Getting self-published books on store shelves

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In an increasingly digital world, it’s still the dream of many authors see their books in print and on the shelves of their favorite bookstores.  Many stores order books from wholesale distributors such as Ingram Book Company, where Lulu authors can get their books listed through our GlobalReach distribution service.  That means that in addition to having your book on popular online retailers like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, you’re also giving brick-and-mortar stores the chance to carry your book!

But there’s another way to go about it, and that’s by selling directly to bookstores yourself on a consignment basis.  Basically you, the author, purchase copies of your book and work out a deal with a bookstore to get those copies on their shelves.  The catch is that bookstores don’t pay for the books right away: money is only transferred when a book sells, with you being paid an agreed-upon, per-book price.  In short, you’ll need to foot the bill initially and will be responsible for any unsold copies.  Unlike your average print-on-demand sale, where there are no upfront costs to you and books are printed as they’re ordered, you’ll need to spend a little money to make a profit down the road.

Getting Started
The easiest way is to simply talk to someone at your local bookstore.  Each store will have their own practices on ordering books, so you’ll have to ask some important questions before signing any deals.  How many copies will they shelve at a time?  How long is the consignment agreement for?  Are there any fees?  How and when will you be notified of (and paid for!) copies that have sold?  What’s the revenue split between you and the store?  Check out the websites of any places you have in mind; stores often have their consignment policies posted online and you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with them before speaking to someone.

There are a few hurdles you’ll have to get past when selling on consignment – paying to print the books, dealing with the business side of bookstores, and so on – but the benefits make the effort worthwhile.  This method is great for bookstores – it’s less risk on their end since they’re not paying for a book until it’s already sold – and that means more stores will be willing to take a chance on you.  You also stand to make more money per sale since you’ll have more control over the final price of your book.  Overall, the relationships built with retailers and the lessons learned about what it really takes to sell your work can prove to be invaluable over the course of your self-publishing career.

A few final tips:

  • Go Local: You might have better success targeting local independent bookstores rather than big chains.  Small bookstores are generally happy to showcase local talent and might be more willing to work with you not only to display your books but also set up book signings and other promotional events to help sell books.  IndieBound’s store finder makes it easy to locate bookstores near you.  If you do go to a chain location, see if they have a section spotlighting local or self-published authors.
  • Look the Part: Getting your book into bookstores starts well before it hits the shelves.  Unlike online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores only have so much space so they’ll want books that look like they belong there.  Make sure you have an eye-catching cover and that your interior is edited and formatted.  If you don’t want to do this on your own, Lulu has you covered with our professional publishing services.
  • Buy Big: You already know that with Lulu’s print-on-demand model you can print as many or as few books as you like, but just because you can print only one book doesn’t mean you should!  If you have more copies you can make deals with more stores right away.  You also don’t want to find out that a store has sold out and wants more copies of your book and you don’t have any to give them!  With Lulu’s bulk purchase discounts the more you buy, the more you save.  You’ll never find yourself short of books, and you’ll end up saving money in the long run.

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16 Comments

  1. One of the most frequently asked questions by far.

  2. Most of the big bookstores require that your book is available from a distributor. You will need to hook up with a company that can get your book listed with the distibutor who can then make it available to the bookstores.

    You’ll need some minimum print run – likely 500 or more. Big bookstores will not instantly order tons of copies of a new book from an unknown author. They will try a few in select locations and re-order if they sell well.

    Assuming your book is compelling, the quickest way to completely ruin your chances of ever being considered for distribution is to have an amateur-looking cover. Most self-published authors either underestimate the power of a professional cover or just can’t afford to get one.

    Here are the 3 worst mistakes author’s make when self-publishing:
    http://www.clickbitz.com/blog/the-three-worst-mistakes-when-self-publishing-a-book/

  3. Most of the big bookstores require that your book is available from a distributor. You will need to hook up with a company that can get your book listed with the distributor who can then make it available to the bookstores.

    You’ll need some minimum print run – likely 500 or more. Big bookstores will not instantly order tons of copies of a new book from an unknown author. They will try a few in select locations and re-order if they sell well.

    Assuming your book is compelling, the quickest way to completely ruin your chances of ever being considered for distribution is to have an amateur-looking cover. Most self-published authors either underestimate the power of a professional cover or just can’t afford to get one.

    Here are the 3 worst mistakes author’s make when self-publishing:
    http://www.clickbitz.com/blog/the-three-worst-mistakes-when-self-publishing-a-book/

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  7. Gean

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  9. The big problem I’ve run into with both Barnes & Noble and booksellers who buy from Ingram is that even though my book is listed in their catalogs, the fact that it is “pre-paid only, no additional discounts and non-returnable” makes me ineligible to participate in any author presentations or events at their stores.

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  15. Dave Schoch

    The problem here is that most book stores will NOT purchase books from a publisher that does not have a buy-back policy. Going local is not the answer…unless you only want to see your books locally, but for those of us who want to see our books go national, this does not help. Why doesn’t Lulu have a buy-back policy? Its not like you will lose money, you will actually make more profit. I just don’t get it…and it curbs a writer’s dreams when their book can not go national.

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