04:47] That's really interesting. If you're approaching a bookstore to get your book onto a shelf, what are the do’s and don'ts for an author in that arena?

Josh Floyd [00:05:00] That's a really good question. That's something that bookstore owners consistently discuss with me, is the methods of approach that independent authors and independent publishers use when they come into the stores to sell their books. I'll go ahead and tell you first and foremost, if your book is a top seller at Amazon or you have a great Amazon history or sell sheet, that's great, and that's very good, but that's not important to the bookstore.

Robin Cutler [00:05:26] People should realize that Amazon is the direct competitor to an indie bookseller and they need to recognize that.

Josh Floyd [00:05:35] That's absolutely correct. If you've ever had the experience as an author out there pitching or marketing your title to an independent bookstore and you walk in and you don't understand any of the pushback or resentment you may get by announcing some of these Amazon accomplishments you have, that's the very reason. Your number one competitor is who you're using as your example.

Justine Bylo [00:05:57] Instead of using Amazon, what should they do?

Josh Floyd [00:06:00] What an author would really want to do is, first, know their local, independent bookstores. If you are actually going to be out in your area talking to your independent bookstore in town, you should definitely be a customer of that bookstore before you ever go in and pitch your title. They should know you as a local patron before they know you as a local author that has books. Your book should come up in conversation more with the bookstore owner, who already knows you, as opposed to you pitching the book to them.

Robin Cutler [00:06:26] I totally agree with that. It's kind of rude to walk into a bookstore that you've never been into before, without kind of understanding that you should hopefully shop there at that local bookseller, instead of just automatically buying your books from Amazon.

Justine Bylo [00:06:45] Yeah, you've got to build that relationship.

Josh Floyd [00:06:47] Absolutely, and even if it's not your local bookstore. If it's an independent bookstore that may be a state over or within your region that you're going to and you feel that your content fits that bookstore. That's one of the most important things that a bookstore is going to look at, or a book's buyer is going to look at in a store is, does your content fit our demographic? Can we sell this book if we invest our money in bringing it into the shelves? That's one of the first things to be aware of, but also, as you're saying, be a customer of your local store, send customers to the bookstores.

Robin Cutler [00:07:16] Oh, that's a good one.

Josh Floyd [00:07:17] If I want to be in Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and I go cold calling, I'm going to have a much harder time getting my book in, as opposed to if five, ten, fifteen people had already been to that store and special ordered my title. Then, when I come across into the store, they say, "Hey, we recognize you and we recognize your book. We actually had some sales. We'd love to bring you in."

Justine Bylo [00:07:40] Oh, it's kind of like some guerrilla marketing there, sending people to the store to special order your book.

Josh Floyd [00:07:44] Absolutely. I mean, I've heard Kwame Alexander--

Robin Cutler [00:07:48] Oh, I love Kwame.

Josh Floyd [00:07:50] He's great.

Justine Bylo [00:07:50] He's the best.

Josh Floyd [00:07:51] He gives a great speech about getting into the market and getting into the industry when you first start, and that's what he did. When he wanted his book in Chicago, he called everybody he knew in Chicago to go to a certain bookstore and order his book. And then, when he followed up with that bookstore, they already knew his book and it was a much easier sell, because they already had a track record of selling that title at the store.

Robin Cutler [00:08:11] Yeah. I kind of blame us as consumers. We all are enamored of Amazon. They make it so easy to order anything. We're kind of to blame that these great indie bookstores have been in decline. I can tell you, from an Ingram perspective, we're opening more bookstores these days than we're closing. Isn't that true, Josh?

Josh Floyd [00:08:39] That is true. For every bookstore that you see closing, there's another one or two that are opening that's just not getting the press, the publicity. You actually see a lot of the new generation of bookstore owners taking over, and with this new generation of bookstore owners, they're more open to trying new ideas and adapting. Bookstores have been around for as long as they have because of their tenacity and their ability to adapt and change with the market. So, some of the things that we're seeing here at IngramSpark, not only are bookstores building programs to more robustly support their local author community, but they're also building programs to print and publish titles themselves, because they understand that creating content specific to a region is what's going to sell that product. We have bookstores that are publishing, printing, and even offering publishing services to local communities.

Justine Bylo [00:09:29] They're becoming like the local hub for their publishing community?

Josh Floyd [00:09:33] That is exactly correct. They are becoming a place where a local author can go in, get their book formatted, get their book set up for print and even print through the store.

