Self-Publishing Tips

Josie Leavitt -- June 12th, 2009

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.

42 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Tips

  1. J.R.Jackson

    Excellent sound advice. I have three POD books on the market, but have received absolutely no support or marketing exposure. They are attractive well written books, and sell well at book signings, and I had no trouble getting the local bookstore to take them on consignment, but they wouldn’t put them on the front shelf with the new releases. and when I checked back a week later they had to look for them and found them on a back self in a back room where no one ever saw them. I asked to have one placed on the counter. they did and it sold in two days, but they never put out another, so I took back the remaining books and sold them myself. If I can get your postal mailing address I will be glad to send you two of my books. The Ancient Mariner Tells All, and Reilley”s Sting. Hope to hear from you J.R. Jackson

  2. Fran Lewis

    I would love to send you a copy of my Alzheimer’s Book Memories are Precious to place on a shelf in your store. The target audience is anyone that wants to understand the illness, learn how to get help for a loved one and the care they need and read about my mom’s journey with the disease. You can read my reviews on Amazon, ijustfinished.com and barnes and noble. Fran Lewis

  3. Josie Leavitt

    Hi CT, Just going through older posts and saw your question. To be competitive self published authors must offer me the same discount terms I get with the distributors, 40-42%. If a book is less than I can’t afford to take it. One thing I’d like to add to this whole discussion: If we’ve taken your book on consignment, please don’t have various family members call the store every day during the holidays to see we have the book in stock. This actually happened and it was as irritating as it was rude. Even if it’s not the busiest time of year, please only call quarterly about your book. Trust that if we’re out of it, we’ll always call you.

  4. BookWhirl.com

    Good to know that you are helping self-published authors to get their books a wider exposure. I’m sure this is a big favor and authors will really appreciate and get encouraged with your favor. Keep on! Keep on writing, we believe in you–always.

  5. CT

    What percentage is reasonable to expect that the book store will take as a result of carrying titles on consignment? Thank you in advance for your response.

  6. Julie Beller

    Thank you SO much for the great advice, Josie. I’ve been hesitant to approach local booksellers, fearful of the reaction to a self-pub and not sure what was the best initial contact. I *really* didn’t want to call or drop in unannounced, but didn’t know if email was appropriate! This was great advice and very encouraging. Would the fact that a book has sold X number of copies in X countries be of use in that initial email as well? I’d think that anything that would help forecast sales would be useful. Would you find it problematic if the book in question is listed on Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble?

  7. Deidra Phillips

    Josie, Thank you for the wonderful advice. As a newly self-pubbed author I’ve been wondering how to approach indie booksellers (or even if it was appropriate to do so). You’ve definitely given me hope!

  8. Dinah Shields

    Oh, my, a can of worms indeed. Josie has done a wonderful job of summarizing this fraught issue. Here’s another book-seller’s input. Self-pub authors: please be aware that indie bookstores do want to carry local books, but they want to carry ones that will actually sell, that will earn their shelf-space. What have you done to promote your book? Have you approached local newspaper? Taken out an ad in the paper? Shopped at the store you are approaching? No one owes you shelf space.

  9. edeevee

    Josie, I have read that post and it was full to the brim with usefulness. The only question that’s left unanswered: Do you WANT to know about local traditionally published authors, or are we a PITA? Thanks again!

  10. Brent Robison

    Thanks, Josie! Perfect timing — I am just about to begin contacting local (Hudson Valley NY) bookstores about my self-published collection of short stories. I have the advantage that I’m no stranger to them, since I previously published several annual issues of a regional literary journal. Still, it’s wonderfully helpful to get a peek into the indie bookseller’s mind. And thanks for giving self-pubbers some respect (I just hope they give some back to you). Best wishes — BR

  11. Josie Leavitt

    To Edeevee, The best advice I can give you about this situation is to read the post I did about authors popping by tinyurldotcom/nhsdgd from April. It summarizes the best way to approach your local bookstore, from a bookseller’s perspective. (pardon the spelling out of dotcom, the comments field won’t accept HTML)

  12. edeevee

    I hope I’m not coming to this party too late but I wondered if your advice is the same for traditionally published local authors? If I walked into your store and didn’t see my book on your shelves – but I lived within 30 miles of your town – would you want to know about me and my book? If the answer is yes, what should my best effort look like?

