If you want bookshops to stock your self-published book, you need to give them a compelling reason to do so. You’re not entitled to have your book on bookshop shelves just because you got it printed, so it’s important to give booksellers all the reasons why your book will sell and remove any potential risks they might see with your title.
1. Quality design and layout
Booksellers know that customers judge books by their covers. By having a professionally designed book cover, you’re helping the bookshop to sell your book. Many self-published books get turned down by bookshops on the basis of their cover alone. Likewise, the inside pages need to be clean and well designed, especially if your book involves complicated formatting such as images, lists or multiple headings and sub-headings.
2. A complete and concise blurb
As with the cover design, the blurb is a key selling tool for hooking readers in. Booksellers look for books with a blurb that gives a clear idea of the story or content and what a reader can expect. In some ways, the blurb is the most important piece of writing in your whole book. For more information on blurb-writing, see our blog post on the topic.
Booksellers may be interested in what sort of editing process your book has gone through, especially if they know you have self-published. It should be clear that your book is error-free from a quick flip through and a read of your blurb. This also goes for the length of your book. If it’s longer than a standard book of its kind, there needs to be a very good reason. (You not editing it down to an appropriate length is not a good reason.)
4. Relevant topics
A niche topic can do very well in certain areas and online. However, if you’re approaching mainstream bookshops, don’t expect them to jump at the chance to sell your history of Irish portrait painting from the early 1800s. Even narrow aspects of New Zealand history are not going to be sellable at many bookshops. Topics that will do well are ones that buyers are looking for. You can research this by looking at which topics get a lot of shelf space in shops, or by asking a bookseller.
5. Easy to categorise
Along similar lines, your book needs to fit into an existing category within a bookshop. It’s all very well to write a genre-defying book, but it has to go somewhere in the shop. If you can tell booksellers exactly where your title fits into their ecosystem, that will go a long way to helping them imagine how it might sell.
Fiction writers, I have some bad news. Novels and short stories are incredibly difficult to sell, and poetry is next to impossible. The market is crowded, and fiction by an unknown indie author is riskier for bookshops. A reader is investing not only their money into your book but many hours of their time. If it’s a choice between your self-published novel and an established author with critical acclaim and a nationwide marketing budget, both booksellers and readers are likely to choose the established author.
With non-fiction, there are fewer risks, as a reader is there to be informed, so style and story are a little less important. What’s more, they are likely to have a particular interest in the topic if they’re picking it up in the first place.
7. A regional connection
Bookshops are more likely to take books from authors who live locally to them. In this case, they are relying on your name and local connections. If you’re approaching local bookshops, let them know that you live nearby and about any affiliations that you have with the community, or any local media coverage.
Customers are more likely to come into a bookshop looking for your book specifically if they’ve heard about it somewhere else. By this logic, booksellers are more inclined to stock your book if you have publicity planned. This could be a radio interview, an article in your local paper, or even local a Facebook or Instagram advertising campaign. It’s harder to do as a self-published author, but there are ways you can get the word out. If you’ve done anything like this, be sure to let your local bookshop know and include it on any title information you send to booksellers.
Booksellers are busy people and ordering books from lots of different independent authors takes time. Having a distributor, especially one they already work with can really improve your odds of having your book accepted. This is why The CopyPress has a built-in distribution service for self-published authors. It means that titles from many indie authors are brought together into one central distribution hub. Invoicing, GST and communication is easier for them, and for you too! You get paid a royalty for every book sold into the book trade, so you can focus your time on marketing (or writing) instead of fulfilling orders and sending invoices.
10. A friendly face
You could do everything else on this list, but if you’re rude to a bookseller, you’ll immediately blow your chance. When approaching bookshops in person, being friendly and professional is as important as the content of your book. Booksellers don’t owe you anything, but if you’re a really nice person, they’re far more likely to want to work with you and stock your book. Think about it, unless your book is guaranteed to sell (which very few are), stocking your book is a risk for them. But people like working with people they like, and they’re going to feel more inclined to help you out if you’re a pleasure to work with. Oh, and cupcakes never go amiss!