Ep 09: How to Sell Your Book into Chain Stores

What does it take to sell your book into chain stores like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Target?

We've shared in a past episode this season what it takes to get your book into independent bookstores, but what does it take to get your book into a chain store? In this episode of Go Publish Yourself, we discuss the differences between the two and what an indie author needs to keep in mind when approaching these types of retailers, including an understanding of the corporate business model, sell sheets, availability, discounts, and a returnable status. Find out what you could earn for every sale when you enter your book specs and desired discount into our publisher compensation calculator.


Robin Cutler [00:00:08] Hello, everyone. Welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. This episode is sponsored by JKS Communications, helping authors get their books noticed by influencers, taste makers, and readers via book marketing and publicity services. As a special offer, IngramSpark’s publishers receive a 15% discount on book publicity. Hi, I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:37] And I'm Justine Bylo, and I manage the Author Acquisitions Program. Hi, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:43] Hey, Justine. So, today I'm really excited about this topic. We're going to be talking about how do you sell your indie book into chain stores, and when I say chain stores, I mean like Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Target.

Justine Bylo [00:00:58] Ooooh.

Robin Cutler [00:00:59] So this is a topic, I know you've talked about this a lot, Justine. This is a topic that we often get questions about.

Justine Bylo [00:01:09] Tons.

Robin Cutler [00:01:10] Tons, because you know, even though this is the digital age, most authors would love to see their books on the shelf of a major store.

Justine Bylo [00:01:24] Oh, totally. That's the complete author dream to walk into a Barnes and Noble, and to see their book on a shelf. It brings me to tears when I see one of my author's books on a shelf. So, to think about your baby on a shelf, it's amazing.

Robin Cutler [00:01:41] Yes, it really is. So, today we're really fortunate to have with us Lauren Charles, who is the National Account Manager at Ingram, to talk about what she does in helping authors and even publishers get their books onto these major chain store shelves. So, welcome, Lauren.

Lauren Charles [00:02:05] Hi, thank you both. I'm super excited to be here.

Robin Cutler [00:02:09] And let me just also say, I have a special place in my heart for Lauren Charles. She at one time was the marketing manager for IngramSpark and she's really, really smart. We got to know her really well, she did a great job for IngramSpark and knows a lot about IngramSpark. So, she's actually just the right person to talk about this topic, as far as I'm concerned.

Lauren Charles [00:02:35] Aw, thank you, Robin. You know, working with Spark is always a joy, and I will say that I did take my experience working with IngramSpark, and the plethora of publishers and authors that come through Spark, and I've used that actually multiple times in my relationships with multiple national accounts, including Barnes and Noble. So, I'm super happy to see where those two experiences overlap and to share anything that might be helpful.

Robin Cutler [00:03:02] So, let's just jump right into this, Lauren. So, you know, just describe the difference between an indie book store and a chain store for our listeners.

Lauren Charles [00:03:13] Sure, of course, and as I'm sure most IngramSpark users know, when it comes to an indie, it's all about personality, and it's all about the community that indie is trying to connect with. And with a chain store, they are also connected with the community, but their community is more global. They are trying to make a consistent experience, so that no matter where you are in the country, if you walk into a Barnes and Noble, you're going to feel at home. So, that's just the way they connect with readers, which as authors and publishers, we should always be paying attention to, since the way they try to connect with your readers should also be the way you try to connect with them. So, that's just an important thing to keep in the back of your mind, but then the other big difference between an indie and a chain store is, of course, their buying methods. Indies are going to rely on that gut instinct, that "it" factor when it comes to a buyer, right? They're going to be paying attention to the author, the publisher, the community, what their readers love to read. And an indie is really going to stand behind their buyers' choice, and that's great, and that works on the small scale. And then a chain bookstore is going to try to take a much different approach, right? Obviously, they're going to have a buying decision that comes down from the top, it's going to trickle down to the stores, and then those stores are meant to, again, you're to try to create a consistent experience for all your customers as they walk into a store. So, they're going to take that,

Lauren Charles [00:04:46] and then they're going to tweak it just a little bit. So, then those stores are going to have a small bit of discretionary spending for bringing in that local flavor, that community, those local authors.

Robin Cutler [00:04:58] Okay, so that's really fantastic, Lauren. So, what do you think an author would need before they approach a chain store? Can you kind of give us some recommendations?

Lauren Charles [00:05:13] Sure, sure. I mean, so the main thing to remember when you're approaching an indie or a chain store, is that it is a business, and so you have to be prepared, you have to come in knowing your stuff, right? Know what that store's going to look for, know what terms they're looking for, understand their lingo. So, a box store, any major store, any major player is going to be looking always for a regular discount and returnability. Those two things are going to be super important.

