As the owner of an independent bookstore, I get approached at least twice a week by self-published authors asking me to sell their books. The world of self-published books has changed a great deal since we’ve been open. The quality is vastly improved — even Kinko’s can produce a handsome book. The challenge becomes how to distinguish your book from the multitude we see a year.
I’ve amassed a list of what I’d like to see happen to make this growing area of bookselling as beneficial as possible for both parties. I’ve had some great success with self-published books. So if you’re an author, don’t despair, you can almost always get your book on the shelf. One thing I’ve changed is that now I’ll take one copy of any self-published book on consignment. This involves no risk on my part and it allows your book to spend some time on the shelf. Just know that shelf space is at a premium. If after three months, the book hasn’t sold, it may wind up in the back room until there’s more room on the shelf.
One cardinal rule: if you want me to carry your book and you live locally, you should make an effort to shop at my store.
Do: Make your book look as professional as possible.
Don’t: Have a spiral wire binding (unless it’s a church cookbook), laminated pages or folders.
Do: Send an email with details about your book. I love emails; I can’t misplace them and I can quickly refer to it when I need to. And they give me an easy way to contact you.
Don’t: Come to the store unannounced and expect me to drop what I’m doing to review your book. There’s nothing that puts me off more than this. Respect my time and I’ll be much more disposed to look favorably on your book.
Do: Call to follow up on the email you sent. This reminds to review the email if I’ve missed it.
Don’t: Be hurt if I don’t remember your book right away. We see lots of books. My lack of memory means nothing, other than I just don’t remember. It’s not a condemnation of your book.
Do: Try to leave a reader’s copy if you want me to carry a novel. I do try to read them and if I like the book, I’ll happily take several copies.
Don’t: Get mad at me for asking for a copy to read. I know it’s expensive to have extra books; if you can’t have a copy for me to read, then maybe an excerpt would be good. I can’t just have things on the shelf I know nothing about. So give me so info that can help me sell your book.
Do: Try to price your book within the market ranges. I know picture books can be expensive to print, but a $25 paperback picture book will be hard to sell.
Don’t: Not listen to your local bookseller’s advice. No one knows the market better than your local indie. Listen to their hesitations about carrying the book. See what you can do to modify the price. We had one self-published book that was really overpriced; we recommended a different printer and she got a much better price. As a consequence of the lower price we were really able to sell the book. I think by the time the print run ran out, we’d sold over 200.
Do: Think regionally. You’re much more likely to get your book placed if it’s got something to do local region. We’ve had good results with a book about boxers in Vermont.
Don’t: Expect a Vermont bookstore to carry a book about California ponies.
Do: Have an invoice for consignment available when you want me to carry your book. In a perfect world, I would have my own form, but sometimes we run out, and it’s really helpful if you can keep track of the paperwork.
Don’t: Expect me to buy three copies of your book. It’s not personal; it’s business. Better to have the book on the shelf than not at all. We sold thirty copies of a Chapbook on consignment and it worked out well.
Do: Tell your friends and the press (if you live locally) that your book is available at my store.
Don’t: Not tell me if you’re going to be featured in the local paper. Nothing is more frustrating than getting caught by surprise by not having a book on hand that’s been featured in the paper.
On the whole, the future looks bright for self-published books. With the increase in quality, the stigma of self-publishing is going away. Remember to make your book look as professional as possible and be patient. We want you to succeed and nothing is more exciting than seeing a self-published book take off.
One new Don’t: Please don’t use the comments field to promote your own book. Those comments will be edited. This is a space for conversation, and as tempting as it may be to mention your titles, this isn’t the right venue for that. Thanks for understanding.