It seems that every author’s dream is to get their book carried in a real bookstore. Not to make it to the New York Times best seller list, or to get their book made into a movie, or to get picked up by Scholastic or another big publisher…. Those dreams are there for all writers, I’m sure, but the benchmark so many writers feel will make them a “real writer” is to get their book in a bookstore. But how does one accomplish this dream?
In my other life, I am an office minion who sorts through new product submissions for a retail store. While this is not la vie artistique, it is educational in understanding the perspective of my own prospective retailers when marketing my book, and in seeing both beginner mistakes and professional submission successes.
My number one rule in getting a product accepted into a retail store is Don’t Piss Off The Person You Submit To. This seems straight forward, but I have seen some rather mind-boggling submissions, and in my own book marketing I always strive to be polite and professional, as those are qualities that are often lacking in submissions.
Rule number two and three are a tie. Follow The Submission Guidelines, and Respond to Emails Promptly, are equally important. Retailers are very busy, and don’t have time to sort through a lot of information before deciding whether or not to carry a new product. If they can’t tell why your book is worth carrying, how much it costs, how much it should retail for (which should be at least 40% profit for them after shipping costs), and if they can’t easily get in touch with you, you will not be worth their limited time and patience no matter how ground breaking your work is.
Rule number four is to be persistent and follow up. Contact retailers by two methods, several days apart. The first method is however the submission guidelines require (or if there aren’t any, choose your own favorite method). Unless the guidelines specify otherwise, and if you can afford to, begin by submitting a proof copy (a free, unsolicited copy) of your book to the retailer. Or, if you’re a starving artist like me, just submit a good handwritten cover letter and a professional looking page with the essential info about your book (cover image, cost and msrp, page count, dimensions, summary, and author photo). The handwritten cover page is old-fashioned but attention grabbing, as it shows you spent time on it, and makes it more personal.
After enough days have passed that your potential retailer has had a chance to receive your submission, email or call them. You may do both, but don’t do both repeatedly (go back and re-read Rule Number One). If you haven’t heard back in a few weeks, you may follow up again at that time.
If the retailer contacts you with questions, answer them clearly and professionally with real answers (not “the cost is whatever you’re willing to pay” or other such vagueries), though you should be clear if your price or other details are negotiable. Review and reflect on your answers to make sure you have addressed all of the retailer’s questions. If you hadn’t submitted a proof copy, be ready to give one if asked for it, at your own cost.
Rule Number 5: Be friendly! Be enthusiastic! If you present your book as the BEST thing since Mark Twain, it will go over much better than saying your book is just okay and perhaps not good enough for the retailer’s high standards.
Finally, don’t give up all hope. If one retailer turns you down, try another. Try a lot! The decision not to carry your book is not a reflection on the quality or saleability of your book as it is the retailer staffs’ personal tastes, recent sales history, and other uncontrollable factors. While it wouldn’t hurt to review your submission practices to make sure you are presenting your book in the best light possible, be confident that someone somewhere will want to carry your book in their retail store… all you have to do is find the right match.