Self Publishing 102: Getting into the Bookstores

Otherwise called, “why isn’t the bookstore carrying my self published book?”

One of the biggest obstacles as a self published writer (I am one!) is getting your printed book into the bookstores, especially the bookstore chains. I’ve found that many independent bookstores are more open to ordering your self published book as long as you promise to have a signing and promote it. As for the chain stores? Nearly impossible, only because they’ve been burned so badly. I’m hoping to explain all of this in my neat little narrative, below.


The Non-Returnable Vortex

Createspace. Viking. Xlibris. Words that chill the heart of a seasoned bookseller.


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These are self publishers whose books, 9 times out of 10, are listed as NON-RETURNABLE because they are print-on-demand (POD). We loathe them. Dread them. Dread scanning them only to know that while you’re zoning that section over and over, that this book’s pages will yellow and it will never go away. Being non-returnable is the literary equivalent of having cooties.

NR books are not bad books. They rarely sell only because they have no budget for promotion without a big name publisher backing it up. Even if you social media the heck out of it, you’re not going to sell out of the five copies per 600 Barnes and Nobles. It took good money for a self publisher to print that copy so they list it as NR so it will never go back to them and they never have to eat the cost.

Most mainstream books are returnable and end up going back to publishers if they don’t sell in a certain amount of time or if the book is getting revamped with a new cover.

You have to see where bookstores are coming from. We eat the loss on these books and without budget from major publishers helping sell them, they sit for years. Years and years and years and don’t sell. We then add them to the clearance sale and gobble up $100 which could have paid for an extra hand on the floor that week.


The Consequences of Tricking Us

Before there were checks in place, a few sneaky authors would call in, to order bulk copies of their self published book (pretending to be someone else) only to never pick it up, leaving us with these NR titles. That didn’t work because it pissed us off so much, every store I worked at would take those books and throw them in the back room on the future clearance shelf or the mark down shelf. We have that prerogative. If you’re an author, don’t piss off a bookseller.

Getting stuck with so many NR books on the shelves made the company lose so much money that we began to force “pre-order” status for NR books, meaning you had to pay for it before it came in. Consider it, “pay to play”. Authors still got around it by returning these books after purchasing them, thinking they forced them into the store. They would leave smug and we booksellers at the registers would glare at one another. What do you think happened to those titles? Yep, the same fate as the ones above. Don’t piss off a bookseller.

It’s not fair, you say. What am I supposed to do then to get my book in the stores? That’s a mixture of hard work, shmoozing, and self publishing through the right company which I’ll go into.


The Consequences of Bullying Us

There was this one butthead author in Cincinnati, who came into the Beechmont Mall B. Dalton in 1999 and started screaming at my boss before she had a chance to look up from her register. He wanted to know why there was only one copy of his baseball book in the store. Being a newbie, I watched as he yelled, scaring customers, and demanded that we order in more. My boss was very polite and smiled, telling him she would shortlist a few. He left satisfied and without having purchased anything. She wrote his book off as a sell down and that one copy went right into the trash. Her bookish bitchiness has influenced me to this day.


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Don’t Settle for the Little Leagues

Spend as much time as you can trying to get your book to an agent and be willing to change anything for them. Names, title, anything. Don’t be stubborn. If you do have to self publish, make sure the book will be returnable. You’ve passed the first hurdle if that’s the case. I’m going to admit that my favorite choice at the moment is, Archway, even though you have to pay quite a bit to get your book published. I’m willing to save my money like crazy if a major player like Simon and Schuster is backing up my self publisher. That’s not to say that there aren’t many other good options besides Archway.


Watch Your Book Price

Now that your book is returnable, make sure it is affordable. There is one self publisher that will remain nameless, who takes such a massive cut of the profits that the author, who is trying to decide how much to sell their book for, is forced to up the cost. I’m talking, pricing a TP (large paperback) book at $30 when in reality, most TP books sell for about $12 – $18. That $30 gives the author a whole $3.00 per book.

Actually, quite a few self publishers do this so…watch out.


Booksellers Can Hand Sell Anything, Including Your Book

If I can sell you a $300 Nook after you purchased a $150 one, I can sell you anything in the store. That includes this awesome new self published book by this awesome new author. When we are enthusiastic about a book or author we are on the front lines, making money for them, and getting nothing in return. Most bookstore chains don’t pay commission or give kudos for selling a lot of books anymore. We do it because we want to.


Send a Few Free Copies to Bookstores as ARCs

We love ARCs. ARCs are amazing. It’s short for Advanced Readers Copy and most publishers make it rain on bookstores before the titles ever hit the shelves. They also help us decide what to hand sell to customers. If we fall in love with an ARC, you’d better believe our customers are going to hear about it. Suck up the money and give a few for booksellers to read and ask them for feedback. P.S. If we like it, we will order more copies into the stores.


Don’t be a Stalker

This is the hardest one. How can you sit at home and wait while you’re stewing about how you haven’t heard anything from your local bookstore about your book? It’s very easy to turn into this woman. Many have done so.


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Just like you, booksellers have things to do and distractions. Coming in every few weeks with promotional bookmarks is the best idea. We always leave them out and customers grab them. You can make some for cheap, HERE.

This also gives you an excuse to wander the store and have a casual conversation with booksellers who are not busy. Did they like your book? Would the CBDM be open to having a book signing? Oh, yes. I forgot. If Barnes and Noble is where you’re at, there is one person you should know…




The CBDM is the Gatekeeper

They used to be called CRM’s but now I keep accidentally calling them BDSM’s. It stands for Community Business Development Manager when it used to be Community Relations Manager. I’m not sure why it changed but B&N higher ups like to make life difficult for themselves.

Most Barnes and Noble stores have one. They are in charge of communicating with teachers and authors. They are the king or queen of quantity orders and events. They wield a most awesome power and if you’re going to schmooze only one person, it should be them. Mondays are the WORST days to contact a BDSM CBDM because there are usually staff meetings. Pick a Tuesday or Wednesday and make it the afternoon because it’s a 9-5pm M-F position in the stores. There are two particularly bad ass ones in Knoxville, TN and Beavercreek, OH.

Don’t bother asking a BDSM CBDM for a book signing if your book is NR. They too have guidelines and one of them is to avoid having to eat large quantities of non-returnable books from an author signing. They can get in big trouble for that.


So there you go! Keep an eye out for my next article, “Self Publishing 103”, where I introduce you to a bunch of free or cheap tools that can help you market your book!


*Comic by Tom Gauld

Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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