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Session: Change Your Marketing Habits to Sell More Books

There are a great many small, powerful shifts authors can make in their daily habits that will directly impact and improve their book sales. Marketing and promotion does not have to be a huge, overwhelming drudge. Small, powerful habits can be added to our routines. These habits and activities quickly turn into book sales if they are kept up. Join Amy Collins to explore the right and wrong way to spend your time when marketing and building a platform.

Format: Video Interview

Audience: All Levels

 This post is part of London Book Fair Self-Publishing Advice Conference (#SelfPubCon2019), an online author conference that showcases the best self-publishing advice and education for authors across the world — harnessing the global reach of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ network. Our self-publishing conference features well-known indie authors and advisors, for 24 sessions over 24-hours, in a one-day extravaganza of self-publishing expertise straight to your email inbox. We hope you enjoy this session. Let us know if you have any questions or input on this self-publishing topic. Visit our Facebook Group and join in the conversation there, or leave your questions and feedback in the comments section below.


Hello. My name is Amy Collins. I am from New Shelves Books and I am thrilled to be here talking to you guys about book sales, distribution, wholesalers, retailers. So many times I’m asked by authors “How come so and so gets to have their book on the shelf of whatever the bookstore or the chain is, fill in the blank and I can’t have my book there. How come his book is that airport stores in mine isn’t. How come? How come her book is on the bookstore shelves and mine is not.” Well, it can be. That’s what we’re going to go over through. During this segment we’re going to look at the ins and outs of book sales and we’re going to describe in detail what a distributor or a wholesaler and retailer can do for you and how they work. So if that’s okay with you guys, let’s get going and talking about what it is that stores need from us if they’re going to take our books in.

See, guys, stores, libraries, wholesalers, they all have goals, wants, needs that we need to understand. We need to come from the point of view where we are trying to be of service to the stores that we are approaching. Too many times authors will walk up to a librarian or a bookstore employee and want to sell them their book without any idea what it is the store needs, what it is that might make a great fit for the author or the book. And so we’re going to talk about the right materials and the approach that might be able to make a huge difference between what a lot of authors are experiencing now, which is a whole slew of no’s and I don’t care what format that no comes in. Perhaps you’ve heard, “Well, we don’t take print on demand books.”

Okay. Perhaps you’ve heard “We don’t take self published books.” Perhaps you’ve heard, “I’m sorry, we need to go through such and such a wholesaler.” All of those answers are true, but they all come down to one thing. It is somebody saying, “I don’t want your book.” It is a no and it’s hard to take. I get that. It’s incredibly hard to hear, but I want to turn those no’s around. I want to turn them into yeses because lots of independently published and self published authors have their books in libraries, in stores, so if somebody says to you, “We don’t take print on demand books,” that’s just not true. What they’re saying is they don’t want to take your print on demand book, so let’s see what we can do to turn that around. Let’s take a look at some of the goals that the buyers or librarians that you might be approaching might have in their front of their mind on their day to day business.

One of the first goals we all need to understand is that bookstores need to acquire books that their customers want. It doesn’t do any good for a librarian or a bookstore buyer to bring a book in if their customers or patrons are not going to pick it up and take it off the shelf. They want to increase their foot traffic. The more people that visit their location, the better chance they have of being open tomorrow. Mainly what I’m talking about is staying open. These buyers who are deciding whether or not to stock your book, they need to be in business tomorrow, and every decision that they make has to drive them to the goal. What can they do to be successful and to make enough money to keep their doors open, which also means they need to stay in budget. See, it’s not just about making money, it’s how much do they spend.

If your book is priced way outside of the range of what is appropriate or what has been considered traditional in your genre, you may get a no, and it may have nothing to do with the quality of your book. It may simply be that purchasing your book, will drop them out of budget and they just can’t make that decision because again, they want to keep the lights on tomorrow. Another big goal that most of the buyers and librarians have when you’re speaking to them is they want to do a good job. They, I mean, they want to be helpful and they want to to be there and do, everyone wants to do a good job. We all want to be seen as helpful, but they need to be able to do it easily. These people are incredibly understaffed. In the last few years, the number of people actually working the floor or working on a given shift at a library or a store has gone down dramatically, so there’s a lot fewer people doing a lot more work.

It all comes down to this, guys, can you help the book buyer and the bookstore that you’re approaching or the supermarket or the airport store, can you help them make money? If you can help them achieve their goals and make them some money, then you have a really good shot of getting your book onto their shelves. The good news is no matter what you’ve heard and whomever has told you this, I promise you that stores in libraries worldwide can and do buy self published and independently published books and librarians buy ebooks and audio books from self published authors and independent publishers. So what is going to separate you from them? It’s a few of the facts that we’re about to go through. I want you to put aside the idea that pod books, print on demand, self published books don’t get into the stores. They do all the time.

