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Session: How to Get Your Self-Published Book Into Bookstores

Robin Cutler, Director of Ingram Content Group at IngramSpark, addresses the difficulties self-published authors face getting their books into bookstores. Her presentation will cover everything you need to know to break down these barriers and see your paperbacks in physical bookstores.

Format: Video

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.


Robin: Hello everybody. I’m a stand up because I’m really short and you might not be able to see me sitting up here. My name is Robin Cutler, I’m the director of Ingramspark is everybody having a good time at the London Book Fair? Who’s here for the first time? Oh Wow, about half of you and you’re learning a lot, like, are your head’s about to explode? Like you can’t take in anymore information. So at the end of the day will fill you with some more. So, as I said, I’m the director of Ingram Spark. IngramSpark is a Ingram, which is the world’s largest book distributor. Ingramspark is our self publishing platform. So we distribute print and ebooks. We have a stand down stairs that’s a right behind the big Ingram stand and you’re welcome, we’ll be here all day tomorrow for any of you that are going to be here just come down there.

Robin: We’ll answer any of your questions. So, we have a great panel to talk about distribution, to talk about how to get your books into bookstores, book shops they say here in the UK, we say book stores in the US. Ingram is actually based in Nashville, Tennessee, which is in sort of the east south eastern part of the US. I actually live in New Mexico, which is in the southwestern part of the US. Anybody ever been to New Mexico? Okay. I’m hoping Orna and I can do a conference in New Mexico later on in the year. We’re kind of working on it. So anyway, so I’m gonna have my panelists introduce themselves and then we’ll start just having a chat about distribution in bookstores. So Orna.

Orna: So hello, I’m Orna Ross. I am an author, like you. I write poetry, nonfiction and fiction and I’m also director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. And yeah, we recommend very highly Ingram Spark as one of your options as an author, particularly for print books.

Amy: My name is Amy Collins. I am not an author like you. I have hated every word I’ve ever written. I’m one of those soulless, awful people that sells and distributes books. I’m the one who makes you the money. So if you have questions about that side of it and I am honored to be hereb Robin. Thank you.

Robin: Thank you.

Andy: Hello everybody, I’m the most corporate person here. I work with Robin, on Ingram Spark, but also I work on a lot of the Ingram businesses outside North America. So you’ll hear about today, a lot of the technology that we use for Ingramspark is the same technology that is used by the general trade publishing.

Robin: Thanks, Andy. And Andy is based at our Lightning Source facility that’s in Milton Keynes. I don’t know if any of you kind of know about that. So first of all, and I’ll ask this to Orna and Andy, are booksellers interested in the indie authors because isn’t that the main question?

Andy: Yeah, yeah. I can-

Robin: Hold it up a little closer.

Andy: So are bookstores interested in indie office. So Orna hopefully will agree, but I think a book store is genuinely interested in books that have got demand driven through them. So, one of the beauties of using a platform like Ingramspark is you are the publisher and you can have your own imprint and you can have your own publishing brand. So, there’s nothing instinctively that would scream that your self published if you were to use a platform like that, but in truth. But most importantly what a bookstore is wanting is books that are going to not stay on the shelf but move. So if you’re driving that demand and you’re driving the connection with the readers, then the bookstores are interested because they want books that sell. So if you can offer added value into a bookstore that isn’t easily replicated online, then that is something that I think is of interest to bookstores.

Orna: I’m going to stand up because I can’t see the people at the back if I don’t. I echo everything that Andy has said there and he said it really well. And I think that is the main thing that you need to think about. Very often authors think “If I get my book in the bookstore, it’s their job to sell it.” But isn’t like that, actually you are the publisher and so you are in charge of the marketing and you are in charge of the publicity and you’re in charge of whatever activity you have chosen to drive your book. Secondly, booksellers can be a little bit reluctant because there is a quality issue around self published books. Not all self published books are published to standard. So that is your first task. We have a free book for you if you want to come and collect it afterwards called How to Get Your Book, How Authors Get Their Books Into Bookstores.

