With chain bookstores ever-dwindling, it’s a great time to consider marketing your book to an independent bookstore. Haven’t considered it yet? Maybe it’s time that you did. Bookstores, whether just for stocking or for events, can be a great book marketing goal. They are also a great way to get in front of more readers as well as build your local tribe.
Not sure where to start? Let’s have a look at some things you’ll want to know, before you start pitching.
What Indie Bookstores Look for in a Good Book
It goes without saying that your book should be of the highest quality, with a great book cover, and the title on the spine, with a bar code and an ISBN. And while I say that it goes without saying, it’s absolutely worth mentioning. Why? Because there’s no quicker way to lose the interest of a bookstore, than to present them with a book that’s poorly done. Also, if your book is older it might be tougher to gain bookstore interest, too. Much like any retailer, indie bookstores want something that’s fresh and new. They also want something that you’re actively promoting, so be sure to share any book marketing efforts with them. More of about this in the section below.
If your book has won any awards, be sure to highlight that in your cover letter, too. We’ll talk more about cover letters in a minute.
Remember that even though indie bookstores are a great, and often underused target, you’ll still need to sell them on your book.
How to Pitch Indie Bookstores
First you’re going to dig into where these bookstores are in your area. In some cases, you may not have any in your immediate area. However, it could be worth your time looking at adjacent towns. Check out www.indiebound.org to find bookstores in your area, you might be surprised how many indie bookstores are nearby! When I looked up my town, I discovered bookstores I didn’t even know existed. So check out the site before you map out your targets.
As you explore this directory of stores and begin putting together your list, have a look at the indie bookstore websites and see what their guidelines are for pitching books. Depending on what your book marketing goals are, you may want to pitch only for shelf space. However, you might want to consider doing book signing events there as well. Most stores will have these guidelines on their website, or a way to contact them so you can get more information. If there is no information on the website, call the store and ask for the adult book buyer, or whoever fits your genre. In most cases, you’ll find that one person manages all the buying, but this varies from store to store.
As I mentioned in the section above indie bookstores are looking for fresh, new and popular. So as you’re pulling together your package to pitch them, make sure and highlight why this book is good for their store. And depending on whether you decide to do a book event, or just ask them to carry the book, your letter and package may be different.
Elements of Your Pitch
You’ll want to start with a cover letter. Keep it short and to the point. Remember these book buyers or book store managers are very busy and get pitched a lot,. So share only the most important points with them. Things like awards, media you’ve done, or plan to do should be included in your book marketing plan. And, remember to only highlight some of the things you’ve done, and what you plan to do if the book is stocked in their store, or if you do an in-store book event.
If you want to do a book signing event or a talk, outline what you plan to do. A brief talk and a book signing? A workshop? And then explain how you plan to promote it to your local media. Bookstores, regardless of their size, may have a mailing list, but they don’t do your book marketing for you. So present them with a plan that addresses how you will help to either drive people into the store, or drive readers to your book signing event.
Finally, indie bookstores will want to know that the book is carried by Ingram and that the book is returnable. If it’s not, they may ask if you’re willing to do consignment sales, which I’ll address in a minute.
Consider the Local or Seasonal Angle
They say that the best way to get someone interested in what you’re selling, is to sell to people who are already interested in this. The same goes for indie bookstores. For many stores, there’s a strong appeal to carry books by local authors. As well, you may have a book that ties into something seasonal, like Christmas or back to school.
If you do pitch around seasonal times, be mindful of the fact that most indie bookstores are going to fill their shelves early. So showing up a week before Christmas and hoping to get your book stocked, is not only bad book marketing, but by then bookstores are so frantic with buyers and last minute sales, they probably wouldn’t be able to even consider your book till February. The takeaway? Start pitching early!
Types of Bookstore Events
If you pitch indie bookstores for an event, they may offer you the option to participate in a “local author” event. And while I love these in theory, there are a few things to look out for.
Local author events sometimes focus on any author locally, regardless of the genre. I’m not a fan of this, mostly because if these events are focused on a cross-section of books, you may or may not be pulling in readers who are interested in what you’ve written. So while it may be good experience, and a great chance to connect with other local authors, don’t expect to sell a lot of books.
If you’re doing a local author event, I’d suggest looking for events that are, at least, similar in genre. So all non-fiction authors is fine or mystery across different sub-genres (like legal thriller, cozy mystery, etc.). Remember you don’t want to try and sell a puppy to a cat person, the same is true for your book. Most mystery readers won’t cross over into romance and vice versa. So again, while local author events are great for networking, there might be better ways to spend your book marketing equity.
Sales in Indie Bookstores and Specialty Stores
Whenever I’ve sold books into indie bookstores or other specialty stores, I find that traditional ways of selling don’t always work for them. If someone asks you to do consignment, I wouldn’t turn it down. But I also wouldn’t go into it blindly. While indie bookstores would never want to rip you off, you should also protect yourself by making sure you get the terms in writing. Generally I’ll send a very brief letter of agreement that indicates the number of books I’m sending them, and what their percentage is. Most bookstores will have this already, especially if they do a lot of consignment. But have one ready just in case.
Benefits of Doing Local Events or Having Books Stocked Locally
I love local media, it’s overlooked by many authors, but can be a great way to build your local tribe. It’s also a fabulous way to get your feed wet in media, if you haven’t done interviews or worked with any media before. But when it comes to a solid book marketing plan, local media should be at the top of your list.
The only challenge is that it’s easier to get local media if there’s a local tie-in. So, for example, your book is stocked locally and you can share that with the media you are pitching, or you have an upcoming event you can drive people to.
If you are lucky enough to add indie bookstores to your list of book marketing achievements, be sure to take care of this connection. Make a strong and concerted effort to push this to local media, let readers know where they can get your book. Add this indie bookstore to your website and let people know they can walk in and buy the book! The more you help push readers into the store, the more books will get sold. And as a result, the stronger your indie bookstore relationship will be.
Book marketing, at its core, is all about the relationships you build. One of the strongest and best, can be with indie bookstores which are surging in popularity right now! Ready to kickstart your own book marketing? I can help! Learn more here!
If you’ve been pitching yourself to indie bookstores, or had your book stocked there or done events, please let me know in the comments!