Justine Bylo [00:05:45] And what's that regular discount, Lauren?

Lauren Charles [00:05:48] Sure, so for the most part what you're talking about is, a retailer is going to buy from the distributor, whether that's a wholesaler or directly from the publisher, at least a 40% discount. That does not mean that's the discount that you, as a publisher, sets for the book, that is what you're selling to the bookstore at. So that's always important.

Justine Bylo [00:06:10] Yeah, so Robin, that's like what we've talked about before, about those full trade discounts, right?

Robin Cutler [00:06:15] Mm-hmm. So, at IngramSpark, to be able to ensure that your book shows to the retailer, and I know that we've talked about this some, Justine, at a 40% discount that Lauren just talked about, you need to set your book up at IngramSpark at at least a 53% discount to ensure that. Isn't that right, Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:06:39] Yeah, you have to set it up at at least 53% to 55% to get that full trade discount, and then also, to Lauren's point, make that book returnable, to make it enticing to those buyers.

Lauren Charles [00:06:52] Yes, that's extremely important, just because, like I said, when it comes to any type of chain store, their buying decisions are handed to them, right? It is coming from a macro level buy, right? Someone's going to be in the headquarters, they're going to decide what number of books are going to each store based on the region, and so stores themselves, when you walk into a Barnes and Noble, let's say, and you talk to that manager, they have a very small amount of wiggle room when it comes to the titles they're allowed to bring in. And hence that wiggle room is made exponentially larger if the titles they bring in, the ones that they're going to risk, if they're going to take a chance on a title, if that title's returnable, suddenly that risk is not so risky, right? So, if they already have a small amount of discretionary spending, they're only allowed to bring in so many books, if it's non-returnable, it's almost a non-starter, because suddenly that risk they took, it's the only one they can take.

Justine Bylo [00:07:52] Oh, totally, and also in your mind, what else also helps them take that risk?

Lauren Charles [00:08:01] Again, in a lot of ways it seems harder to approach a Barnes and Noble, obviously because they're corporate and they're large, really any chain store, BAM (Books-a-Million), Walmart, Target, whoever you're trying to get into. It seems so much harder, it seems almost anonymous. But at the core, they're looking for the same things that any indie is looking for, and that is an audience to sell to, someone who's interested in what you have to say. So, if you're going to walk into a Barnes and Noble or a BAM, and you want to try to get your book on that local author's table, show to them that they have people around them in their community, again, the readers that Barnes and Noble themselves are trying to connect to, and make that connection for them. Show them that you can bring someone into the store, or if you have a different approach, maybe an author event isn't the approach you take to selling your books into retailers, but whatever that approach is, make sure that it makes sense to them. Understand what a box store's trying to do, and suddenly you can speak to them on their level.

Justine Bylo [00:09:09] Does something like a sell sheet help too?

Lauren Charles [00:09:12] Yes, a sell sheet, and in fact if you can walk in with something that has your title, the cover of your book, make sure that cover looks nice, make sure that it pops, and then, and I would highly recommend to anyone who's coming in, indie press, small press, anything like that, anyone who's coming into any level bookstore, you should be able to say with absolute certainty, this is how you can order my book, this is the discount I know you can get it at, and I know it's returnable, and I can even help you. I can facilitate that for you. I can make it so easy, you don't even have to think about it. I will just make sure this can show up in your store.

Justine Bylo [00:09:52] Interesting. So, does being with Ingram help with that, help facilitating that sale?

Lauren Charles [00:09:58] Yes, 100%, and the reason it does is, of course, anyone who's been in the book industry has seen a plethora of partners come and go, and Ingram is one of the most steadfast. We've been here for decades, we are reliable, and that, especially in such a quickly changing industry, that reliability, the knowledge that, you know, you have all of these little pop-up places open up that sell tons of things, distributors of books. A lot of those can offer really quick services and high value right up front, but, and anyone who's done their research on the book industry knows this, the longevity of sales is in long tail. A book that is not brand new, that's where you get your first hit of sales, but really, where you make your money is those consistent sales, those customers that come back for the next book and the next book, or read the back list of an author they've suddenly fallen in love with. That is where the reliability of Ingram really comes into play, because as long as you know your title will be in Ingram, and is available from Ingram, then all of these relationships that you're making, Ingram will keep that relationship, independent of anything else. So that availability is always open to you.

Justine Bylo [00:11:21] Really interesting.

Robin Cutler [00:11:22] Yeah, it solves a problem.

