How To Approach a Bookstore: Tips for Authors

Wendy Taylor, author of No Longer Strangers, speaks at Books, Inc., Palo Alto
Author Wendy Taylor speaks at Books, Inc., Palo Alto. Photo by Rod Searcey

I’m often asked by authors how to get their books into local bookstores. I recently sat down with Tanya Landsberger, manager of Books, Inc., just off the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, to find out how they like to be approached. While her advice might not apply to all independent bookstores, it’s a good benchmark.

How often do you get approached by local authors?
In general, we hear from authors two or three times a week.

We get two kinds of authors. First is the local author whose book is nationally distributed. We may already have the book in our store. If not, we’ll order it either through the Big Seven [publishers] or through wholesalers-Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

The second is the author whose book isn’t available through traditional distribution channels. We may take that book on consignment. If we decide we want it, our consignment deal is a 50-50 split of the revenue. We keep the book on our shelves for about 2-3 months and send a check to the author at the end of that time, along with any unsold books. The only kinds of books we tend to keep in constant stock are local historical titles. They sell well on an ongoing basis.

How do you decide which books you want in your store?
We want the topic to be right for our store and for the local market. If an author who lives out of town approaches us, she has to convince us she has a tight support network in the area. The book also needs to have good design, sturdy binding and high production values-no spiral bounds, except maybe for cookbooks.

What’s the average number of titles you take on consignment?
If we’re just stocking the book, we generally take about 5. If we’re doing an event with the author, then we usually take about 20 copies, and give back all but 5-8 at the end of the event.

Does it matter to you if a book is done through CreateSpace?
It does. We don’t provide shelf space or events for books published under any Amazon imprint-including CreateSpace. We don’t appreciate their business model because we don’t think their model ultimately benefits us and the community.

What about similar self-publishing vendors? Do you feel the same way about books published through Lulu, for example?
They’re fine. We’re just hoping to open the eyes of self-published authors that there are options other than Amazon.

Such as?
Such as Ingram Spark! They’re relatively new. We’re hoping to get authors to consider their services.

How should authors approach you?
We prefer that they send us an email with a photo of the cover and a short description of the book, and then follow up with a phone call. It’s useful if they also have a sell-sheet with ISBN number, price, publication date, and so forth. And they need to let us know: Is the book available through Ingram or Baker & Taylor? Is it returnable? And what’s the discount to us if we stock the book? The average discount offered by the big distributors is 45%–so if it’s 30% or less, we hesitate to order because it may end up costing us quite a bit to stock and potentially return that title.

How important is price in your decision whether to bring in a book?
Well, if disproportionately expensive, say $25 for a tiny book, we’d think twice about bringing it in.

And returnability?
It’s got to be returnable or we’re not interested.

Does it help if the author drops off a book?
Not really: we can decide from the information they send.

What if they want to speak? How should they approach you then?
We’re pulling back on events because there are only a handful of authors who have proven successful at events. The majority, unfortunately, just don’t do very well.

Don’t do very well because they’re bad speakers, or because they don’t attract a crowd?
They don’t attract a crowd. Even the big speakers do their own marketing these days. If an author can convince us that he or she has a big network of followers in the area, we’re interested-but for most it’s hard to tell or they simply don’t have the right amount of draw.

Do you have a shelf for local authors?
We had one, but it didn’t sell particularly well. Every once in awhile we get someone who asks who are the local authors, but not too often–and many folks already know who the Stanford Stegner [Creative Writing] Fellows are.

10 thoughts on “How To Approach a Bookstore: Tips for Authors”

    • Hi Mick,
      It’s difficult to figure out the Amazon algorithms that cause some books to be rated higher than or recommended over others, but my sources tell me that steady sales over a longer period of time are more important than sales spikes.

    • I’m not sure I understand your question. But if you mean: would a bookstore more readily accept a book published through LightningSource than one published through Amazon/CreateSpace, then the answer is probably yes. Why? The primary reason is that books published through LightningSource are generally returnable, which makes a BIG difference to bookstores. The other reason is more emotional: I’ve spoken to a number of bookstore buyers who won’t buy a book through Amazon because they believe that Amazon is stealing their business.

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Kelly.

    We all love bookstores. But even taking Amazon out of the equation as a sales channel, what’s happening now in publishing causes problems for bookstores. The barriers to entry for people who want to publish a book have dropped to near-zero, and so the number of titles published each year is soaring.

    At the same time, the filters have failed. We have no way of knowing which of these independently published books is any good. And of course, the number of pages in your local newspaper devoted to reviewing books has fallen to zilch. It’s going to be a Goodreads or similar site that will have to crack this nut.

  2. Great interview! The questions were great and Holly, your answers were very informative and much appreciated. I really wish there was some middle ground for independent authors to more easily get a chance to be in bookstores. As a lover of paper and books, seeing bookstores go out of business is sad. That being said, Amazon makes is so easy to get your book out there and gives small time people a chance. Glad I now know about your site for more information!

  3. Pricing is one piece of it. Amazon discounts almost every book to some degree, and is fierce about price-matching, asking its customers to report lower prices in the market.

    But there are other reasons, too. Amazon has created a buying process that circumvents the bookstore–to the point that many bookstores have gone out of business. And remember: publishers’ customers are bookstores, not end-users/readers. So publishers’ profits suffer, which means they cannot invest as easily in nurturing emerging writers. And when this happens, the entire literary world suffers.

    I know Bezos (he spoke at the Stanford Publishing Course for several years), and I like him. But I sometimes wonder whether he understands how much oxygen he has sucked out of the literary world.

  4. I’m curious to know how, in Tanya’s opinion, “Amazon’s business model is bad for the community”? Does she mean that their pricing is running independents out of business? Or is there another factor I’m not aware of? Thanks!


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