How can authors get their books on the shelves of retail stores?
While online sales are critical, indie authors should still work to get their books into retail stores to expand their reach. This post highlights three things to keep in mind when trying to see your books on the shelves of major retailers.
I was reading all these reports that were down on retail brick-and-mortar, saying it’s all about online…I think brick-and-mortar is an amazing opportunity to use our stores and our store staff as a vehicle to truly engage with the community in a way no other retailers are doing.Jim Brett, President, West Elm
Jim Britt nailed it when he called brick-and-mortar stores an opportunity. Despite the ongoing reports of the “retail apocalypse,” not working to get your book onto the shelves of major chains such as Barnes & Noble, Target and even Walmart is to miss out on an opportunity to connect with hundreds of thousands of potential readers.
But it’s not as easy as it seems, especially for indie authors, and I want to stress that it will require legwork on your part but, I can tell you by personal experience, that it can be done. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Create a stellar product
Make sure your book is professionally done. If you’ve indie published it, it should have the polish of a traditionally published work. See my last post for more info on that score but, in short, everything from cover design, interior formatting, editing and layout should look professional.
Remember, retailers earn money by turning over stock. That stock has to appeal to customers. As such, retailers will be less likely to continuously order copies of your book if it doesn’t match the standards of the ones next to it—not matter how good the content.
You want your book to impress both the inventory manager and customers at the first glance. If it doesn’t, your book may remain in the stores online catalog but probably won’t be carried in their physical stock.
If you’re not sure you have the time or experience to create a “store-worthy” product, consider hiring a professional team to create that product such as my own house, Logos Publications.
Takeaway: Create a stellar product that will appeal to inventory managers/customers.
2. List with Ingram
I know almost every indie author defaults to Amazon but this thinking is faulty for two reasons.
- Amazon is in itself a retailer which means its the direct competition with the stores you want to carry your book.
- Amazon is a labyrinth of books, which makes it increasingly difficult to become noticed.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have Amazon carry your book. You should. But you consider listing it on the Ingram platform, which will carry over to Amazon by default.
Note: Amazon’s KDP program does have an expanded market program which does carry over to booksellers and libraries, however, I have seen more success going through Ingram directly.
Takeaway: While KDP offers plenty of incentives, your chances of seeing your work the shelves of physical stores are greater when going directly through a wholesaler such as Ingram.
So why Ingram?
Ingram is a book wholesaler and distributor which basically means they are the link between the author and the retailer (the store). Stores do not order directly from authors. Instead, they order from wholesalers at a discount. By having your book listed and distributed through Ingram, you make it easy for stores to carry your product.
Important: If you list through Ingram, be sure your book is discounted to 50-55% off the retailer price and be sure it is marked as returnable. No retailer wants to obtain stock it can’t return in the event it doesn’t sell.
There are other wholesalers out there, such as Baker and Taylor (which was acquired by Follet in 2016) and Brodart so you do have options. But I’ve found Ingram’s fees and distribution results to be reasonable overall.
Once your book is on a wholesaler’s catalog, the legwork for you as an indie author begins. Yep, you guessed it!
3. Reach out
Someone needs to reach out to inventory decision makers and convince them that your book will be something their customers will love.
After all, a wholesaler’s catalog is little more than a list of titles with an ISBN. In most cases, they don’t see your cover or that gripping synopsis it took you all night to write!
Someone has to make the call.
Who better than you?
While larger houses have connections/people that can make this magic happen, as an indie author you have to be prepared to do a whole lot more by yourself.
If you’d like, you can hire a sales rep to represent you or try to connect with a professional distributor. But more on that in my next post.
Note: I strongly recommend gaining a favorable review from an industry leader such as Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus. This can give you good ammo when pitching your book to a retailer. Learn more in WT#9.
Takeaway: Create a retailer discount of 50-55% on your wholesaler’s website and list your book as returnable. Then start reaching out to stores you want to target. Having a credible, professional review can increase your chances of success.
As the number of books on the market continues to grow, indie authors will need to rethink their strategies of effective marketing. Targeting brick-and-mortar retail outlets remains a valid approach.
This is just a brief overview of the main steps in the process and does not guarantee success. In the end, it’s up to each retailer as to whether or not they choose to carry your book in their store. But your chances are much greater by taking the steps above.
If you’d like to talk more about ways you can boost sales or want help developing a strategic marketing plan, book a 30 minute call with me.
JP Robinson is an award-winning author of historical and political suspense, a minister, and the president of Lancaster Christian Writers Association. He is a contributor to Guideposts, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, and the Salvation Army’s War Cry. His work has been praised by industry leaders such as Publishers Weekly and secured the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical thrillers category. JP often speaks to writers and church groups in the United States and internationally. He has been happily married for over sixteen years to his high school sweetheart.