I personally have sold hundreds, thousands of these books into the stores myself recently, but the big thing that makes a difference that separates the books that get into the stores from the books that don’t are the following. Books that get into the stores are professionally published. They’ve been professionally edited, professionally designed. They were proofread. Their copyright page is pristine. Somebody, whether it’s a team that the author put together or a company that the author hired, but somebody put the book together in such a way that it looks, feels and reads exactly like a book, not almost, but exactly like a book that was published by one of any one of the top publishers. The other thing that a successful book has that books that don’t do as well don’t if there’s a marketing plan, is their advertising dollars, what are those advertising dollars going to be used for, what is the plan?

Is the author going to be on radio or podcasts? If it’s a novelist, are they going after reviews? Active reviews. See, guys, reviews are very important. Reviews are key. You need a review from professional independent reviewers. You absolutely need a review or several to show the buyers that an independent professional book industry person read your book and gave it a thumbs up, gave it the review that you deserve. And I’m not talking about a review that you purchase. I’m not talking about a review that you pay for. It has to be independent. It has to be autonomous. It cannot be paid for. Midwest Book Review. There’s the proper Kirkus reviews, not Kirkus Discoveries. There’s the Forward, again, Forward, not Clarion booklist. Even your local newspaper, a high end blogger, constantly, please, constantly be reaching out to reviewers on a regular basis. No matter how long your book has been out, if you want your book in stores, you have to have a third party to give your book a thumbs up.

That is in many cases how a librarian or a bookstore buyer decides right away whether or not a book is going to go in the maybe pile or into the no pile. And the last thing, and I certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, but the last important thing is ask yourself, “Do you as an author and does your book have a strong professional online presence? Do you have a good website with a media page? Are you out there on social media? Does your book have press releases? Were they released? Are you easy to find online and are you easy to find somewhere besides Amazon? Please do not walk into your local independent bookstore and with the idea that the only online presence for instance that you have is amazon.com. Amazon is their biggest competitor. Your webpage has to be solid.

You need a landing page for your book. You need other bloggers or other book professionals to have mentioned your book online. Is your Googleability as I so awkwardly just put it, is it good? How is your search engine optimization? Please, I know you would just want to shut off your brain at this point. I know you’re like, “Oh, I can’t handle online stuff,” but you can, if you want to be in bookstores, if you truly want to be in libraries, you need to be professionally published. You need a marketing plan, you need independent, autonomous third party reviews and you need a strong professional online presence. You guys can do this. If you were smart enough to write an entire book and if you are dedicated enough to put 40, 60, 80, a hundred thousand words together, then you are certainly capable of doing these things.

This is nothing compared to writing a book, but it has to be done. The difference is when someone says to me, “Well, how come so and so’s book is in the airport stores and mine isn’t?” In most cases, it’s one of these four things. They weren’t looking impressive enough online. Their book, although beautifully written, was not impressive enough on its publishing level or the marketing plan or reviews were not enough, so keep working on those things. They are key as we move forward.

I want to talk a little bit about the terms and definitions that you may be facing. When you do approach a bookstore or a library. See bookstores and libraries, they’re gonna ask for a discount. They’re going to ask for returnability. They’re going to ask for certain wholesalers, and at some point you may say to yourself, what are these things?

Well, let’s cover them. Let’s go over them quickly. There are retailers and there are wholesalers. Now, they’re very, very clear. The difference between the two; a retailer buys directly from a publisher or a wholesaler and they sell directly to the public. A retailer could be amazon.com, Barnes and noble, indigo, W H Smith, Waterstones or a retailer could be your local independent bookshop. It could be a local pet shop or a hardware store, but a retailer will usually buy either from the publisher or a wholesaler to turn around and sell your book to their customers, which are the public. A retailer needs, and I mean this, it’s imperative that they get at least a 40% discount and that the books be fully returnable for them to consider your book. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of your books being sold on a returnable basis then retailers are not a great fit for you.

So many authors are terrified of their books being returned in droves and that’s just not been my experience. What you will find is yes, some of your books will be returned, maybe a lot of them. If that is the case, then you really need to take a look at the stories that you chose to put your books in. But in my experience, that is so rare. What usually happens is a few books are purchased and very, very few are ever returned because bookstores are going to work with you to grow and to help you earn your way onto more and more shelves. A bookstore is not going to order 80 copies of your book for one location unless you’re doing a big event and you tell them that they need to order 80. For the most part, they’re going to order one or two copies, see if they sell, and that is how you start to earn your way onto their shelves.

