I recently visited with two booksellers. Mims House's catalog now lists 18 books, and I wanted to present them with the variety of my titles. My business plan focuses on education markets, but I also target trade markets and would like to grow that part of my business. I also have new books scheduled for release and I wanted to see if events were possible. Here's how I did.
The booksellers were looking for seven things:
available from her favorite distributor
favorable discount - minimum 40%, 55% best
fits their audience
I visited a small independent bookstore and knew going in that her business model didn't often support indie authors. As she flipped through my catalog and books, she went through her mental checklist. My book was available as a hardcover from her favorite distributor (Ingram) with a favorable discount. But because I use print-on-demand printing, I'm forced to price a bit higher than normal. And I don't take returns. The quality was good and it might fit her audience
I ticked off five of her requirements, but that wasn't enough, even for a local author.
Notice, that there's nothing about quality in that list. She wasn't much concerned about that; instead, it seemed the book was just a commodity that had to fit into her business plan. To be fair, it's a nice bookstore and I do understand her point-of-view. Higher priced books are a hard sell in a bookstore, even when you're doing hand-selling. From her point-of-view as a small business, she can't tie up money in a product that she can't return. But then, neither can I allow returns to eat into my profits! That may fit into my business plan at some point, but not yet.
"What about book signings or other events?" I asked. "You must bring your own audience," she said, "and preferable about 50 people. Otherwise, it's not worth it to my business."
Again, I understand. Events are time-consuming and can be costly. Getting the books there is hard. I offered to provide books at the typical discount, but take home what was leftover. No, she said, that would only work if I could guarantee 50 people attend.
I left with a deeper understanding of the difficulties of making a profit with a small, independent bookstore. But I was also sad that she didn't choose to grow an audience with me; I really felt it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. I'm sorry she didn't agree.
This bookstore owner had the same concerns as the previous, but she was a bit looser on her requirements. For her store, she does order non-returnable books, but she'll only order one at a time. Smart. She can't afford to tie up dollars in non-returnable books.
For events, she was fine with me bringing books for her to sell, as long as I'd take the remainder home. This time, she was excited about the quality of the books with strong reviews and some awards. She quickly transitioned to a discussion of a possible event. We agreed on a date that would take advantage of other scheduled local events such as a Farmer's Market. We also discussed the topic of discussion and agreed that it needed to appeal to adults. I'll be discussing how to help a child choose a great book based on this blog post. With the wider appeal, we hope to pull in a nice size audience.
When you go into a local independent bookstore, you need to go in with eyes wide open. Here are some things to consider.
You'll get a better reception if your a consistent customer and the owner knows that.
Try to solve the bookstore owner's problems! She wants to sell books. How can your books help her do that?
NEVER burn bridges. Be respectful at all times, even if the result isn't what you wanted.
Be ready to leave review copies of anything and everything.
Do you have a catalog? Why not? It's a great selling tool. Leave a copy of your catalog and business cards.
Be flexible. If the owner suggest an event try to make it work on HER terms. Suggest ideas that will help the owner draw an audience: dates, tie-ins to local events, topics, etc.
What has helped you with contacting local independent bookstores?