February 2, 2021

How to market your self-published book to independent bookstores

By Marques Coleman

With the extensive digital services and social media platforms available these days, marketing your self-published book is easier than ever. But there’s one marketing effort that remains challenging: Pitching a self-published book to independent bookstores.

In order to maximize profitability, owners need to utilize every inch of the store. Thus, they aren’t usually eager to give up shelf space to unknown authors who don’t have a publishing house’s publicity machine behind them. They know that without this, self-published books often sell abysmally.

So, how do you market your book to independent stores with some margin of success?

Here are some steps to consider:

Research local bookstores
Before talking with store owners, visit the venues you are targeting; take your time and browse around. Ask the salespeople about their most valued books, their genre preferences and what their customers like the most. This will help when you meet with the owners, as you will be able to show them that you understand the kind of books they sell and their customer bases.

Know your target audience
Who is likely to buy your book? Walking into the store without a clue about this will most likely end unfavorably for you — and it’s best to target stores where your audiences align. If your audience is different from the store’s customers, you might be able to convince the owner that your readers could add to the bookstore’s existing customer base. But it’s more likely that store owners will be insulted you didn’t take the time to learn who their customers are.

List the stores most appropriate for your book
After completing the first two steps, create a shortlist of independent bookstores in your area that you think might be interested in selling your book. Don’t give them a call – pack your bag, take your book with you and go for a visit.

Bring proof of your audience potential with you
It’s always a good idea to present an indie bookstore owner with some form of proof about the popularity of your book. Show the owner positive reviews of the book and comments about your prior work as an author. Mention the number of followers you have on Facebook and Twitter or how many visitors you get for blogs posted on your website; the more impressive the numbers, the better your chances the bookstore owner will give your work a thorough look.

Offer an appealing percentage
The independent bookstore owner you approach obviously will require a percentage of the sales for themselves. You should be prepared to offer a partner-level percentage (50%) if you are an up-and-coming writer without much negotiating power.

The cut can be modified based on your renown and whether the bookstore owner is a fan of your writing. However, be ready to give up a sizable percentage of your earnings for the possibility to market and sell your book in an indie store. Independent bookstores often have a tough time making ends meet, so it’s important to understand the owner’s perspective.

Offer to organize a reading/signing event at the store
Typically, authors organize and attend reading or signing events in the bookstores they work with. If you can promise a sizeable crowd for such an event, that’s all the more incentive for the store to carry your book, as sales from signings can be substantial, given the right circumstances.

Present yourself as a long-term business acquaintance
Self-published authors tend to present their books and never show up again in the bookstore apart from picking up the check. Break the mold and prove that you are different. Discuss your future work, as well as prospects of featuring it on the bookstore’s shelves. The owner might also have insight and connections with other stores that will be willing to work with you. Present yourself as a trustworthy and professional author with long-term plans in mind. The confidence you exude will greatly work in your favor.

In conclusion
Show bookstore owners that you understand their world and that they, too, need to make a living. You will have to be something of a salesperson to get the job done, and it may take time before you come to an understanding with some of the bookstores, but once you do, your career is bound to grow from there.

Marques Coleman is a professional writer and editor at Subjecto. What inspires him the most in his writing is traveling and meeting new people.

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