And one of the places actually the major place that these stores will be buying from will be wholesalers. Wholesalers actually are not, they do not work for you. Wholesalers will buy from you. A wholesaler will buy books from people like you or distributors. There are companies out there will that will distribute books for you in exchange for 30 or 40% of your distribution costs, but these wholesalers will buy the books from you to turn around and sell to the retailers. They’re going to need a 50 to 60, 65% discount. They too will need your book’s returnable. So if a wholesaler such as Ingram Baker and Taylor, Bertram, if these wholesalers buy your book at a 55% discount, they will then turn around and sell those books to a retailer, to a bookstore, to a supermarket chain at a 40% discount, who then will turn around and sell those books, usually at a 20% discount to the public.

And that is how it all goes down the pipe. Wholesalers buy the books from you, they turn around and sell them to the retailers who turn around and sell them to their customers, the public, the reading public. You will need to give a very deep discount to the wholesalers. You may say to yourself right now, well, I’ll just go to the retailers directly and I will sell them cause I only have to give them a 40% discount. Absolutely, but think about what else you’re going to be paying. You’ll have to pay for shipping. You’ll have to pay for all of those costs. The boxes to box the books. When you sell to a wholesaler, the wholesalers pay to get the books into all those stores. They pay for the trucks, they pay for the boxes, they take care of it. If you’re going to sell directly to a retailer, you’re not going to get into as many retailers as you would if you went through a wholesaler because many retailers do not have the time or energy to set up a new account with a small publishing house.

Every time they find a book that they want to try, you are in a really good position. If you take a look at the price of your book and it is right in line with what the market’s asking for and you take a look at a 55% discount and you still can make a dollar to profit, even a dollar or so per book, you’re in much better shape to go through a wholesaler than to try and do this yourself because selling directly into the stores is a lot more expensive than it looks. We’ve covered the different definitions. You now know that books are sold returnable, which means that if a retailer or wholesaler buys your book and they can’t sell it to their customer, they can return it to you for a credit. You know the discounts you can get. We now see the difference between retailers and wholesalers.

So what’s next? Next is the key question that all authors who want to sell their books into stores and libraries need to ask themselves, what can I do as the author/publisher to help this store or this library? But what can I do to help them achieve their goals? I could walk into a local independent store and tell them all about my book and how wonderful it is and even about the great review that I’ve recently gotten from Midwest Book Review and ask them to buy my book. That’s one way to approach it, but I promised you at the beginning of this session that we would take a different approach and so the approach we’re going to take is one of service. We are not going to sell our books to bookstores. We’re not going to sell our books to the book buyers or the librarians.

We’re not going to sell our books to the major chains of the airport stores. We’re going to offer our book to these places and we’re going to do it from a place of service. We’re going to ask them, what can I do to help you achieve your goals and here are some of the ideas that I really thought would help. First, you’re going to determine which stores you want to approach. For some of you that may be major chain stores, for other stores it may be small independents. Still, others, maybe you don’t want to sell returnable. So for you you’re focusing on libraries and gift stores because libraries and gift stores they buy non returnable, but you’re going to determine which type of store you want to approach. You are then going to have to identify the list of distributors and wholesalers that they use. Major chains use distributors and wholesalers almost exclusively and it’s easy to find out who these guys are.

Just go to Google, depending on which store you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a local independent bookstore and you want to know what distributor or wholesaler they use, there’s a really good chance in the UK that it’s Bertrams or gardeners, Ingram in the US, Ingram, Baker and Taylor. So determine who the distributors and wholesalers are that the stores buy from. And then I want you to research the stores. Stop in the stores if you can, if not definitely research them online. Find out if they do events. Do they have a newsletter? Pour over their website. Take a look at their locations. Please do not approach any store or any buyer until you know who it is that you’re talking to. It’s just bad form. I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s not great business. So ,research where if you want to be in libraries, you better I’m begging you, spend quite a bit of time in libraries before you pick up the phone or drop an email to the first librarian.

And then once you know who knew you want to go after, once you know what distributors they use, once you’re very intimately acquainted with how they do business, you can decide what you can offer these guys to be of service to them. I have a few ideas for you, some of the things that I offer to stores and bookstores and libraries to be of service, one of the first things I do is I will tell any store or library and I mean it, it’s the truth that any store library that agrees to stock my book. I would love to do a series of Facebook ads or online ads, maybe even, you know, Twitter, but mainly Facebook ads to start, that I will do a series of ads in and around their geographic area, driving people to the store, that when they click on that Facebook ad, it will actually take them to the front page even if it’s a library, it’ll take them to their website where they can check the book out. Do you know libraries checkout a lot of books now and reserve books. People get ebooks from libraries all the time and never even leave the comfort of their own living room. So I will quite often start by being of service. Remember. I told you that bookstores and libraries want to drive up foot traffic. I will offer to do some and they’re inexpensive, but I’ll offer to do some online advertising. I will have a major social media campaign planned where I tag the stores and I start tagging the stores the minute they show interest in my book, I send them an email.

