Dear Bookstore Owner

Cynthia Compton - August 14, 2019

Dear Bookstore Owner/manager/to whom it may concern,
I recently published my new book, THE BEST KIDS BOOK EVER WRITYN, and it’s already a bestseller on Amazon. I am offering signings and (limited) storytimes for bookstores, and am willing to offer you the chance to host an event. You can order copies from my website: or I have several hundred books stored at my home which will go quickly. The book is a retelling of a beloved family tale that my grandfather wrote and submitted to Reader’s Digest, and the illustrations were done by my incredibly talented daughter, who is in the 3rd grade (she is homeschooled). The story offers moral lessons of obedience, honesty, hard work and adherence to family values as it follows the story of a  lovable dinosaur and his pet fish, and will be popular for families and in classrooms. Please respond with your proposal for stocking and promoting my book in your store, and I will let you know when I will be available to make an appearance.
This author  (note: please do not respond to this email, as this is my personal account. My book website is: and I check those messages every Monday)

Dear This Author,
Thank you so much for thinking of us. I apologize for the direct email, however, I had some difficulty with your website (it seems to link to an order form for leggings). We gladly consider self-published authors for events, but request that either a copy of their book or PDF file be forwarded for review. Certainly, we want to host as many authors as we can, but we also want the time to be profitable for you, and not all titles do well in our particular store. I have also attached a basic information form for you to complete. We need to know a little bit more about your book: for example, page length, ISBN, binding (hardcover or paperback), wholesale price or bookseller price, and retail price. Thanks so much, and we’ll be back in touch soon!
Bookstore owner
Dear Bookstore Owner,
I don’t have time for all those forms. My book is currently being read in a second grade classroom, and the principal of the school bought two copies. I know that this book will be a bestseller in your store, especially for the holiday season. Here’s a copy of a recent review on Amazon:  “This book is the best thing ever written for kids, and there’s nothing else like it. I will read this someday to my children if I have them.” To answer your questions, the book is a paperback with a fully illustrated cover, and I am selling it for $21.99. I am not sure how “discounts” work, but I could probably let you have a $2 off per copy as a courtesy, since you are local. As I have not been in your store and I don’t live that close, I would need to also charge shipping to get the books to you. Can you send me your full address?
This author
Oh, friends, perhaps I exaggerate, but truly not by much. As fall approaches, email exchanges like this one (or close to it) are more frequent, and I spend valuable time each day connecting authors with organizations like SCBWI, local writing groups, and other mentors. Sadly, by the time the book is already published, it’s often too late to suggest local freelance editors or graphic artists, who might assist in creating a more marketable product. There are a myriad of publication guides in the library and on our shelves, numerous websites with advice for new authors, and even -gulp- ACTUAL CLASSES at the local college on writing for publication, but still indie bookstores are the community resource for the honest-to-gosh “come to Jesus” talk that so many self-published authors need to hear.
If there were only five things I could impress on authors seeking to market their newly printed book, here they are:

  1. Visit some bookstores. See what’s on their local interest shelves, and look at lots of titles in the category of your book. What are the bindings, prices, and comparable value of other picture books, chapter books, or nonfiction histories of carved boats made of soap?
  2. Attend some author events. (no, not your own…. OTHER AUTHORS)  Be a supporter of indie stores in your area, see what happens at other events, watch other authors present, and buy copies at signings… or at least support them in your own social media.
  3. Save your personal sales for events… and promote them. Please, please don’t sell dozens of your books to your family, friends and neighbors out of the boxes in your garage, and then rely on your local bookstore to “drum up” new business. If we are hosting your launch, make it truly a “launch”… not a cupcake party where your cousins bring their previously purchased book for you to sign and post a selfie.
  4. If you book school or library visits, use your local bookstore to fulfill school orders for the events. We know what we’re doing, and in the long run, this will HELP your sales and your reputation.
  5. Bring actual copies of your book with you everywhere. Don’t stop by my store on a busy Saturday morning with your business card wanting to “schedule a reading.” Bring us a copy of your book. Put a sticky note on it if you have to with your contact info. Leave it behind…. preferably after you’ve spent a little bit of time browsing in our store. DON’T try to handsell your copy in the aisles… it just doesn’t help, really it doesn’t.  And also….

