(Not) Getting Your Book on a Retail Shelf

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes in any marketing endeavor is not defining a clear goal. It’s easy to get caught up in a clever idea while losing sight of what you wish to accomplish. As authors, we are all trying to market our books. The way in which you promote your work will depend greatly on what you’re trying to achieve. I have read a number of blog posts by self-published authors describing ways to get one’s book on retail shelves. Most of these articles, however, don’t answer that fundamental question … why? Why bother trying to get your title on a retail shelf?

There’s no doubt that walking into a bookstore and seeing your work on the shelves is a wonderful feeling and a worthwhile goal for any author. But that is a personal goal, not a marketing goal. If your marketing goal it is to have as many people as possible read your work, you may be better off first focusing your efforts elsewhere – not just on your local bookstore.

Self-published author and book designer Joel Friedlander echoes my sentiment about trying to get one’s book on retail shelves when he writes:

“My own opinion, after watching many self-publishers try to break through into this market, is that it’s rarely worth the effort unless the book has a really wide appeal and is produced from the beginning with retail sales as the ultimate goal.

Most self-publishers of nonfiction will be far better off building an online community, learning keyword research and how to market their book online, using print on demand for fulfillment.”

There are countless creative ways to use social media, blogs, forums and communication technology to promote your book from the comfort of your home. Many online options may help you reach your marketing goals more effectively than trying to get your book on retail shelves.

If your book does have “really wide appeal” and if you truly feel that you need to have your book in a bookstore, then I would recommend that you read the following post from Maria’s Bookshop — an independently owned and operated bookstore located in downtown Durango, Colorado. This shop does a nice job of outlining what they are looking for from authors wishing to be featured in their store. It does not matter if you live in Colorado, getting your title on retail shelves starts with contacting your local book seller. While all store policies may be different, Maria’s requirements can act as a helpful guide when you approach your local store. Doing so, can help you anticipate what book sellers are looking for and you can make sure that you at least satisfy some of the basics (ISBN, bar code, pricing, synopsis of book) before venturing off to pitch your book.

The point I wish to convey with this blog post is to be mindful of why you wish to have your book available on retail shelves as opposed to promoting it through other means. Sometimes, we can be distracted by our innate desires to have our work in brick and mortar locations that we forget that we have access to hundreds of millions of readers through an Internet connection and mostly free online tools.

Finally, it’s also good to remember the importance of a really clever marketing campaign. You may recall that in April of last year, Andrew Kessler, author of “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days With the Phoenix Mars Mission” rented space in New York City’s West Village to sell 3,000 copies of one book … his own. Kessler’s little stunt was picked up my major news agencies like CNN, The Guardian, Time Magazine and The New York Times. Yes, most of us don’t have the means to pull off an act of this caliber, but it helps illustrate a point. Sure, Kessler could have gone to his local book seller to have them carry a few copies of his title, but he decided to take a different approach. If Kessler’s goal was to get as much exposure of his book as possible, I think it’s fair to say that he succeeded.

My advice: be creative, set goals, and market your books accordingly.

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15 Comments

  1. This is a great article! A lot of authors think that once a book is finished, their work is over. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is actually only the beginning.

    In my experience, you have to be relentless when self-publishing. Personally, I have my books on a few retail shelfs–but only thanks to approaching store owners, writing emails, and continuously following up. Having a clear and concise outline of your books and how it will benefit that store’s customers helps as well.

    However, I’m not hard-pressed to get my books on store shelves. My eBooks have far outsold my paperbacks; plus commissions are greater. I attribute this to (for instance) providing links to my storefront in various youtube testimonials and keeping the conversation going.

    I would like to thank Lulu for making it easier for authors to market their products and make money. Articles like this are needed! BTW if anyone wants to see how I market, check out http://www.youtube.com/flynesspublishing and http://www.youtube.com/theflytube. All have been incredibly successful!

  2. Gavin

    Great feedback Flyness. Thanks!

