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6 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Book into Bookstores

By Patricia L. Fry

Imagine that you are an author. You've just received a shipment of your first published book from your printer or POD publisher. You admire your book, hold it, fondle it and do your best to keep from dancing around the room. Some of you do dance around the room—I did. I even broke out a bottle of champagne.

You head for the nearest mega-bookstore to experience the thrill of seeing your books shelved there next to America's bestsellers. You search and you search, but your book is nowhere to be found. As any savvy marketer would do, you approach the store manager.

"I'm sorry," he says. "We don't carry self-published or digitally published books." WHAT? That's certainly not what your fee-based POD publisher told you. In fact, as you recall, your POD publishing representatives claimed that your book would be sold in all major bookstores throughout the nation.

Think about it, is that really what she said? Or did she say, "We will make your book available to all major bookstores throughout the nation?" Translated, this means, "If a bookstore manager comes to us looking for a book of this type, we will be sure to tell him about yours."

I meet numerous disillusioned and disappointed authors each year at conferences, book festivals and online. They are shocked to learn that bookstores will not carry their books and they don't know where to turn for sales. It might surprise you to know that even some of the small and medium-sized publishing houses do not have access to bookstores as an outlet for their authors' books.

My advice to these authors is, "If the entrance to the bookstore is closed, go through the backdoor." I tell them, in essence, "Instead of whining and griping, expend your energies making your book irresistible to booksellers." How? Promote. Promote. Promote. When customers come in droves requesting your book, bookstores will stock it.

Demonstrate to the powers-that-be at Barnes and Noble and Borders that your book can attract hundreds or thousands of customers and they may well decide to carry it. Here are some ideas:

Make Your Book More Salable

A man came to me once with his self-published book and asked, "Why won't bookstores carry my book?" At first glance, I could tell him several reasons. The book did not have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or a bar code. He had not filled out the Advance Book Information form (ABI) thus his book was not listed in Books In Print (the main directory through which booksellers order books). And the book had a comb binding. Bookstore owners and librarians are reluctant to stock comb bound and saddle stitched (stapled) books.

This man had also made another universal mistake. He wrote the book as a first step. I tell my clients, readers and audiences to always write a book proposal first. If you compile a complete, honest and thorough book proposal before ever putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you will produce a more salable book.

A book proposal is a business plan for your book and, whether you want to believe it or not, your book is a product. Learn more about writing a book proposal by reading, How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less (Matilija Press, 2005).

Announce Your Book To The World

Have you heard the phrase, build it and they will come? Well, this concept worked in the movie, but it is the wrong approach to selling books. The author's motto or mantra should be: promote, promote, promote.

Whether you've landed a big fish in the publishing industry or you decide to jump in and swim with the sharks, it is up to you—the author—to promote your book. No one will buy your wonderful book if they don't know about it. No one will know about it unless you tell them. And with so many books being published today and readership dwindling, competition is an obstacle that most hopeful authors fail to consider.

This is not to say that selling books is impossible. On the contrary, it just takes creativity, time, energy and the willingness to step outside your comfort zone. A key to selling books is letting people know the book exists.

How does one get the word out? Send press releases to newspapers, newsletters and magazines. Announce your book, request a book review, offer to write an article and/or make yourself available for an interview.

Research newspapers through www.newspaperlinks.com, www.newspapers.com or www.onlinenewspapers.com. Locate columns related to your book topic: cooking, pets, education, fashion, crafts, business, seniors, finance or home and garden, for example. If you've written a novel or historical account set in a particular region, contact newspapers in that geographic area.

Locate appropriate magazines to contact through Writer's Market, writersmarket.com or woodenhorsepub.com.

Gale's Directory of Publications lists newsletters whose editors are hungry for new about books such as yours.

Make news by doing something noteworthy. Start a charity related to your topic, head up an unusual project and involve hundreds of people or attempt a difficult fete and challenge others to participate. Create stories worth reporting and then send press releases to appropriate media.

Newspaper stories, articles and interviews sell books. If you can get even just one newspaper in each state to run a story about you or to review your book, you could conceivably attract thousands of customers. If your book is listed in Books in Print, every bookstore everywhere can order it for their customers who request it.

