Self-published authors can tend to concentrate on online sales, but once you have refined your product and have social proof of its appeal to readers, selling via retailers can add another element to your author business. Here’s how to do it.
1 Check your production values
You must make sure that the final product matches or exceeds the standard of traditionally published books. Clever and appealing jacket design is a must – including attention to the spine of the book, as you need the book to stand out once on the shelves. Sometimes simply changing the colour of one word here can draw the eye. Other elements to consider including are puff quotes (endorsements) and tag-lines. If you study a selection of traditionally published books, you’ll notice there’s often a lot more going on that simply the title, author name and blurb. You’ll also need an appealing publisher logo.
Notice how font and colour makes the simple tagline at the top of this back cover stand out. What other visual elements do you notice?
This book in three words is a clever way of helping the reader to quickly identify the key themes of the book. Especially useful for children’s books, where the purchaser is likely to be an adult looking for the themes they know the young reader enjoys.
2 Talk to the experts
Make use of the expertise of booksellers and develop those crucial relationships at the same time. Once you are as satisfied as you can be with your cover design, it’s useful to get some feedback on it – and who better to ask than the booksellers you hope will stock your book? Publishers do this too – and it’s great to get into the habit from the outset of learning a little from each retailer you work with. (I find it fascinating to look at the different display methods used in store for example, and sometimes find myself in discussion with staff on how store and product layout has changed. As your author business becomes more established, you might later consider supplying your own display units, for example – to help your books stand out from the crowd.)
3 Think beyond bookshops
Bookshops can be very crowded places and whilst it’s exciting to be stocked in a range of them, don’t limit yourself to these. There are plenty of other kinds of shops where your book may sell surprisingly well (and you may be able to negotiate better terms of sale also). Don’t forget libraries – though you’ll have to register with PLR (Public Lending Right) or your country’s equivalent.
4 Get organised
You’ll need a clear system for listing retailers, sales terms, their stock levels and invoices. There’s quite a lot of admin here, so being efficient with your time (bundling tasks together
so you e.g. contact retailers for restocking at regular intervals if you can) is crucial. You might identify a town or city you are focussing on at one time with the aim of restocking multiple retailers in one trip. Some retailers will only purchase through a particular channel so listen to any requests like this and consider if you can accommodate. Publishing via Ingram Sparks for example allows you either to order stock for yourself to sell direct, or retailers to order directly from Ingram Sparks – which some will prefer.
5 Make your approach
I asked Jayne Baldwin, author, publisher and owner of the fabulous Curly Tale Books for her advice on how indie authors should approach booksellers. Here’s what she said.
As a bookseller, publisher and writer, I am always happy to consider work from indie authors. First though, make sure you do your research. At Curly Tale Books, we specialise in children's books right up to teen and young adult but I'm often offered books that are just not suitable in terms of target audience. Don't send information off to a bookshop that may not carry your kind of book; it's a waste of your time and theirs. An email introducing yourself and information about your book with any links to e.g. a website or professional Facebook page is the best way to start. I am more likely to respond to this than a flyer which leaves me to look up contact information. Be prepared to offer the book initially on Sale or Return (SoR). I am much more likely to try a few copies if I know I can return them if they don’t sell. Be clear about the discount you can offer on SoR or on firm sale. When we first started selling our own books we had published to other retailers we offered 30% on SoR and 40% on firm sale, but understand that companies like Waterstones and wholesalers like Booksource, Bookspeed and Lomond will want a much larger discount. If a bookshop is interested send books promptly, well packaged and with information and extras like bookmarks and if it's a picture book, perhaps colouring sheets. Offer to do a reading event if it's within your travel range. Always follow up after a reasonable length of time. Booksellers are busy people and may not notice if your title has sold out. Don't send a copy through the post without a first approach (I've had people send books uninvited with an invoice!) though do be prepared to send a sample if required. At any time, we have several self-published books in our shop that sell well – and most started off with an initial friendly email giving basic information about the author and their book.
Thanks for the candid advice, Jayne!
6 How can you help?
Think what you can do to support the businesses you are working with. For example, list stockists on your author website, support their events and promotions via social media, consider writing a blog post spotlighting some of the fantastic shops readers can find your books in.
7 Keep learning
Analyse your data. Where and when are you selling the most books? Can you identify why? Product mix, shop location, position within the store? Can you make changes to help you replicate this success – or approach retailers with similarities? Your book will not sell equally well in each shop and at times there will be a natural drop-off of orders. That’s ok – as long as you seek further opportunities and keep learning. You might, for example, explore the influence of mood on shopping patterns. (One reason airport retail space is coveted.) Could an art gallery or coffee shop with a retail offering catch your reader in the right mood, with time on their hands for a good book like yours?
I really love this part of having an author business. Some writers I work with as an editor and literary consultant tell me they are seeking a traditional publisher so they don’t have to spend time on this, but traditionally published authors also do promotional visits to bookshops and other retailers and both traditionally and independently published authors are running an author business with multiple considerations. For myself, I love getting my kids involved in the tangible side of running a business – counting out new orders, accompanying me on deliveries – as well as getting to know some wonderful shops and booksellers.
Want more pointers on selling your book to retailers, or successful self-publishing? Drop me an email to book a consultation – or book a place on my Edinburgh masterclass, Successful Self Publishing.