Dealing with Bookstores 101 – Pt. 3

Publicity Tip #62

Whether you’re self-published or with a small traditional publisher, your book is likely not being stocked in the local bookstore. Why? With limited shelf space many bookstores only carry books from the big guys. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with bookstores get your share of the shelf space:


Creative Commons, nasrulekram

Know what you’re getting into

Know who to contact

Know how to make the approach

Know how to make sales

Know when to press your luck

In last week’s look at Know who to Contact, I gave the following hint for making initial contact with bookstore representatives:

If you sweeten the pot by suggesting that you’ll do a free draw for book one, a prequel novella, a store gift certificate, book bling, etc. whether you’re doing an event or not then it might motivate them to get to reading your book faster. Also, if your book is timely (the subject is highly sought for), make sure you mention this as well as any formal reviews done, awards won, etc. and emphasize that you fully plan to highlight in all your local advertising that the book is available at their store (this gets their name out more to the local readership and acts as free advertising for them). You get the idea 🙂

This is only one half of the Approach when it comes to bookstores, the other half crosses over into next week’s installment of Know how to Make Sales but is more important in this context, I believe.

Engage your potential buyers.

Assuming you are granted a few hours on a particular day to do an event at a bookstore, what do you do when you arrive? Likely you’ll be given a table near the front of the store or in a high-traffic display area. You might think it more pertinent to set your spot up in your genre area but if you happen to write adult science fiction or cookbooks you’ll want the high visibility location anyway.


Adult sci-fi is less sought after in the average day than general fiction or non-fiction and you don’t want to get lost in the store. At the same time, a cookbook has the potential to reach the average home chef – who could be just about anyone – and you don’t want to be stuck in the cooking section and segregated away from everyone else coming in the store.

Now you need to plan how you’re going to engage your readers.

If you’re naturally outgoing and gregarious, go with it. Talk to buyers as they come in the store and chat them up about their favourite genres, flash your book at them maybe even put it right in their hands (just make sure they’re receptive to this because it may also turn off a buyer – you’ll need to practice reading the moment to know) and either make a strong connection to what they’ve already told you they like or encourage them to try something new if that’s the case.

Most writers are not extroverts.

Taking this simple statistic into consideration this is where you need to utilize the Hint List from above in your sales plan. Take the big thing you’re offering (gift card, prequel novella, etc.) and make sure people know about it. Make up a snazzy eye-catching sign as part of your book table display and include the word FREE.

If this is not an option for you with an ever tightening budget, then make a creative offer (like a draw for someone’s name to appear in your next novel in some form or fashion with a acknowledgement of them in the book) or hook to draw them in.

What’s a Hook?

Often a hook is a question or a call to action. You could use the hook you created for your agent pitch and query letter or the one that became the first line of your blurb (if that’s the case). A call to action often takes the form of “Ask me about…” and then find a commonality to talk about that relates to your book (category, theme, idea, topic, etc.). If you can make it humorous, great; if not, make it something that a lot of people are generally interested in or in knowing about.

Don’t hide.

The book store will almost always give you a chair to sit on behind your table. Take out from behind the table and place it to one side or the other. Don’t let a banner or balloons or a stack of books or a table poster get in the way of you making visual contact with the incoming crowd. If you are able to (physically and emotionally), stand up and hold a copy of your book.

At a recent event the manager of the store told me that a particular author does an event there every two months and sells upwards of 50 books every time. How does he do it? He stands near the front door and places his book in the hands of customers saying, “I’d like to take 60 seconds to tell you about my book.” My immediate reaction was, “He doesn’t write sci-fi does he? (because I do). She laughed but didn’t deny it. I think, if you’re comfortable with this approach and your book is general fiction or non-fiction you might do well. However, as a consumer, if someone were to confront me at the door like that I’d let go of his book and never look back – I don’t take kindly to being accosted by the people in the perfume department of a store or by authors desperate to make a sale. But it clearly works for him and some people just have that kind of gift for drawing others in.

My last suggestion is to make sure you place 2 or 3 copies of your book in your area of the book store – right on the shelf (this is most important for those larger stores who won’t take on your book for long-term consignment until you’ve proven it will sell). Just as you might be an introvert, so might a potential buyer. They’ll notice you and your signage but be too shy to approach. However, they will go to the shelves that hold your genre and look for your book – to be able to check it out in peace, un-harrassed and unobserved. I even take a wonder back to my section every once in a while just to see if someone is checking me out (my book that is) and allow for some one on one time. It doesn’t always result in a sale but if they were interested enough to pick it up and read the back blurb then they might either change their mind or tell a friend about what a nice conversation they had with you – suddenly you’re getting out there via word of mouth too.

Overall, my advice is to analyze your strengths and weaknesses and then develop an approach that best suits you and your potential readers.


Categories: Publicity

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2 replies

  1. Interesting ideas.


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