Questions from Workshop Participants

The most common question I receive from workshop participants is, “How do I get my book in bookstores?”

While ultimately the decision to shelve your book depends on the owner, here is a simple tip that worked for me.

Send readers to their store.

If you want a bookseller to consider your book, they must know they can sell it. (Step One: Write a perfect-error free book about interesting subject matter). 

An aside: I once visited a pitch session with an agent. A pitch session is where you meet an agent and tell them about your book. If they like your “sales pitch,” they request a copy of your manuscript. Anyway, the woman beside me was pitching her book which featured a talking racoon. After the author described her book as the next Art of Racing in the Rain, the agent kindly explained she wasn’t interested and couldn’t sell the story concept.

“So, can I send you the manuscript?” the author asked.

Dear ones, you will not be like that lady. There is a thin line between assertiveness and career-ending pushy behavior.

All of the booksellers I know have owned their store for years (read decades); this means they knows what their customers read. Take a moment to consider this chart from Publishers Weekly:

Understanding how readers find books is crucial for author's attempting to reaching them.

While I am on that subject let me ask this question, “do you spend money in the store you have approached?” Do you have a relationship with the owner?

Good. Keep shopping at the store.

People also  try a variety of methods to trick booksellers into stocking their books. A common technique is having a friend pose as publicist or agent. This is the BIGGEST mistake an author could ever make. For those who have yet to read my book, you will soon learn that everyone knows everyone in this business. Pretty-pretty please with sugary sprinkles on top,  do not do this to yourself. Do not take your book  into the store, (or have your momma, g-ma, preacher, sister, brother or another obscure relative shove self-published pages under the owner’s nose) and then proceed to tell them you have written the best book since the Bible. Certainly, do not call a bookstore and tell them I sent you. Lawhavemercy.

This is exactly the behavior that will ruin your career, before you even have a career.

You are a professional. You will research and understand how to approach a bookseller before actually doing it. Understand that not every store will stock your book. Not every store stocked my first book. This is the nature of the business. Once you read Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author you will realize the value of their shelf space and the pressure to turn books around quickly.

Dear ones, there is no “fast track” in the writing world. You  must earn your place on the shelves of bookstores with time, patience and a following of readers who adore that perfectly flawless book you have written. Some books never get into the bookstore. They still sell well. They still have a following of readers. Many factors determine the success of your book; professionalism is one of them.

Hope to see you soon.


Renea Winchester

4 Responses

  1. Not a self-published author, but wonder if it may be an easier pitch to bookstores if rather than asking that they simply stock the book if you approached them wanting to do either a reading or signing. Number one, I think this gives them a reason to be interested in someone that they may have never heard of before as some sales at the event are almost guaranteed. Number two, it helps to build a relationship that may urge them to carry future books. Number three, it gives the author a chance to meet potential readers, pitch the book directly to those readers, and thus sell more copies.

    What I find most interesting about the graph above is that of the places readers report finding out about a book from, the only ones that an author can’t directly control are personal recommendations and bookstore staff recommendations. However, those can be greatly increased if an author is able to set up reading/signing events at a local bookstore.

    • David, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Approaching booksellers is a delicate situation. Self-published authors should approach booksellers (ideally) 4-5 months before their book is published. Teaming with another author, or two, is also an excellent way to approach bookstores. The wrong way is showing up at (GASP) another author’s signing, or trying to approach a bookseller while there are customers in the store. Oh the horror stories I could share. Again, thank you for your response.

  2. Great post, Renea.
    I love the pie chart… it makes things so much clearer and easier to understand…. a visual of the breakup. As a newbie published auhor I agree with you 100% that professionalism is key. Lose it and you lose it all no matter how far you’ve come!

  3. I found that the local bookstores were more willing to stock my book than the national stores.

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