Let's face it, regardless of the odds, we authors still want to get into bookstores. But if you've been having a hard time with this, take heart. It's getting harder and harder to get into stores, but not impossible. We're going to look at some of the possibilities here.
Get to know your local store: I know this might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many authors don't really know the people in their local store. The thing is, if you know them, they know you. Then, when you're ready to promote your book they might be more open to having you in their store if you have taken the time to get to know them.
First, it's important to understand the pressure stores are under right now. With the increased focus on publishers to get their authors out there, bookstores are being given most of their marching orders by their corporate office. Bookstore shelf space is bought and paid for by the New York publishers, making getting on the shelves or display racks a bit tricky -- if not impossible. So here's a game plan for those of you trying to survive outside of the traditional market.
Events: One way to get into a bookstore is by doing an event. Sometimes when you do an event the store may stock the book before and after you've done your program. Start to follow the types of events they do at the store. Get an events calendar or get on their email list. You'll start to see trends emerge. For example, they might have an independent author night you could participate in. Also be cautious for big releases, like the recent Stephenie Meyer events many stores had planned. If you are trying to capture the attention of a store when they're in the middle of a major book launch, you're likely to be ignored.
- Book signings are boring, offer to do an event instead. Events are a draw, book signings aren't unless you're a celebrity. Plan to talk, educate, entertain or enlighten. This will be a more attractive pitch to the bookstore and will draw more people to your talk.
Get to know the local authors in your area and then offer to plan events for them. Here's how this works: Bookstores are inundated with local authors asking for a time slot, but what if you went to the bookstore manager and said that you'd be willing to coordinate a once a month event featuring all the local authors? The bookstore could just refer all local, independently published authors to you, you could coordinate this -- and guess what? Not only are you helping the store, but guess who's getting a monthly showcase in their store? You. You can do this with more than one store if you have the time, but keep in mind that with cutbacks often one store manager will oversee a few locations so you might only have to go through one person. If they won't let you coordinate a monthly event, suggest that they have an Independent author night if they haven't already started this. If they have an Independent author night you should definitely participate -- it's a great way to gain exposure, not to mention network with some local people. Distribution: Making sure that the bookstore can actually acquire the book is often the first step in getting stocked. Bookstores generally tap into two databases for stocking: Baker & Taylor and Ingram. If you're listed there, bookstores can order the book, though a listing in those databases doesn't usually prompt stocking because these are not distributors, they are wholesalers. There's a big difference. Distributors such as IPG, Perseus, and Midpoint actively push the book into the bookstores, or try to sell copies into the stores during their sales push. Wholesalers don't do this, so if you can get a distributor for your book, great! This could really help your in-store success. Local marketing: Don't forget, any marketing you can do locally is good -- whether it's speaking in venues outside of the bookstores, television, radio or print. All of this can drive traffic into the bookstores. Market locally and when you do, let the stores know you're going to have a feature or appearance so they can stock the book if they want to. It's always a great idea to get to know the managers or buyers for your local stores so you can alert them to media or an event you're doing. This not only keeps you and your book on their radar screen, but it's a nice courtesy to offer them. Most managers are stretched pretty thin and appreciate the buying tip, whenever they can get it. Even if they choose not to stock your book the first or second time, keep alerting them to your promotion. Eventually they just might. Know your Geography: Let's say you live in New York, but your book is more suited to the Midwest market... Why keep pushing in an area that's already inundated with authors and books and events? Why not push it to a market that's more appropriate for your topic? By doing this you will not only open up channels you might not have considered, but you'll likely do better in sales. When you do this, you should plan to coordinate some marketing around it so folks in that local area are aware that your book is there. Buy a book: Don't just wander the store trying to make friends: shop there. Support your local stores regardless of whether they are a chain or independent. You'd be surprised what a difference this makes when you're trying to get to know the folks who could book you for an event or stock the book on their shelves. Funnel your buyers: Try as best you can to funnel everyone to one store to purchase your book. If you're having a tough time getting shelf space (and aren't we all?), funneling folks to one store might prompt that store to keep a few copies of your book on hand. Whenever you do local speaking or media, let them know by name and address where they can get your book. Stores have been known to take in books that they're getting lots of requests for, regardless of how they are published. If you're sending people to one store -- instead of fragmenting them to a bunch of different ones -- you could start building an ongoing interest in reorders, and sometimes all it takes is one store to stock it before the neighboring stores will follow suit.
Getting into bookstores isn't impossible, but it does require a dash of creativity. Keep in mind that if bookstores still aren't receptive after you've tried the tips in this article then maybe you're sitting in a tight market. Areas like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago might be tough areas to get noticed, because these are often the first stops traditional publishers seek when planning author tours and getting stocked on the shelves. If you're near those areas, try looking outside of the city for alternatives that are often overlooked by New York. If that doesn't work for you, then consider non-bookstore shelf space and events. If you're not sure how to do this, check out my other article on events outside of the normal bookstore market.
Over the years we've planned events for our authors in all sorts of non-bookstore venues such as: video stores, electronics stores, gyms and even grocery stores. If events are your focus, keep an open mind and remember: Often the biggest piece of getting your book into a bookstore is the relationship you build with them.