Robin Cutler [00:09:43] Wow. And IngramSpark is really helping to drive that, especially through your efforts, Josh.

Josh Floyd [00:09:50] That is exactly correct. A lot of my efforts are spent working with bookstores and helping them implement programs such as these that we're talking about, and whether it's implementing a printing and publishing program for local authors, I also talk with stores who want to offer more education. There's plenty of stores who are going to start offering author education seminars to help learn some of these tricks and tools that we're talking about today, but actually learning directly from the store. I highly recommend, if you're interested in learning more about selling books to bookstores, go to your local independent bookstore, check in, check their website, see if they have author programs. You will find that a lot of these folks will bring in industry specialists like Justine, Robin, and myself to talk directly to customers on a given Saturday. So, it's definitely worth investigating.

Robin Cutler [00:10:36] Let's talk a little bit about IndieBound, because I believe that probably not a lot of our listeners know what IndieBound is. Justine, can you talk about that, or Josh?

Josh Floyd [00:10:47] Absolutely. IndieBound is an option to put down in your marketing piece. When you're making your marketing materials or you're making your title sell sheet or any of this information, you're going to be using to present your book to other folks such as a bookstore or a library, you're always going to list Amazon as a place to buy your book. Amazon doesn't need help having traffic driven to their site. They've got that covered. Bookstores, on the other hand, would highly appreciate the opportunity to have traffic driven to their store. With IndieBound, when you make that as a reference point of somewhere to buy your book in your material, a bookstore knows that, hey, you're actually representing local independents too, because as a reader, I can go to the IndieBound website, purchase a book, and even choose the bookstore I would like to credit with that purchase. So, therefore, I am wholeheartedly supporting the independent bookstores by giving the option to readers to purchase directly from them.

Robin Cutler [00:11:42] It's IndieBound.org, is that right?

Josh Floyd [00:11:45] I believe that's the correct address.

Robin Cutler [00:11:47] And you can put in, to follow what Josh was just saying, you can put in a zip code, and it will pull up all of the independent bookstores that relate to that zip code, so you can direct or find those booksellers in that area.

Josh Floyd [00:12:04] Yeah, and if they don't have your book on the shelf, they can absolutely order it for you, or you can buy it through the website. The other great thing about IndieBound is that they do pre-sales. If you are running a pre-sale campaign, instead of just putting Amazon and Barnes & Noble on your pre-sales campaign, you can also do IndieBound, as well. It kind of spreads the sales love a little bit. That is very correct. Also, as we were talking about earlier, sending sales to bookstores by directing your readers to IndieBound and allowing them to purchase from independent bookstores that they may not be walking in themselves, you are creating sales records at these independent bookstores. So, the more traffic you drive, the more opportunity you have to get your book on the shelf.

Justine Bylo [00:12:46] Yeah, because they start to take notice of those things.

Robin Cutler [00:12:48] Well, I believe that indie authors should be supporting indie booksellers. They go hand-in-hand as far as being the opposite ends of this indie publishing community.

Justine Bylo [00:13:02] Like peanut butter and jelly, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:13:04] Yeah. My message back to all of our listeners is make sure that you're supporting not only your independent bookseller, but also your library, and I'll always say that. It's kind of our closing advice. Anything else we want to add here as we're signing off?

Justine Bylo [00:13:24] Do we want to mention anything about bookstore-friendly terms on IngramSpark?

Robin Cutler [00:13:30] Oh, yeah, we probably should.

Josh Floyd [00:13:32] Yeah, I was going to actually leave everybody with this list of notes to keep in mind, just a quick shorthand of when you're going out to pitch your title to bookstores. Make sure your content is relevant to that store. Make sure that you know that store beforehand. Make sure you have an understanding of where your book fits into that store's collection, even down to the point of what shelf it may be on. And one of the most important aspects that Justine just mentioned, make sure you have bookstore-friendly terms. That's a full trade discount and returnability on the book.

Justine Bylo [00:14:03] Yep, super important.

Robin Cutler [00:14:05] And you can learn more about that if you sign up for our blog at IngramSpark.com, and we would certainly love you to do that. Without further ado, I think we'll sign off here. Thank you both for being with me today.

Justine Bylo [00:14:19] Thanks, Robin.

Josh Floyd [00:14:20] Thank you for having me, and best of luck out there.


Create an IngramSpark account