We’ll talk about the email to send in a minute, but the minute they respond, I will then go on Twitter, tagging the store with their Twitter handle or whatever social media platform they’re on. And I say, “I really want to thank so and so at such and such store, tagging the store. it’s wonderful that local independent stores are actually giving authors, you know, a fair chance nowadays.” So the minute now don’t do it before they respond, but when they respond, show them some public love. Everyone loves to be appreciated. So one of the ways you can be of service to the store is to make the buyer see by tagging them online and maybe their bosses will see too that you’re supporting the store in social media. Another idea, remember I told you a minute ago, you should research the libraries and the bookstores to see what they’re doing.

A lot of stores and a lot of libraries have newsletters printed and online. Contact the stores and offer them content. Perhaps you’ve got an interesting article idea that you can share with them. Maybe if an article ideas is not, maybe you’ve got a top 10 list or a fun series of cartoons you can give them, whatever it is you have to offer, offer them content. They’ll love that. The last idea, because I could go on and on and there’s a million ideas and you guys are creative folks. I mean, you’re far more creative than I am. I’m sure you can come up with things that you can offer them to be of service. But if you’re a children’s book author, do not overestimate the power of a good story time kit for any you who are selling children’s books, stickers, non latex balloons. But you can actually put a story time kit together and offer it.

Make a nice photo of the story time kit, send it to the store, send it to the library, tell them that you’d be happy to offer them a word jumble and sticker and you know, a kit for their story time. Story times are incredibly effective both in the stores and libraries. If you are a children’s book author and you want to get into the stores, one of the easiest and fastest ways to be of service to the store. Even if you can’t be in the city where the storytime is happening. If you can, that’s great, go do the story time. But even if you’re across the country, you can put a story time kit together. There are just a few ideas and I just, you know, came up with those on the fly, but there are a few ideas of how you might be of service to the store.

So you know why your book is important to the stores. You know what the store’s needs are, you know where they buy the books from, you know the wholesalers and the distributors that they work with. You have a list of ideas how you can be of help now. Now you’re allowed to pick up the phone or pick up your keyboard and reach out to these stores. I usually start with an email. I will send an email to the store. You can usually find their email address right on their website and I start by investigating and I ask them simply, who is the person who is responsible for making the purchasing decisions? For the books that are on your shelves, just ask a simple question. Who is that? How do I get ahold of them? If they do not respond to your email, you may need to pick up the phone and ask, but it’s a perfectly lovely, valid, safe question to ask.

Just “Who is the person whom you’re responsible to? Who is responsible for doing that?” Once you have their name, it is so easy to reach out to them and start a conversation. If you keep the following things in mind. Once you know that it’s Susan for such and such books, I want you as you’re reaching out to her to keep the following things in mind: that the right approach can make all the difference. As you’re speaking to Susan or whomever, just try to keep in mind that her needs take precedence over yours and if you can be helpful to her, she will and if your book can be of service to her. She will order your book. It’s her job to order your book, but it is your job to show her how your book can help satisfy her needs. Make sure that your materials and professional and everything is locked down tight both online and in anything you email.

Make sure your online presence is a plus and make sure that’s in place before you reach out to the Susans of the world. Get everything proof-read. Nothing turns off a book buyer like a spelling mistake and please keep in mind that reviews and a good marketing plan are vital. They’re not optional. You need reviews and not amazon.com reviews. Please. I’m begging you. Those you need independent, professional, third party autonomous reviews. It is not hard to get them. Guys, you just need to ask. There are numerous places right on the ALLi website that will show you and teach you how to get reviews. The difference between an author and a book that has professional, autonomous third party reviews and the books that don’t is the authors who actually go out and ask for them that make their books available, that are sending out review copies, even just ecopies, do not skip that step.

It is so important if you want to be in the stores and in the libraries out there, the right approach can make all the difference. Be of service. As I said before, I have really enjoyed working with you. I love getting a hold of and seeing everything that ALLi is putting out. This is a fantastic organization and I am honored and grateful to Orna and her entire team for letting me be even a small part of it. If I can be of help in any way, please reach out to me through this organization and I hope that this has been in some small way a help to you. Have a lovely session. Please check out all the other sessions that are going on on this wonderful conference, and I will see you soon in the bookstore.

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