DIY: How to Get Your Indie Book into Stores and Libraries
With the right approach, indie authors can see their titles on bookstore and library shelves.While the web offers no shortage of outlets for readers to see and buy your self-published book, getting it into bookstores and libraries can be a little trickier. Despite the growing respect that self-publishing has begun to garner, many bookstores and libraries still deal only with the large distributors and wholesalers of major publishers. But with the right approach and well-selected targets, a self-published author may start to see his or her titles appearing on store shelves.
[Note: this article was originally published in August 2013 and was updated on March 4, 2021.]
1. Show You’re Serious
Bookstore owners and librarians need to believe that your book is something their patrons will want. Give them a clear idea of the audience to which your book will appeal and comparable titles they currently stock.
You should also describe to them the specific marketing work you are doing that will help the book sell -- including email promotions and in-store events.
“Bookstores want to know that they aren't making an unwise choice and that the author is equally invested in the book's success in the store,” says Kelsey Swindler, who handles publicity and marketing for Orange Frazer Press, an independent publisher, which also consults with self-published authors about getting their books into stores.
2. Recruit Friends and Fans
An effective way get on the radar of bookstore owners and librarians is via customer requests. Urge your social media followers and email-list subscribers to ask about your book next time they are at their local bookstore or library, perhaps offering some kind of incentive (like a limited-edition bookmark or mini poster) to those who get them to start carrying it.
3. Start Local and IndependentBookstore placement begins at home. Self-published authors should introduce themselves to local booksellers (use www.indiebound.com to find local stores in your area) and see if they offer a consignment program. In this arrangement, the store carries a few copies of the book and if it sells, the author and store split the earnings -- at 50/50 or some other pre-determined rate. A few local consignment programs include:
- Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA
- Tattered Cover Bookstore with three locations in Denver, CO
- Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ
- Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, MI
If stores do not explicitly offer a program, many owners may be willing to make an arrangement with self-published authors. Unlike in a traditional distribution arrangement where the bookstore pays for the books upfront and is refunded for those that don’t sell, books sold on consignment only cost the owner shelf space.
4. Reach Out to Libraries
Getting your book into libraries presents different challenges. Librarians generally rely on pre-publication book reviews or vendor lists -- where self-published authors rarely appear -- to make their decisions (though outlets like PW Select are helping to change that). But if an author can demonstrate his or her seriousness and demand for the book, an acquiring librarian may at least give it a fair hearing.
Research online and through phone calls should help you to track down the contact information for the acquiring librarian at individual public libraries and community library networks (sometimes this can vary by category, so the person who acquires children’s books may be different from the person who acquires mystery novels).
“You have to be creative in finding the number -- don’t stop when you get a machine, be persistent,” says Elaine Wilkes, who offers a program on getting books into stores at www.YourBookInStores.com.
Libraries do not offer consignment programs, so you might consider donating copies of the book to the library to entice them to carry it. If it gets checked out regularly, the librarian may pay for additional copies.
5. Broaden Your Search
Self-publishing authors should also “think outside the bookstores” according to Wilkes. “If you have a pet book, see about getting it in pet stores, vet offices, doggie day care stores, etc.,” she says. “Where does your audience go? Go there to sell your books.”
Gift shops, specialty stores, or any outlet that appeals to the same interests as your book are worth contacting.