  13. anonymous

    Wow. I love how you explain what to do – yet some clearly didn’t “process” what you actually wrote. Good luck, Josie. I admire your spirt and glad you did this topic.

  14. David Lucero

    Thank you, Josie! I find your information helpful. I’ve got my book in 5 local bookstores in San Diego and will continue to seek independent bookstores following your steps. Thanks once again.

  15. Jo Linsdell

    Thank you for the great information Josie. As a self publisher who is trying to get my book into bookstores, I really appreciate your post. Do you stock travel or language related books in your shop? (I couldn’t find the link for your shop)

  16. Frederick Rodgers

    Hi Josie I doubt you can offer me any help but I’ll ask anyway! I live on PEI, Canada my book is about growing up in Belfast N.Ireland and covers much local history. How can I get my book into that market/consignment etc. I have tried several things. The book was approved and is available on the site of “The Ulster Historical Foundation’ Some years ago I met the President of Ireland ‘Mary McAleese’ and she accepted a copy. But its an up hill battle, difficult to have a consignment 2000 miles away!!! I have a web page and blog http://www.irishroversbooks.com and the title of my book is ‘Lily & Me’Can you think of anything else I should be doing?? Cheers Frederick

  17. Josie Leavitt

    Allow me to clarify a few things. The purpose of my post was to offer guidelines for self-published books. It was not a blanket invitation for folks to send me multiple copies of their books, nor was it a place for self promotion of your books. Please respect this space and glean from my post the best ways to approach independent bookstores. Please follow my guidelines if you’d like your books placed in my store. We don’t accept books on consignment that we haven’t read about or seen; we can generally only take one copy (as will be the case with most stores). So, keep writing and send any store a query email about placing your book on their shelves.

  18. Paula Evans Archer

    Dear Josie: Thanks for the very useful tips. My book is coming out in a few weeks and I will certainly send three copies to you. Could you please send me your address (for shipping purposes and I come to VT to visit my daughter and will certainly come to your shop and say hello) and also send me a copy of your consignment invoice as a sample. I am new to this. Thanks. Paula Evans Archer.

  19. Louis F. Conca Jr.

    Dear Josie: Thanks for the wonderful suggestions you offer. I found it very helpful. I am 88 years old. I published my first book, an autobiography, in December 2007 and my second book, poetry and pithy sayings, in March of this year. My situation is much different than that of a typical, young, aspiring author who has written his first book. I am not looking forward to writing as an occupation. I have long since retired from active employment (37 years). I wrote because I always had a desire to do so. Your suggestions should be very helpful for young, aspiring self-publishing authors. I want to congratulate you for your excellent suggestions.

  20. K.Alison Albury, LIFE ON A ROCK

    A great article. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us! I found the most helpful thing about the ‘other’ bookstores (such as specialty shops, small bookshops, boutiques) is to take a copy of my book and give it to the buyer as a gift to read and enjoy. Then I call back in a couple of weeks to see if they liked it and if they’d carry the book. I’ve had 100% positive response that way. I tell them up front that I normally do not do consignments but would be happy to sell the first 6 books on consignment, just to show them how well it moves off the shelf. This has worked really well for me.

  21. Akili Kumasi, GILpublications.com

    Thanks for the heads-up. I found most of what you wrote to be accurate when I started visiting local stores recently to promote my new book, Fatherhood Principles of Joseph the Carpenter. I’m going to try your suggestion to send e-mails as this could be a more effective means of reaching out of town stores instead of making phone calls – which I guess could be just as disruptive as unannounced visits to a busy store owner.

  22. Kim

    Thank you for the comments! I’ll keep emailing indie bookstores, then. Kim Carolan Author of Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

  23. Josie Leavitt

    To author who wants to send me books: please do what I suggest in the blog: email me at my store with more detailed info about your book. Cover shots are helpful, as it aids me in assessing the caliber of the book. Please don’t ever send books on consignment without first checking with the owner or manager. I think one key to remember for self publishing: don’t make work for the bookstore, i.e. you send the email and not ask me to follow up. Also, the former English teacher in me responds far more favorably to letters that are written well.

