Nicole Brinkley has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. She is an independent bookseller and the founder of YA Interrobang. Follow her on Twitter: @nebrinkley. Learn from her on Patreon.
One of the things that authors daydream about most when it comes to their book is seeing it on the shelf of a bookstore. But bookstores can be unknown, scary beasts of business. Establishing a relationship with your local bookstore can be nerve-wracking and scary—but bookstores are full of book people who want to sell books. And that book could be your book!
So how do you establish a relationship with your local bookstore?
Know the stock and the rules of the bookstore.
Is your bookstore a new or used bookstore (or a mix)? Does your bookstore carry kids’ books? Do they have a YA section? How big is it? Do they stock independently published or self-published titles? Is there a consignment program? Do they do events?
Books can feel personal, but selling them is a profession. It’s not enough to want your book to be in stores. Knowing the bookstore you want to be working with—even if that’s just walking in and taking a look around, or visiting the website to learn its rules—is a must to starting any professional relationship. While I encourage you to be friendly with the staff and the owners, knowing the rules of the establishment you want to work in is important.
Figure out what you want—and then talk to the right person.
What kind of relationship are you looking to establish with the bookstore? Do you want to work with them on a pre-order campaign? Have them stock signed copies of our book? Do an event with them?
When you know what you want to do, you should ask a bookseller at the store—either in person or just by calling the store—who the best person to contact would be. If you want to work with them on a pre-order campaign, you should talk to a manager or owner and the buyer. If you’re looking for them to stock your books regularly, you want to talk to the buyer. If you want to work with them on an event, you should talk to an events coordinator if they have one—and you should know if they do events.
Don’t take it personally—and be nice to booksellers.
If you’re not a good fit for a bookstore’s clients, the folks you talk to will let you know. It’s nothing personal. Some bookstores don’t sell a lot of genre fiction; some bookstores don’t have a lot of teens who visit the store. Some don’t do YA events. Some don’t do pre-order campaigns on principle.
That doesn’t mean they’re not a great store that you should shop at. But it just means that it’s a no for them.
I’ve seen authors come into bookstores and get mad when the bookstore isn’t carrying their book, even if it’s over a decade old. I’ve seen authors yell at booksellers working off-sites for not having their book at the table, even if the book isn’t relevant to the event happening. I’ve listened to authors yell over the phone because their independently published book can’t be bought through our distributors and is a better fit for the consignment program, and know that authors rail at our events coordinator when she tells them our schedule is full—we can’t do an event next week. Don’t be that guy.
Give it time.
If a bookstore does want to work with you, you need to give them plenty of time to be able to do it. You can’t organize a pre-order campaign three weeks before your book releases. Events are locked ahead months—plural—in advance. You can’t walk in on release day and be mad your book isn’t there when you only asked them to stock it the day before.
Bookstores usually want to work with you, especially if you’re a local author, and especially if you can drive sales to their store. (That’s why having indie-prominent pre-order campaigns and regularly signed stock is so nice!) But they can’t magic up the information and speed you need. Give them time to be able to work with you. You’re not the only author they talk to, and they need the time and space to set things up!
Don’t be scared.
Some booksellers are writers. Some booksellers are editors. Some booksellers judge the National Book Awards. Some booksellers used to be librarians. (Some librarians used to be booksellers.) Some booksellers spend every waking moment reading. Some used to work in book publishing. Some want to be working in book publishing.
Booksellers are just like you. They love books, so much that it infuses their every waking moment, so much that they work retail jobs that do not pay that well in order to better love books and better connect readers with books.
Odds are, if you meet a bookseller, you’ll like them. You have a lot in common.
So even though this is work—getting your book into the world, selling it, making money off it—and even though it should be treated professionally, it’s also fun. It’s books! It’s talking about books, loving books, selling books. It’s the best thing there is.
Reaching out to do professional things can be scary. But don’t be scared. Run ahead full-steam with a smile on your face. The worst that can happen is that somebody says no. And there are always other bookstores—and you’ll always have your next book.
Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
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