An indie author offers tips for promoting and selling books
If you’re an indie author, bricks-and-mortar sales in your own backyard can lead to a range of opportunities—from finding venues for author events to building stronger ties within your neighborhood. Three ways to sell your book offline are consignment sales, outright sales, and hand-selling.
For consignment sales, you provide a store with copies of your book for a designated period of time. If the books sell, the store gives you a cut. If they don’t, you go back and get the remaining copies. Indie bookstores are the most likely to sell on consignment, but sometimes other sellers, such as lit-friendly coffee shops and boutiques, will, too.
Guidelines vary, but here are the industry norms:
- Inventory is three to five copies.
- Books are stocked for three months.
- Stores take 40%–50% of revenue.
- Authors are responsible for collecting payment and unsold books at the end of the term.
If you have an indie bookstore that you frequent (and you should), start there. It’s easier to funnel all sales through one store than it is to direct friends and family to several locations. It’s also easier to keep track of inventory and sales.
Signs that your local bookstore is a good fit:
- It has a local author section.
- It hosts readings and events.
- It participates in events such as Independent Bookstore Day.
- You have an established relationship.
Indie bookstores are often happy to support local authors, but they also want to sell books. You can help by letting the store know that you will list it as an official bookseller on your website and elsewhere.
The more you sell, the more likely it is that your bookstore will carry your book past the three-month mark. If staff members know that your promotion brings in traffic, they’ll find ways to support you. Never underestimate the power of an indie bookstore recommendation!
Some gift stores and boutiques buy books from indie authors outright. This means that they’ll pay you 50%–60% of the cover price at the outset and then it’s up to them to sell your book to make a profit. Stores willing to take this risk know their inventory and their customers well. Paying for inventory up front is less of a hassle than keeping unpaid stock on the books.
Here’s how you can appeal to small businesses:
- Go in person with signed copies as gifts for them to keep or sell.
- Let them know why you think your book is a good fit for their stores.
- Be respectful of their time and resources.
- Let them know that you would list them as partners on your website and in promotional materials.
Let the stores know if there is a holiday or month that pertains to your subject matter. For example, my memoir centers around my career as a ballet dancer and life as the mother of micro-preemie twins. My “seasons” are National Dance Week in April, Mother’s Day in May, and National Prematurity Awareness Month in November.
In addition to allowing you to keep 100% of the profit, hand-selling means that you can adjust your price to make a sale. You’re completely in charge.
But here are some aspects to consider:
- Carrying copies of books can cause them to be damaged.
- You need to have change on hand if you are collecting cash.
- If you collect payment through PayPal, Square, or Venmo, know what hardware and connectivity are required.
- Know ahead of time whether you need to collect sales tax or whether you need a seller’s permit.
For many authors, hand-selling feels pushy. If this is beyond your comfort level, don’t do it. Concentrate on bookstores and boutiques. When people ask how they can get copies of your book, direct them to your local bookstore.
Even if you aren’t actively hand-selling, it’s a good idea to keep half a dozen books in a shoebox under your desk or in your car. Be prepared to strike while the iron is hot.
Janine Kovac is a producer and curator with the San Francisco literary festival Litquake. Her memoir, 'Spinning: Choreography for Coming Home,' was a semifinalist for the BookLife Prize.