  3. Totally agree with you Gavin. Many authors work hard for years to get a book on the shelves and while it’s a lovely feeling to walk into a store and see your book there, the sales usually don’t make it worth your while. eBooks are the future, especially on Kindle. What little bit of promotion I’ve done for High Road To Tibet has been repaid many times over in sales.
    The message is clear – concentrate on ebooks is you want more sales.
    John Dwyer

  4. Gavin

    John,

    You’ve provided some excellent feedback. Congratulations on having High Road To Tibet become ranked # 9 in the Nepal travel category on Amazon.co.uk. I have to say that your website http://www.highroadtotibet.com offers fantastic examples of how to market a book, i.e., plenty of reviews, distribution to multiple devices and stores, free sample chapters, informative blog posts, videos, signed copies available for sale, etc… Moreover, your photos are absolutely stunning. Those must certainly help entice people to read your book. Great job and continued success!!

  5. Thanks for your kind words Gavin, it’s really encouraging to hear that from a professional. Of course, it all started with getting High Road To Tibet published as a paperback with Lulu so big thanks to you guys.
    John

  6. Alexia Fraser

    Thanks for all the wonderful information. As a first time author…I appreciate it all. My book “Memories of Mom” will be out in September/October and I will definitely be ready and willing to work hard at self advertising it. I am confident. Actually I have started marketing…I find myself ending my conversations with “its all in my book” :) Lulu is just what I needed.

  7. Gavin

    Alexia,

    Congratulations on your book. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

    As someone currently working to finish another book, I can certainly empathize with your desire to conclude conversations with “it’s all in my book.” I do it all the time. One challenge I have discovered is that it is very helpful to discuss theories and research topics with people both before and after the writing process. The challenge is finding folks with differing opinions to discuss topics with. Both online and in real-life, we have the tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Which is great … But for well-rounded books, we want to make sure that we’ve approached a topic from multiple perspectives. Thus, my challenge is continuing to find people who disagree with me when I find myself ending a conversation with “it’s all in my book.” I need to find those people early in the writing process and chat with them often because it’s their opinions that I should be valuing the most (my friends and family will like what I write regardless).

  8. Seeing your books on the shelves of terrestrial bookstores may be exciting, but it may be a short-lived pleasure.

    The thrill may turn to dispair a few months later if dozens or hundreds of unsold and tattered books are returned from the stores.

    It makes much more sense to concentrate on online sales, with no returns and higher profit per book.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.BookFur.com (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    http://RentABookReviewer.com (pre-publication book assessments)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    — coming soon: “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books” http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing/stinkersworstselfpub.html

  9. Gavin

    Michael wrote: “It makes much more sense to concentrate on online sales, with no returns and higher profit per book.”

    Great point!

  10. Interesting advice Gavin, I’ve recently been weighing up this decision for a book that I’ve recently co-written and despite the book having a rather wide appeal, I think the online community is far more approachable and easier to market to. I’m not sure if going solely down the online avenue is limiting, but I think prioritising it should be beneficial in the long run.

  11. I agree entirely – I’ve gotten some of my regional history titles into a handful of retail stores, but given the time it takes, and the percentage I earn on those sales, it’s really not worth my time. I get some distribution sales through Lulu, and ebook sales are starting to pick up through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I make most of my sales by presenting slideshows about the places my books cover.

  12. Gavin

    There is certainly a balance one needs to find. We are all busy people. It’s a matter of focusing our time and resources accordingly.

  13. Teresa Adele Bettino

    Very interesting…marketing is where I have the most difficulty. I am determined however; with my newest novel Jigsaw to market. It is so easy to write and so hard to promote.

  14. Sandra Crain/Neonapi

    It is nice to hear some honest feedback from someone who has already been through the ropes. I am a hopeful future author and this advice is truly valuable. Peace!!:)

  15. My relatives always say that I am wasting my time here at web, however I know I am getting know-how
    every day by reading thes nice articles or reviews.

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  1. [...] bookstores worth the effort? I just read a very interesting article from lulu.com which asked, “Is getting your book into bookstores really worth the effort?” I have to say, I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a while now. It’s plain to [...]

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