We all dream of the day we walk into a bookstore, an airport store, a local supermarket or a gift shop and see our book on the shelf. But how do you get there? Book buyers are the key and you need to know how they choose books for those coveted shelves.
Book Buyers Work Through Wholesalers
Bookstores, supermarkets, gift stores (and just about any other chain retailer) work with wholesalers. Among the biggest wholesalers in our industry are Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Bookazine, America West, Brodart, and others.
For a retailer to buy your book directly from you, they have to go through the hassle of setting you up in their system. They will not likely go through this exercise unless they are convinced that your book is worth their time and trouble. So in the beginning, they will typically want to order from a wholesaler.
If you are focusing on independent bookstores or gift stores, there is a way around this. You can offer them your book on consignment. This means they don’t pay you up front for the books, but only after they sell.
If you have gone the POD route through IngramSpark (which is a good route to go), you are already set up with the biggest wholesaler in the US, Ingram Content Group. IngramSpark is part of Ingram Content Group and they work together to make your book available to retailers. (Just make sure that you choose “returnable” when setting the book up—retailers buy RETURNABLE!)
If You're Not with IngramSpark, How Do You Get Into a Wholesaler?
Getting into a wholesaler is not complicated, nor is it easy. I’ve included a list of links below to the wholesalers' information and application pages. Applying to each wholesaler takes time but is a great first step.
Bookstores and Libraries:
Baker & Taylor - http://www.baker-taylor.com/suppliers_supplier_info.cfm
B&T Application - http://www.baker-taylor.com/PDFs/BT_VendorApplication2016v3.pdf
Brodart - http://www.brodartbooks.com/
Follett (K – 12 and University Libraries) - https://www.follett.com/contact-vendor
Quality - http://www.quality-books.com/ideal.htm
Bookstores and Chains:
America West - http://americanwestbooks.com/information-for-publishers/
Overdrive Application - http://company.overdrive.com/connect-application/
Big Box Stores:
Select Media - http://www.selectmediaservices.com/partners.html
The News Groups - http://www.tng.com/AreYouAVendor/Pages/USABookVendor.aspx
ReaderLink - http://readerlink.net/TitleSubmission.aspx
You're Set Up With Wholesalers, Now What?
When I meet authors and publishers who are interested in growing their sales, I ask them this question: “What shelves do you want to see your book on?”
While that may be true, I hate having to tell them what I am about to tell you…
That will only happen if you can prove to the book buyers at these stores that your book will earn its shelf space.
When it comes to bookstores (and all retailers), you need to show them that you are working to create demand. Stores' book buyers are presented with thousands of different titles each week and they obviously opt for those they think will make them the most money. Books with strong marketing and advertising backing them will be favored over those that do not.
They will also be checking their biggest competitor, Amazon. All bookstores have access to sales data and even the smallest independent bookstores have to be highly discriminating on how/where they invest their time, real estate and resources. So if your sales are poor on Amazon.com, your book won’t make the cut.
I wish it were true that bookstores and book buyers will “give books a chance” and champion the little guy. While there is the occasional exception, bookstores are businesses and judge every potential book placement for its ability to make money.
As for other retailers, airport stores, Costco, and supermarkets have very limited shelf space compared to the rent they are being charged. It’s a buyer’s job to make sure that those shelves earn their keep. If books are put on the shelves that don’t sell enough, the buyer has to replace them, which is expensive and a waste of time and money (and can make them look bad).
No matter how great your book is, you need to prove to the buyer that your book will make money. How will you do that?
If You Don’t Yet Have Impressive Sales Figures, Try This...
Offer the buyer a list of things that you ARE going to do.
- Host a book club online
- Run a BookBub promotion for your eBook
- Offer table or window display advertising dollars
- Write articles for a national magazine
- Get interviewed by national newspapers
I know this list is a bit overwhelming and your next question is probably “well how do I get all that marketing and PR?”
That is an entirely different question we can address in a future post. But now you are armed with the facts about what you’ll be facing when you approach a national chain in the book world or outside of it. It is not impossible to get your book on the shelf of a national chain or bookstore, as long as you have a firm idea of how the business works and what the book buyers need.
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Amy Collins is the President of New Shelves Books and a contributing writer for TheBookDesigner.com as well as a highly respected expert and author on the topic of self-publishing. With over 20 years experience as a Sales Director for companies (such as F+W and WRITER’S MARKET), Amy now guides indie authors and publishers through the maze of book sales and distribution. She does regular programs with National Speakers Association, IBPA, Nonfiction Author Association, Bublish, AuthorU/Judith Briles, Joel Friedlander, Publicity Hound, and many other regional and national author and publishing educational organizations in the US and the UK.