How Do I Get My Book Into a Bookstore?
You’ve finished and published your first book, congratulations!
But now what do you do with it?
Well, if you’ve published through an online program like CreateSpace, Blurb or Lulu, then your book will be available on their websites, plus any of their partners, but what if you’ve had 1000 copies printed offshore and they’re sitting in your garage? What if you just want to see it on the shelf somewhere?
The idea of seeing your book sitting on the shelf in either bookstores or libraries is definitely appealing, but the cold, hard truth of it is that it is both difficult and unlikely to help pay the bills. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!
Before approaching bookstores, you must have created the most professional looking book that you can; it must be almost indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. That means: well edited, properly printed and correctly formatted. It must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). If you are publishing through the aforementioned companies, they will provide you with one, otherwise you must acquire your own, and you must have the bar code to match it (back cover, bottom left or right hand side is the traditional placement). This is essential, as it is how the bookstore will catalogue your book. Some bookstores may also prefer it to be listed on Nielsen Book Data.
Then, do some research. Small, independent bookstores are more likely to be approachable. The big, chain stores do not always make their purchasing decisions at store level and, although it is not impossible to get onto their shelves, it is no mean feat. Choose your target wisely, and make sure that the store actually stock books of your genre; some stores do specialise. Approach the staff member politely, introduce yourself and your purpose and ask to speak to the book buyer or manager, or arrange an appointment. Remember that different stores have different policies regarding independent authors, and respect their decision.
So, if you ARE accepted into a bookstore, what can you expect?
Book stores have three main ways of taking in independently published titles:
Consignment: they accept the books, and shelf them, but you do not get paid until, or unless, they sell. You can, pretty much, ask for the books back at any time (although some contracts may require you to give notice first), and you may be required to pay postage if they need to be delivered. They may require you to take them back after 3-6 months.
Sale or Return: The book store will pay you your wholesale price upfront (usually around a month after receiving the stock), but will agree to stock it for a set period, generally 3-6 months. After that period is over, you may be required to buy back your remaining stock at the amount they paid you for them.
Firm Sale: They pay you up front and they keep the book until it sells. It is highly unlikely that any retailer will agree to this without you proving that the stock will almost certainly sell. And you might find your books in the bargain/clearance bins at some point.
You will also need to determine your wholesale price, and from this your RRP (Recommended Retail Price).
Firstly, determine how much each copy of the book cost you to buy in the first place. You do not want to sell your book below cost, for obvious reasons!
Then you can figure out either how much profit you wish to make for selling the book to the retailer, and how much you would expect their customers to pay for it. For a rough idea of pricing, you might like to look at similar books in a range of stores first, or check out the information on a publisher’s website. Most list the RRP of their titles (just make sure it’s a New Zealand site).
Stores will be looking for a 35-50% margin, and if you are not GST registered, then they will also be taking GST into account.
Therefore, say you wish to charge the retailer $15 per copy of your book.
Firstly, they will add in the GST 15 x 1.15 = $17.25
Then they will add in their profit margin (let’s say 40%) $17.27 x 1.6 = $27.60
So you could set the RRP to $27.99
Whilst your book is in bookstores, it is considered good form not to undercut their pricing when selling direct; you should still charge $27.99 when selling copies to customers yourself.
I have spoken to two of the independent bookstores in Christchurch, and obtained permission to mention them by name.
With stores in Riccarton and the Central City, Scorpio Books are a local institute (they’ve been around almost 40 years) and have two beautiful stores. They are willing to consider independently published books on consignment, for a 3-6 month period. Although they are open to most types of books, they do stock a diverse range of fantasy and have a beautiful children’s section, as well as an indepth non-fiction (especially for “coffee table” books). It is helpful if your book is listed on Nielsen.
Piccadilly Books are a lovely bookstore/post office in Avonhead Mall. They will consider independently published titles on a sale or return basis, for the 3-6 month period. They favour new releases and specialise more in non-fiction and adult fiction, rather than young adult and children’s.
Some bookstores may only accept books via a distribution company. There are very few distribution companies in NZ, and even fewer that deal directly with independent authors (most deal with small printing houses). Indeed, the only one I can name offhand is Nationwide Books, in Oxford, North Canterbury.
- get upset if they turn you down. They are a business and shelf space is at a premium, also, they know their market better than you – if they don’t believe it will sell, then accept that.
- sneak a copy of your book onto the shelf in your local bookstore without their permission/knowledge. Worst case scenario, you could be accused of shop lifting should you try and remove it later. Best case scenario, if a customer ever does take it to the counter to purchase it, it will not scan through the tills, nor will the staff member know what to do with it. Also, you’ll never get paid anything from the sale, so you might as well leave it on a park bench.
- wander into bookstores and ask if they stock your book, without identifying yourself as the author. Whilst some staff members may find this amusing, others find it deceitful and disrespectful.
- wander into a bookstore and harass them for not stocking your book, or not stocking more than 2 copies of your book, or not putting your book in a prominent place, etc. It is their store, and their decision. Respect them.