Justine Bylo [00:11:24] Oh, totally, and having that availability, that is absolutely key, because if you can't actually go buy a book from a distributor, then that's a huge barrier, right, Robin?

Robin Cutler [00:11:38] Yeah, that's right. That's completely right. We have a number of actual authors that have come our way who were directed to us from Barnes and Noble, where they approached Barnes and Noble and said this is a great book, and Barnes and Noble agreed, and their book wasn't set up through IngramSpark, or was available through Ingram, and what's great now, is you can easily set that book up in IngramSpark, where Barnes and Noble then has access to it. So, it's kind of, if you're really wanting to see your book in chain stores, it's almost like something that you have to do, and we're happy that IngramSpark is there to make that easy for you.

Lauren Charles [00:12:27] Oh, 100%. There will be small presses, independent of Spark, right? They are just these small presses out of Minnesota, or wherever, they're just these cute little "mom and pop" presses, and they very frequently will try to set up a direct relationship with Barnes and Noble, or BAM, or whomever, and in fact, very frequently they direct them to try to establish a relationship with Ingram. Again, because it speaks to longevity, and it speaks to reliability and Ingram tends to vet our partners very closely. If you come in with that Ingram brand attached to your name, to your company, it speaks to some, I would say some knowledge of the industry, which I would also would say is appealing. I'm sure that you guys have covered this in the past, the barrier to publishing is super low, and that means that's great. It means that everyone can share their story, everyone can take part in the power of words. That, as someone in the industry, is something we always want to encourage, but it also means that when you are a big retailer, you are now flooded with a ton of options of titles to bring in, and when you have the backing of a known and trusted name like Ingram, it goes a long way.

Robin Cutler [00:13:48] Yeah, it just takes your book to a whole other level.

Lauren Charles [00:13:52] Yeah, it makes it professional.

Justine Bylo [00:13:53] Totally. So, one of my questions is once you get your book into one of these chain stores, how do you promote your book? It's great to get it on the shelf, but you actually want people to buy your book. So, do you have any tips for promoting your book?

Lauren Charles [00:14:13] Sure, again I would pay attention to the retailer you're trying to work with. So, obviously I work the most with Barnes and Noble, so I'll use them as an example. Barnes and Noble, one of the ways that they are trying to allow those stores to really connect with their specific communities is through social media, specifically Instagram. So, learn that, learn that about the store you're trying to connect with. See what they're doing, pay attention to the events they're already promoting. Pick an event that sounds interesting to you. Watch how Barnes and Noble is promoting that, watch how they're trying to engage with community, watch what that author's doing, and then try to mimic that. Or take your own spin, or improve upon it, even better, but more specifically, like anything else, it comes down to the community that you can engage. Barnes and Noble, like every other retailer out there, is trying to connect in the spaces that their readers are already living their lives, and that, for a lot of people, is Instagram, or other social media platforms. So, find one that fits well for you. In fact, I know IngramSpark has done some past webinars on social media connectivity, always great for a rewatch, and those will give you a lot of great tips on how to connect with those readers. I will say this, that being an IngramSpark client means that your connectivity to a barnesandnoble.com, and a lot of other online retailers, is already implied. So, as long as you're an IngramSpark customer who's setting up for distribution,

Lauren Charles [00:15:49] your titles will automatically show up on sites like jet.com, barnesandnoble.com, things like that.

Justine Bylo [00:15:56] Wow, that's awesome.

Lauren Charles [00:15:57] So that also helps, yeah.

Justine Bylo [00:15:58] That sounds super cool.

Robin Cutler [00:15:59] Yes.

Lauren Charles [00:15:59] Yeah, it's a no brainer, really.

Robin Cutler [00:16:01] Well, you know what, we are really running out of time here. So, I want to, and I think maybe there's more information, maybe we'll do another podcast on this, Justine. I think this is a really good topic to continue.

Justine Bylo [00:16:14] We need to have Lauren to come back.

Robin Cutler [00:16:17] But I want to invite everyone to, yes, and I miss Lauren every day that she's not still part of the IngramSpark team.

Lauren Charles [00:16:27] Aw, thanks, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:16:28] But I'd like to ask everyone to join us for our next episode. We talked about retailers this time. Next time, we're going to talk about how to get your books into libraries. So as always, follow us on social media. If you're not an IngramSpark customer, go to ingramspark.com, there's a lot of great information there, sign up for our blog, and until next time, we thank you for joining us. Thank you, Justine, great talking to you, and thank you, Lauren.

Justine Bylo [00:16:58] Thanks, Robin.

Lauren Charles [00:16:59] Thank you both. Yes, thank you.

Create an IngramSpark account