Back in April at the London Book Fair 2013 I got into a discussion with a fellow writer about how difficult some independent writers find it to get their books stocked in bookshops. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field, but having been a bookseller in an independent bookshop and having also been part of a team which published the MA in Creative Writing Anthology, I know a little about the subject.
1. Make your local book seller your friend. Yes, I mean a friend. Make sure you go and buy books in the shop regularly and get to know the person who decides what books are stocked. This might be the manager, or a book buyer. Sometimes this is one person, sometimes if the shop is tiny, it’s the owner. This is a long term policy, but then your writing career is a life-time thing, right? Sometimes, though, if the bookseller is particularly keen your kind of genre, they might take a few copies off your hands there and then on a first visit. (So take copies of books with you). I’ve seen it happen, especially in newly opened bookshops (which are as rare as rocking horse poo, I know).
2. Help the bookshop make money out of your books. Give them a good discount – anything below 35% and a bookseller won’t even consider taking your books. The deal will always be on sale or return basis anyway, but their shelf space is valuable, so your books will only make it there if the bookseller can get some profit out of the book. I’ve heard a rumour that even Waterstones now have a policy to stock local authors, so it’s worth trying all the bookshops in your area, even the large chains.
3. Ask if you can have a book launch in the bookshop. Independent bookseller love local authors, because often they know a lot of people who are loyal enough to fill the event. (You’d be surprised how many traditionally published authors cannot fill a room in a small bookshop). Booksellers want people in their shops; they want to build their clientele just as much as you do. If you help to promote the event, you also promote the bookshop so it’s a win, win situation. (I will blog about author events and how to make sure they’re a success in detail under a separate post.)
4. Get your books stocked by established wholesalers like Gardners. When I worked at West End Lane Books in North West London, we used (almost exclusively) Bertrams and Gardners. A small bookshop cannot stock all titles, so much of our trade came from providing a next day ordering service. If your book is easily available to order from one of these wholesalers, any bookshop in the country can order your book. Gardners also now offer a print on demand service. This is the more costly option, however, as they too need a cut from your book, and will charge for the printing. Perhaps this would be something to consider when you’ve first conquered your local bookshops?