….answer your emails, and not just on Mondays.
See a followup post on this topic, Dear Bookstore Owner, P.S., here.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

9 thoughts on “Dear Bookstore Owner

  1. Aaron Vlek

    I loved this! I worked in the professional publishing industry for twenty-five years and marvel at the one missed feature that the self publishing crowd never catches onto; this is a professional business, we are career people, not hobby facilitators. One of our authors was a huge deal (children’s author) who now has his own imprint with one of the big publishers. I don’t know how many times small bookstores (this was many years ago) called and wanted this man to show up out of his own pocket, no honorarium. because he “might sell a few books” and should want to do if for free out of his love for books and children. You cannot unpack that kind of thinking over the phone for somebody. The whole self publishing hobbyist world is just a step away from scrapbooking and has lowered the bar on what people are reading, lowered the bar on reading levels etc. Grrrrr….

  2. Mark Williams - The New Publishing Standard

    This is a great story, and of course reflects a sad reality that many “self-published” authors have little idea of or interest in the industry.
    But Aaron Viek’s comment “The whole self publishing hobbyist world is just a step away from scrapbooking and has lowered the bar on what people are reading, lowered the bar on reading levels etc,” is way off the mark.
    Many self-publishers have their work picked up by established mainstream publishers and many more make money many traditionally-published authors at the mid- and lower end of the market can only dream of.
    No question some self-publishers churn out unedited, badly-worked books and no question many are querying bookstores with deludedly high expectations and with no understanding of how bookselling works in the real world.
    But let’s not tar all self-publishers with the same well-worn brush.

    1. Dianne

      Please. Thank you Mark Williams. I self publish (13 novels, two of which have won awards and another won and audiobook award) and very rarely even approach bookstores as I am intimidated by them. My books are edited by professionals and I have professional covers, and I’ve worked hard studying and honing my craft. I pretty much sell on my own on my website and at events.

  3. Alexa

    This made me LAUGH OUT LOUD and is something I try to impress upon our authors all the time… what can YOU do for THEM? Not vice versa, author! Love it! By the way – I’d love to have you on my upcoming Women in Publishing Summit to share about this and talk about your bookstore and more! We love funny people with a good message! And I promise, we’ll do all the heavy lifting!

  4. Kevin J Bartolotta

    I deal with a depressing amount of this, and once someone’s come in with their books (they also come in, an email like this is rare-to-unheard of) it always, always gets nasty. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much sympathy as I used after being called every name in the book and physically threatened, as well as having my bookstore bombed with vindictive Yelp review.
    I love self-pulblishing, I’ve done it myself and had success. I would NEVER disparage it or the people who do it, it’s great and empowering if you do your research. But there are a lot of presses that take advantage of people getting starry-eyed or thinking they can jump all the steps in publishing and then lash out when they realize they’ve been taken advantage of.
    IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE TO ASK BOOKSTORES FOR SELF-PUBLISHING ADVICE!! Don’t ask for any publishing advice, in fact, we don’t know and it’s a sign you’re not willing to really but in the time and effort. And, FFS, if you respect bookstores respect their policies on self-publishing.

  5. John Egan

    Baking a cake, you follow a recipe. Why is it that people use the classic, ‘If you build it, they will come’ attitude to their self-published work. I mean to say, I am an average educated man, and understand you need to crawl before you walk. Indie authors, please read the manual of publishng ethics before your book launch.

  6. Frank Prem

    Thanks for this.
    As a new author in a very narrow niche (free verse memoir), I’d certainly be visiting with copies to seek support.
    Sadly I’m in Australia, so distance forbids.
    Great article.


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