Orna: And it’s very much about using the services that Ingram Spark provides because you can bring in a few books to your local store and they may take them on what is called consignment print. You know, you do a consignment printing and you bring a few books in and they move them for you, but most stores are doing that really almost as a favor. It’s kind of awkward for them to manage, you’re not fitting into their invoicing systems and so on. They want to be able to order your book and that means you have to get it through to distributors. And for indie authors the way to do that is to be on Ingram Spark so that a bookstore can order your book and that if you make that easy for them that’s really good. It, of course, means you have lots to think about it. But I’m sure Robin will be talking about.

Robin: So Amy, I know that I’ve heard you talk a lot to indie authors about and you’ve had the experience, you’ve been a bookseller, right? Yes. So, tell us like what exactly a bookstore is looking for when they’re considering, you know, what they want to bring in.

Amy: $7 million. No, I was a book buyer for many years for a chain of stores in New York. And before I jumped the desk to the sales side and what they said is absolutely true. All of it. In addition, you’re, we really look for returnability, fair or not. Whether or not we like it or not, books are still bought on a returnable basis from the shops, from the chains, from the airport stores. And if you’re going to be taken seriously by a bookstore, your book needs to be properly edited. The design has to be stellar. It needs, cover design and interior design is not something you can learn on your own. I mean, yes, you can learn a lot of it, but if you really are interested in getting past the gatekeepers in the bookstore, get professional help. People who have, who have apprenticed at the feet of masters and know what a good cover looks like, and finally in the last thing that they’re the most, any book seller will happily work with an independent author if they prove themselves, you have to prove your way onto their shelves, they’re not going to take a chance on you. We talked about this this morning. It’s not their job to take a chance on you. It’s your job to prove that you’re going to make them money. And all of you can do that. You can, there’s several easy ways that we can talk about, but you can prove that you can make them the kind of profit they need to stock your book.

Robin: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about, you said returnability. So I would think that a lot of Indie that authors might consider that a negative or something that you know is risky.

Amy: It is.

Robin: So, that’s a con I would say, not a pro.

Amy: Well, it is, and if you are not in a position to take on, I’m going to say 35 to 40% returns, that’s high. Trust me. They are about 9% for independent authors. They were eight and a half percent for indie published books last year in 2018 from the book market. And it’s less than 2% from the library market. Those numbers came right from the Book Industry Study Group. I tend to make things up a lot, but those I can prove, those I can show you. But if, when doing your profit and loss statement and if you are going to get your own imprint, if you’re going to use Ingram Spark, which I highly recommend, get your own ISBN start your own imprint, that means you’re starting a business, which means you need a profit and loss statement. If you don’t know how to do that Orna’s group definitely can teach you how. But part of your business model needs to be factoring in returnability. Can you afford to have about a third of your books return? And if for those of you who say, I want to be an airport stores or in the big chains, bump it up to 50. And if you can still make a few cents at the end of the day, go for it. Otherwise it’s not a good fit for you.

Robin: Do you guys know Costco? Do you know what Costco is in the US? It’s like a big box, like, you know, discounted and Costco moves a lot of books and they buy a lot of books from Ingram and occasionally an Indie author will get to Costco and Costco will be interested in them. But when Costco comes to Ingram to buy their books, we actually go back to the indie author for exactly what Amy was saying. You know, we make them aware that Costco is only going to stock that book for about 30 days and whatever doesn’t sell is going to come back and it’s going to go back to the author. And and 50% is probably more likely for Costco. But everybody in the US, every indie author in the US wants their book in Costco and I go, “Nah, not really. I don’t think you do.” We actually have had a fair amount of success in Ingramspark to place books recently, in even chain stores like Target. We had a big book that we actually had four books that were faced out in target this last fall and have done really, really well. But that is a really risky thing that, and it’s really unusual even for large, established traditional publishers. It’s not even usual for them to get books in a big chain like that. Barnes and Noble in the US buys a lot of indie author books and is really very approachable. And maybe Andy, you could talk about the chain stores here in the UK.

Andy: And so the question is about-

Robin: The chain stores here in the UK.

Andy: So yeah, as Robin mentioned, Ingram is the world’s biggest wholesaler, mainly because it’s one of the big two in North America. You hear me better? Okay. In the UK, Ingram is operating as a virtual wholesaler, so there isn’t big, big warehouses currently with loads of books in them. So these books are in our system. We make them available to the retailers and they can order them directly. But the main thing from a UK perspective is it can also order them indirectly. So the big wholesalers that you may already know about in the UK as Gardeners and Bertrams. Gardeners and Bertrams who compete for business with Ingram internationally, also buy from Ingram. So really from a UK bookstore perspective, part of my job is to trying to persuade bookstores to come direct. But, if they choose not to and they go with Gardeners or they go one of the local wholesalers that they’re familiar with or one of the specialists if it’s a Christian store, then they, we supply the suppliers.

Andy: So that’s the way that this industry works. There’s a whole matrix of supply chains and that we, the companies that are our competitors are also our customers or vice versa. And that’s how it works. We don’t ultimately know which books store is going to buy from Ingram or from another organization or the wholesaler. But because we supply each other, we can get the book into the store that’s required. And therefore, as an author, as a publisher, your focus should be on reaching. The read is driving that demand, which will facilitate those orders.

Robin: So what about Waterstones? Because is it that the largest chain in the UK. How does that work?

Andy: So a big store like Waterstones, for example, their default wholesaler would be Gardeners. Part of their stores also have Ipage accounts. So we have a system, many of you will have heard of Ipages, the ordering tool a retailer can use to order directly from Ingram. Gardeners have an equivalent and Bertrams have an equivalent. So ultimately many of these cases with chains, they will order from wherever they choose to on the day. And it may be a particular buyer in this store is familiar with Ipage and buys directs. It may be on another day the buyer is familiar with buying from Gardener and buys it through the local wholesaler. Ultimately we can supply it either directly or indirectly. So that’s ultimately how we get the book into the hands of the book selling community in the UK. And to a large extent it works the same in international. So you know, in Australia for example, there’s much more of a culture of buying offshore. So typical bookstore in Australia would buy from Ingram or Baker and Taylor or Gardeners and we supply in the same way that we would in the UK as well.

Amy: I’m noticing because we’re sharing the mic, Andy, you better tell your partner that there’s going to be long red hair on you tonight and that it’s okay then. Whoops, I just wanted to mention, for those of you who are still factoring in and thinking about returns, that Waterstones in particular, if a particular Waterstones runs out of a book, they will order more copies of that book from Bertrams or from Ingram and then another Waterstones 17 kilometers down the road, will return the four copies they have. And, and so I’m afraid that this part of the business is very profitable once you create a demand, but it’s not something that you want to start with.

Robin: Yes. And that’s what happened with Target too in the US with this particular author’s book, you know, one Target would sell through and another Target, you know, would ship them back to the Target warehouse. And then target would not ship those directly to the store that sold through. So it doesn’t, it’s not very efficient in how chain stores work. Do you want to add anything, Orna?

Orna: I don’t think I have a lot to add except to say that it’s a crazy business model and nobody knows how it works. It really shouldn’t work because you’ve just got so much stacked against you and it’s quite complex in terms of working out your invoicing and if you are getting returns, you know, it’s not something to take on lightly and it’s not the first step for an indie author. So generally we will recommend people to get proficient at selling ebooks before they get into selling print online. And then when you’re proficiently selling print online, then begin to think about bookstores and begin in advance. The strategy that will work for your small local store is not the same strategy if you’re going to the chain stores. That’s why we did produce this guide to how to sell your book in bookstores, to just talk through the steps because there’s a lot to learn and to know.

Robin: Yeah. And, yeah, and that’s exactly right. And it’s risky, you know, especially if you are going to print on demand model, you know, the way, what we offer. So in terms of, and that’s really good. So who’s still, after we kind of scared you to death, who still wants to get their books into their local bookshop. I thought so. Right.

Amy: 40%. That’s not bad. Keep scaring them. Let’s go.

Robin: So, I believe that, so the publishing industry and you as authors are part of the publishing ecosystem, right? So, and that includes booksellers, it includes authors and includes libraries. This is all part of the same sort of ecosystem. And so I do believe that there’s a connection between indie book sellers and Indie authors. And we are actually working and creating some models in the US where indie bookstores now are actually providing services for indie authors directly in the stores.

Robin: And I think that’s not a model that’s been really discussed at all in the UK, but we are going to start discussing it. And what these, what these bookstores are doing is forming these relationships with their author communities, helping them create professional books, and then actually selling through those books within the store and letting other book sellers know about great books that they’ve helped to bring to the marketplace. So we, just the last few weeks we formed a relationship with the American Booksellers Association and now we’re talking to the UK Bookseller Association.

Orna: That’s just awesome. That’s just brilliant. I wasn’t aware. That is a really important development for UK authors.

Robin: Yeah.

Orna: Thank you again.

Robin: Yeah. And we’re even, and there’s even some models that are coming out of the US, there’s a company called Dark Frog. It’s a kind of, it’s kind of the anti Amazon and in fact, Dark Frog is a frog that’s in the Amazon that’s poisonous.

Robin: And that’s why they named it that. And, so they actually work with the independent bookstores and, they vet content and make sure it’s professional because as Amy said, that’s what booksellers really want is a professional book. And then, they vet that content, if it passes through to their vetting, then the author can actually by placement on the bookseller shelf and the book seller agrees to stock the book. And actually, if the book continues to sell and for a bookseller, if they only sell four copies a year, that’s a pretty good selling book for them. So if it’s selling at a rate that they consider successful, they will continue to stock that book. So I’m hoping that we can bring that kind of model to the UK as well.

Orna: I think Marina is here actually.

Robin: Oh yeah.

Orna: I don’t think she’s at this session.

Robin: Yeah, okay. So anybody want to talk about any models or any kind of things here?

Andy: The thing I was going to mention was, if you’re starting out when you’re worried about returns, one of the options is to select the book is non-returnable so that can mitigate the risk of, you know, you’re worried about being hit by a large amount of returns enough to wipe out your, what would be your publisher compensation. One of the ways you can do early on is just select the book was non returnable, it would likely deter some of the bookstore sales. But it’s one way of getting physical books into the retail channel while protecting the risk involved in returnability.

Robin: So do you want to talk about terms? Like what, what kind of terms you offer booksellers?

Robin: I’d be happy to. And I’ve done a little bit of research and I believe it’s very, very similar here in the UK. You call them different things, but I would like to put a plug in for libraries even understanding what you guys are going through right now with your libraries and the government. And so please understand that as of the 29th this advice may no longer be valid. But at the moment if you have one book, if this is different, if have 15 books, but if you have one book and if returns are making you nervous, the library system is still a wonderful place to get new readers. These are avid readers. They are aggressively looking for new books. They write reviews, they share with each other, and a library, a library wholesaler will need a smaller discount than the book shops.

Amy: But what we do and what we recommend to our authors is that you give the wholesaler the full 55 or even 60% discount off of the retail price of your book because the wholesaler has to turn around and sell your book to the retailer for a 40, sometimes 45% discount depending on if they have a warehouse or not. So while you may say to yourself, Bertrams or you know, how come they get 55% if they only keep 10, they just keep a little and that 10% has to pay for trucks and petrol and keeping the lights on and their employees. I mean that 10% pays for everything. The rest of it goes back to you, the author, 40, 40% ish. Sometimes more, sometimes less goes to the shop and goes to the chain. Airport stores, the numbers are a little more intense.

Robin: Higher, yeah, higher, yeah.

Amy: It’s very different. Libraries, it’s slower. But the rule of thumb is if you want to get into the stores, 55% discount to the wholesalers, fully returnable. And if you can’t handle that, which is fine, I can’t handle that. I’m with you. Publish more books because if you had 10 books, then it’s much easier. Not only easier, that’s how publishers do it. The more books you have, you can ameliorate the risks. I think that’s the word I’m desperately grasping for. I’m a little nervous. But with libraries it’s far less of a risk. Their return rate is very low. Their discounts are lower. But with the bookshops, 55%.

Robin: And is that true 55 here in the UK or is that a little different?

Andy: I mean, we know there are authors that get in the bookstores with a lower discount but it also depends on the genre. So if it’s more of an academic type content with a higher list price then it can probably go for a lower trade discount because the list price is much higher.

Amy: As a bookseller, I know that you believe that your romance novel is so much better than the other romance novels and so I should be willing to take it at a 30 or 35% discount, but my boss won’t let me. That is not my business model. I am actually instructed to make a certain amount of money per book and it’s not my call. I can choose between your romance and someone else’s, but if you’re not giving me the 40% discount, I’m going to go with them, I’m afraid.

Robin: Yeah. Barnes and Noble in the US will not purchase your book unless it’s returnable at a 55%. We actually recently had an author and he’s all over like in social media and all over the actually the news, and his book is sold an incredible number, I mean tens of thousands of copies of his book since the first of the year. And Barnes and Noble desperately wants his book and he says it’s non returnable 30% and he won’t budge. And I don’t blame him. You know, he’s doing really well on his own.

Orna: Yeah. I think that’s the thing you have to think about. They’ve got their business model and what works for them. And then you’ve got to think about your business model and what works for you and can there be a fit there and you have to examine that, okay, if things went well, this is what would happen, if things go really badly, how bad can I lose? And then, you know, as everybody was saying, there’s a risk thing involved. And I think you have to realize that in order with discounts like that under a print on demand model, cause you’re also paying for the convenience of print on demand and not having to store books in your garage and all of that. Is it making the cost of your book prohibitive? So I think, you know, books into bookstores generally, it’s very, very difficult to compete with trade publishers if what you’re publishing is, you know, mainstream fiction for example, or genre fiction, it’s just the economies of scale that they can do, they can produce the book so much cheaper that your book is going to kind of stand out as being too expensive and less likely to sell.

Orna: I’m generalizing mad here because it does depend on the length of the book and the size you choose to publish your book in. And you know, there’s so many factors all the time, but you need to examine a quite closely in advance from that perspective. And if you are really keen, then you need to kind of think about how you produce your book so that it will produce the best return financially for you. So it’s a lot more complex than just the selling online, you know, print on demand model or ebook model.

Robin: Yeah. So, but say you do get your book, you have a bookstore that is interested in your book. What do you do? So in the case of our target guy, he has a lot of followers in social media, especially on Instagram. He’s a poet, like, our lovely Orna here. And when Target, you know, took his book, which is really rare, you know, he made it a point to do a lot of social media campaigns to instead of driving his customer, you know, to Amazon, he was really telling them to go to Target. And then he developed these sort of scavenger hunt sort of things where he would go into these individual target stores and he would slip in a special note and a have people search for those particular books. And then he would redeem them in some way and very creative, sort of marketing that way.

Robin: And what I liked about his approach, and I really didn’t even know that he did that. Like he did it completely on his own, was he did feel responsible for what Target, you know, had invested in his book. And, even for an independent bookstore, your local independent bookshop, who is taking, you know, a financial risk on their side to stock your book. You know, I do believe that it’s up to you to drive demand into the store, like you were saying, Andy and you, Amy. So do you guys want to comment on that?

Amy: All I wanted to say is Orna said it at the beginning. It’s your job to get the book out of the store after you get it in the store. And I know that’s disheartening. I know that. But if this was easy, everyone would do it. This, you guys are talented. You’re passionate. You’re smarter than any three people I know, every single one of you. I mean, you’re scary smart. You can figure this out. And one of the things that I’ve seen authors do that I love is when they start small, Orna had mentioned consignment and they’re having trouble getting their local bookshop or their local hardware shop or their local library to take their book, they’re getting a lot of no’s. I guess what I wanted to say, which about creating demand is I have found it helpful to say, I am going to be running a series of ads in Milton Keynes.

Amy: I’m going to be running a series of ads, any store, library, shop that agrees to stock my book on that ad, I’m going to have the clicks go right to their website, and libraries in particular love this because they’re trying to drive more traffic. And so creating a geographical Facebook or Google ad campaign where you partner with a half a dozen stores in a geographic area and you can set these ads up so that they just rotate every sixth ad, it’s going to be the Grayson Bookshop. I’m making that up. Please don’t Google that. And you could click on it. It takes it right to the, they love that. And it does not cost a lot to set up these ads. It’s very inexpensive, but it shows the bookstore you’re willing to work with them.

Robin: Yeah, and that’s what they’re looking for. Do you want to add anything?

Orna: Yeah. I think that’s, I think it’s important that we remember that. But no matter what way we decide to use as the place to which we drive our books. So very often we just do the default thing upset sending our buyers to Amazon through our social media on our websites or whatever. I really think indie authors need to think much more strategically about, where do you most want to be sold? Who are the readers that you are trying to read? Where are they most likely to be found? These are the questions that you need to ask rather than just doing the default thing.

Robin: Okay, we’ve got about 15 minutes. I actually have some little, a great giveaways here for people that asked really good questions. So if you ask a dumb question, you’re not going to get one. Okay. And I’ll be there judge of who gets, who’s got questions? Okay.

Audience Member: I think this is going to be a dumb question. What happens to the returned books?

Robin: So that’s a great question. You want to hand those out?

Andy: Yeah.

Robin: Yeah, there you go. So it depends on who you’re working with. In the Ingramspark world where everybody’s totally happy and rich, I just made that up, right.

Amy: And thin and very thin-

Robin: And very young too. you can set your book as non returnable, you can set it to return back to you as well as the author or you can have it destroyed if it’s returned that to you and you’re working with Ingram and we send it back to you, but it costs like $2 to be able to do that. So you need to weigh out the, if that’s worth it. So you have a choice in how you want to do that.

Audience Mem. 2: What’s the best way to approach a store to get your books into them?

Robin: I think you should be a customer of the store first. The customer should know you as exactly, I mean, the bookstore should know you as a customer. The library, as Amy is saying, should know you as a patron. And you know, even while you’re writing your book, you know, you should let them know that you’re an author and you’re working on this book and you know, bookstores and librarians, especially if you’re doing a children’s book, a librarian you should really know and you should be sharing your children’s book, your cover idea, things like that with them. So that I think is the best way to start. And then once they know you, you know, they’re more likely to help you. Do you agree with that?

Orna: Yes, definitely. Also if you prepare a guide to your book, which has the book cover, your author name on it, the price of the book, the terms that you want, you know, just put it all on one handy kind of sales sheet for people.

Robin: Yeah, that’s what professional publishers do. They have a sale sheet like you have there. You want to show that? Yeah. It looks like this with all the pertinent information on your book. And a library needs this as well.

Amy: And keep the golden rule in mind. If it is 10:30 on a Saturday morning in the middle of story hour, that is not the time to approach a librarian or a bookseller. 10:30 on a Tuesday might make more sense. Please be aware. How do you feel when your phone rings in the middle of the day and someone just starts talking at you, how to approach a bookseller? You ask them how you can help them, not how they can help you and that will take you a lot further.

Audience:: Hello, I was just wondering if for whatever reason a book isn’t selling, do you guys get asked questions about how long do I keep going? Do I just keep plowing away? Should I move on to the next project and leave this on the shelf a little bit so to speak? What kind of contingency should people have for that kind of thing?

Robin: That’s a really dumb question, isn’t it? I’m kidding. That’s a really great question actually. How long do before you move on, what do you say?

Orna: I think you keep going is my thing, but you don’t keep doing the same thing. So if it is, if whatever strategy you have in place is not working, everything about being an indie author is about exploration and experimentation. So you’re always in that spirit of experiment because even if it’s something something is working for a while, it can stop working. So you’ve got to keep kind of trying and communicating. So if you’re talking about doing this through a bookstore, then you need to be talking to them. To be honest, if it’s not selling it all, you won’t get the choice about how, they’re just going to wind it up and go for a book that is selling. But then you might have another option, try it another way.

Robin: And typically it’s the, it’s the third or fourth book that finally catches something. And James Patterson has actually said it was his 12th book before he finally got any traction at all. Of course, now he’s up to a hundred some odd books. But-

Audience Q:: Hi, does Ingram Spark just do soft copy book or does it do hard copy as well?

Robin: We do hard cover as well. Yes we do. And you can come down and take a look.

Orna: Beautiful hardcover and it’s very simple, the same pdf file that you use for your softback. You just-

Robin: They’re really, they’re lovely.

Orna: If I may give a plug, Ingram does wonderful discounts with the Alliance of Independent Authors so you can get your extra format at no extra cost.

Robin: Oh yeah. I should say that.

Amy: And if you’re a children’s book author hardcover is very important, especially for the library market because being able to get writing on the spine of a print on demand book is sometimes dicey, but it’s easier on a hard cover. And I don’t know if you’ve been in a bookstore or a library lately, but they’re all spine out and you need to have that writing on the spine. It’s very important.

Robin: So with the Alliance of Independent Authors, you actually get a free title set up as a member. You also get free revision as a member, which is a huge, huge thing. So we don’t give that out to anybody. It’s just like the Alliance of Independent Authors and one other organization.

Amy: Robin, just going to say for those in the UK, every month we run Ingram days so you can come to our facilities in the UK where we run the prints on demand-

Robin: In Milton Keynes-

Andy: At Ingram’s but every month we run them free. You can see the books being produced, if anyone’s interested in attending one of these days, let me know. We’ll send you a link. You can just self register and then you can come along and yeah.

Robin: Yeah. Come downstairs and sign up. That’d be great. Okay.

Audience Q: Hi, I wrote a children’s book, which I got printed through Ingram Sparks and I went to the open day and it was amazing and the food’s really good.

Robin: Oh yeah, they give you free lunch. Yeah.

Audience Q:: And the one thing that I, it’s a stupid question, but I went through the whole system when I got my book done of ticking off the boxes and how I wanted my book marketed and then I saw this business about, you know, you’d return it or whatever and I just got so confused. I just ticked the don’t box. I really don’t understand if a bookstore want to order the book with the discount, is there a limit to how many they can cause they could totally destroy somebody, by like yeah, I’ll have a thousand of those books and then return them?

Robin: Well Ingram, say it’s a one store that, you know, Ingram would know like, I mean it could be for an event because that happens all the time. Right. So yeah, I mean it happens, but you know, Ingram even Kinda dinks a book seller for making returns. So it’s not a thing that we encourage and it’s not anything that a bookstore wants to do to be honest with you.

Amy: Please understand that this return aspect it sounds far scarier than it actually is. There are chain, there are chains in the states such as Walmart and Target and some of the companies, and they actually put right in their paperwork. They will not order an independently published book POD until they’ve, it’s right there in their paperwork until you can prove that they’re not, that they’re no more than 30% of your income. They don’t want to destroy you any more than you want to be destroyed. This is the, the idea of someone ordering a thousand books and paying for a thousand books just to return them to you. I’ve been in the business 30 years. It hasn’t happened. That’s not how it works. Please guys. Don’t be afraid by the returnability function. You may get three or four returns. It’s okay. Things grow exponentially. It doesn’t just, it’s not a boulder in the middle of the lake. It’s a little pebble at first. Yeah, it’s okay.

Audience Q: Thank you. Oh, thank you.

Robin: We just assume you have a smart question.

Orna: It better be good?

Audience Q: It is probably not. It was, yeah, that’s what I was concerned about, I mean, how many books could you be expecting to get back if you were trying to get into these larger stores, but then also, if you do get 10 15, 20, 30 books back, what do you do with them? How can you get them back out into stores?

Robin: You can resell them. You can resell them off your on site. You can give them away like for different, reviews or, yeah.

Audience Q: Okay. But did you, I was going to try to get them up back into a store that was ordering them. I wouldn’t know which store was ordering them unless I have relationship with that store.

Robin: Well you can, I would suggest you sell them on your own site, your own website and if you don’t have your own website, that’s a whole ‘nother thing we should talk about.

Audience Q: Okay. Yeah. No, thank you.

Robin: I think we got two more.

Audience Q: Hi, I’m an indie author plus my partner, she runs an independent book shop in London, so I can sort of see both sides of things and maybe just to give a quick bit of feedback because she gets a lot of indie authors who’ve come into her shop, obviously wanting to sell their books. Most of the time, the first time, indie authors with their first book. And, I think just a couple of things to sort of touch on, just sort of, for people to to think about it, which has been touched on already to to an extent. One, you must go in with a really professional product because making money as an independent book shop store, is bloody hard these days.

Robin: Do you have a question?

Audience:: Well, the question, it’s more of a statement than a question, but it’s just go in with having the best product. So be patient.

Robin: Yes.

Audience:: Don’t have your book out straight away and expect to put it in a bookstore, be patient, give them the best margin you can.

Robin: Yes.

Audience:: And because the bookstore has got just as many, you know, challenges as you have as an independent author yourself.

Robin: That’s good advice. Thank you. One more question. And I will say one more thing because what you said just triggered something that I haven’t said. What you don’t want to do in approaching booksellers is go in with your, and I don’t want to say KDP cause they’re right there, but, say Create Space. And I used to work at Creates Space so I can say that, but go in, you’re so proud of your Amazon printed book into your local bookseller. They will hate you. I’m telling you, that’s their competitor. You do not do that. And that’s where Ingramspark kind of solves a problem for you. You can go into with your Ingramspark book, it’s under your imprint. And you know, it’s they won’t know, right?

Andy: -order the books from Amazon.

Robin: Yeah.

Andy: Firstly, they won’t be able to order the books from Amazon. It won’t be on their system. So unless you’re with Ingram or something similar. It won’t be on there.

Robin: You can’t believe the number of people that publish with Createspace and don’t know that that’s that book seller’s competitors. So just be sensitive about that.

Audience:: My question was about if you wanted to do some kind of campaign involving, whether it’s your local bookstore, your library, and you, who exactly do you ask to speak to?

Robin: Do you want to answer that?

Audience:: Do you just go in, do you email them? Who do you ask for?

Amy: I always email first and they will never respond. But that’s how you start because that’s the rules. Picking up the phone is tough. I ask to speak to the book department supervisor, the book buyer and the phrase I often use is I will quite often pick up the phone at 10 45 on a Wednesday and just simply ask whoever answered the phone, may I have the name of the person responsible for purchasing your books? And then you can say, is that the book buyer, is it the owner, is it the book department supervisor? It’s different depending on the shop and depending on if you’re buying from a pet store or, but if you say book buyer or ask to speak, you’re fine. You can email and ask for that information. You will most likely be ignored. You may need to pick up the phone and ask, but start with an email.

Robin: Okay. So for, I guess, do we have any more time? It is, what is it? It is 5:30. Okay. So for all of you, I’m sorry, come and ask us individually in our own spaces, for some of you that day, put your hands up. I have these little guidebooks for you. You can just come pick up and I also have these little stickers you can stick on your laptops that say, Go Publish Yourself.

Orna: Go publish yourself.

Robin: And If that isn’t enough, I even have bookmarks that give a checklist about how to market your book. So let’s have a round of applause for our great panel Orna, Amy, and Andy, thank you so much.

How to Get Your Self-Published Book Into Bookstores https://wp.me/p9MsJE-R4 via @rcutlerspark and @ingramspark @indieauthorALLI #SelfPubCon2019 #indieauthors Click To Tweet

Do you have any questions or feedback about this Self-Publishing Advice Conference Session? Leave a comment below, or send us a question using hashtag #IndieAuthorCon

This session is sponsored by 

IngramSpark is an award-winning independent publishing platform, offering indie authors and publishers the same fully-integrated print and digital products and global distribution enjoyed by big-time publishers. Once you finish and format your book, IngramSpark makes it possible to share it with the world, allowing you to focus on creating innovative content while they do the rest: print, ship, and distribute.

The US Author’s Guild has awarded IngramSpark for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community, alongside Toni Morrison and James Patterson, which speaks to IS’s focus on supporting the author not only as a printer and distributor but as a resource for overall publishing success.


As a special offer in conjunction with ALLi’s Self-Publishing Conference, IngramSpark will be offering free title setup on print books and ebooks just use this promo code:



Valid until 31st December 2019


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