Talk It Up

Let word of mouth drive sales. That is, your words coming from your mouth. Don't wait for others to start talking about your book. You create the buzz.

Talk about your book everywhere you go. Carry a copy of your book in your purse or briefcase and a carton in your trunk.

Arrange speaking engagements. Go out and talk to civic group members, at conferences related to the subject of your book and at writing/publishing conferences. Appropriate venues for your talks might include libraries, schools, churches, synagogues, senior centers, specialty stores and/or businesses for example. If you have a book on ADHD, you might get gigs at medical conventions and PTA meetings. Schedule talks about your Civil War novel at Daughters of the American Revolution and historical society meetings as well as museums. Promote your book on business management through presentations at corporations, businesses conventions and so forth.

Carry Your Message Far and Wide

Arrange book signings and presentations throughout the U.S. Coordinate these with your visit to family in Colorado, your vacation on the east coast and your spouse's business meeting to the northwest. Independent bookstores are usually open to book signings. If you can't get into a bookstore, solicit specialty stores related to your book, coffee houses or other venues.

Before arriving for the event, arrange for a spot on a local talk radio or TV show. Alert at least one bookstore in this city to the fact that you are coming and that you will be promoting your book through radio station XYZ, for example. Knowing this, they will most likely take some of your books on consignment.

Be sure to get newspaper publicity for your presentation. Send press releases to all local newspapers at least 2 weeks prior to your visit and follow up with phone calls.

Visit other bookstores while in the area to see if you can place books with them. If you have managed good coverage for your talk and good publicity for your book, they will probably agree to stock your books.

Produce an interesting, informative, entertaining newsletter. Use it to promote your book, of course, while also giving your readers something of value. How many times have you been told that you must give in order to receive? It's true in book promotion, too. Ask potential customers to request your book directly from bookstores in their areas. As your subscriber list grows, so will your book sales.

Solicit the Indies—Independent Bookstores, That is

You might be surprised to know that there are still hundreds of independent bookstores around. What is an independent bookstore? It's independently operated. The owner does not have to answer to a big conglomerate. Show an indie owner that you can bring in customers and he or she will carry your book. Be willing to leave your books on consignment and the deal becomes even more attractive to a bookseller.

Approach booksellers in person. Visit those within your community, throughout your county and then up and down your state. Travel to nearby states for access to more independent bookstores. And always stop in to show off your book to booksellers whenever you're traveling.

Follow up in two ways—by doing your part to initiate sales in these areas and by checking back frequently with the store manager to monitor sales and payment.

Learn How to Play With the Big Boys

Land a traditional royalty publisher who has access to bookstore shelf space and your book will, most likely, be sold through mega-bookstores. How can you get a big publisher to give you the time of day? Make an impression.

There is one thing that impresses most publishers and that is a big bottom line. Show a publisher the money, honey, and he is likely to give you a whirl. Make sales, any kind of sales. Sell books over the Internet, go door-to-door, set up a stand on a hot day and give free lemonade with each book purchase, have friends living throughout the U.S. act as sales reps in their areas, buy billboard space in New York City for a month. Sell enough books and generate a following and a publisher will become interested in your project.

Here are two publishing industry truths:

  • Having your book in Barnes and Noble and/or Borders does not guarantee that your books will sell well. Not even! Many of the books that make it into a bookstore have a very short shelf life. Just look at the competition in these mega-bookstores. Books that aren't selling well, are removed from the system within a matter of months.
  • Many authors become successful without ever stepping foot in a mega-bookstore. They sell books through specialty stores and Amazon.com. They do back-of-the-room sales. They sell corporations on purchasing their books as premiums (to give away to customers, for example). Other lucrative customers might include libraries and school districts. Some authors market their books quite successfully through their professional-grade Web sites.

Some of you have already found out that authorship is not for wimps. While you may have been in your element while writing your book, promotion is something foreign and even frustrating. Use the points in this article to put things in a more reasonable perspective. Follow the suggestions here and, with or without the bookstores, you will succeed in this business.


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