  24. Roopnandan Singh

    hi Josie, i am a self-published author of fiction & poetry. my novel, Roll-Play, was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize & later translated & published in French by Ibis Rouge Editions. grateful for ur address. i want to send some bks on consignment. with thanx & best regards, Roopnandan Singh Guyana.

  25. Kyle L. Miller

    Hi Josie, Thanks for your advise. I have just won an Eric Hoffer award for my 4 year old children’s book and will be doing a state wide marketing campaign to indie book stores. Your guidelines are most helpful for an amature marketer. Jungle House Publicatons

  26. @DvineExpression

    As an author and promoter of other author’s books this is such great advice! We need this type of guidance to build great relationships with booksellers and a more profitable return. Many, many thanks, Rev. Deborah D. Jenkins

  27. AliceBA@aol.com

    Hi, Josie, Excellent advice! Do I have your permission to include your article with the handouts I provide for my workshop, “You’re Writing the Manuscript, Now What?” Many thanks, Alice B. Acheson

  28. Jo Garceau, Knowing Woman

    Josie, thanks for the marvelous advice. I am sure I can put it to good use in the Pacific Northwest as I contact independent bookstores. I particularly appreciate knowing that an email is your preference with a phone follow up. I’ve had good luck walking in to a store with a copy of my iUniverse published book (knowingwoman.com), it looks very professional. So the heads up about pre marketing is wonderful.

  29. Bill Seavey, Crisis Response Publishing

    Thanks, Josie. I hadn’t a clue about how to get into indie bookstores, though I want to. My self-published book (see at thecrisisinvestor.com) is HOT–really useful to people suffering from the downturn, but getting it into bookstores seems the LAST thing I have time for. I wouldn’t mind just sending a few hundred copies to indies to test out the reaction of buyers (one apiece?). Where could I get a list? Would they then contact me for more copies, and simply send a check when a batch has been sold?? The accounting could be a nightmare for a one horse publisher without a distributor…

  30. Michelle

    Hi Josie, I am new to the publishing world as well. Can you tell me why so many small independent bookstores only want to order through a distributor instead of the publisher directly? This seems counter-intuitive. I realize this cuts down on their invoices, but aren’t they cutting out great stuff that might not have been picked up by a giant like Baker and Taylor, which is exactly the stuff you’d expect to find in a small bookstore? Thanks for your insider’s tips! Michelle Fawson-ARCHIE Publishing

  31. Susan Alcorn

    Thanks, Josie, I’m an independent/self-publisher and have done quite well, but it was helpful to learn your favored approach to the initial contact — via email. I thought it best to go in person, but I can see your point and appreciate your advice. Shepherd Canyon Books

  32. Urenna Sander

    Thanks, Jose. I’m learning the ins and outs of self-publishing. My book debuted in April 2009. It’s best to stay locally with your advertisements at first. Also, most book companies that work with self-publishers launch your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Borders.

  33. Maureen Palacios

    Thank you Josie! Those tips are absolutely true. The only thing I say is, due to our store’s small size, each book needs to sell its space next to all those professionally written, edited, etc. books (like Where the Wild Things Are). If the book does not make the cut with me when I think of prospective buyers who might buy the title, then I will not even offer any space.

  34. KLR Literary

    Agreed, Carol. Writers can also place a book in a location that’s referenced within the pages. For example, if a book sets a scene of a chapter in a restaurant, see if the owners will display copies for sale. The writer receives publicity, while the establishment offers their customers an extra perk!

  35. Carol Chittenden

    Great tips! I’ll be quoting you. We just started taking SPT’s about six weeks ago, and we already have a shelf full. Two books have sold so far — but I no longer have to be the blue meanie who tells hopeful authors to get lost. I do often suggest that their book might do well in a gift or clothing store where it’s unique, rather than in a bookstore where it’s inevitably competing with ten thousand other professionally written, edited, designed, printed, and marketed titles.

  36. Perry Donham

    Josie, this is great advice, thank you. Do you see many self-published / POD books come through more traditional channels (distributors or wholesalers), or are all of the ones you carry from local authors introduced to you personally?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *