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Session: Indie Authors in Bookstores 2: Learn What Bookstores Want (and Don’t Want) From Self-Published Authors

Join Gordon McClellan, Founder of Dartfrog Books, to learn what bookstores and commercial book clubs want (and don’t want) from self-published authors.

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. Over the next 17 slides we will discuss Bookstore Access for Self Published Authors, what the bookstores want to see, what they need to see in terms of discounts and being able to order through Ingram. And also we will discuss just a bit about the importance of book clubs. So thanks for being here and let’s do it. Okay. So the first thing to always know about when you’re wanting to get a book into a bookstore is that you are all of a sudden having to compete against some of the best and the most well known books and in the world. When you’re in a bookstore, your book can be in a shelf five feet away from one of the world’s best known books. So, you need to be able to stand up to and compete with those books.

All the bookstores that we know and that we work with very much want to support self published authors but the shelf space in their store is their most valuable asset that they have to place books that will sell. So if you want a bookstore to have your book in their store, it needs to be one that can sell and that can compete against all the other books in the store, which means that it has to meet a certain level of appearance. And because the space that they’re going to occupy for your book is space that they need to use to sell and that’s a really important thing to know, as you bring your book into a store and ask them to give you some of their space. Okay. Here’s an example of a book that we received, written very well. It’s a wonderful story. But the cover which you’ll see here on the left had a very self published look. It also did not convey the mood of the story, which was, which is a very dark historical story. So while this was a really well written story, if it was placed into a bookstore, with this existing cover, it really wouldn’t have engaged people. So a very quick and easy and really not expensive fix to have it be repackaged so that when it sits in that same space in that same bookstore, it will reach out and engage people. The story itself hasn’t changed, but the way that it sits on the shelf and the ways that it will engage people and impress people and interest them to want to pick it up has changed 100% with just a redesigned look.

I will show you on the next slide. One more book that also shows the same thing. And here’s just one more example of a book that is also really good book. But on the left it was really flat and would not inspire anyone really, especially because it’s a book about how to market and establish your brand. So with just a few tweaks, and this is not an expensive thing to do, but with a few tweaks, all of a sudden you can make the book really pop, and begin to occupy the space in the store in a whole different way. Okay. So the front cover is what makes the first impression for people who are seeing your book. But we feel like the back cover ultimately closes the deal because the back cover is going to reveal how sophisticated you are as an author, as a publisher. Back covers that have just sort of non formatted texts that are placed on the back and a picture that may not be high res or doesn’t look professionally shot of the author. Those kinds of things immediately reveal a sophistication that is not as high, obviously as the books that are published by the major publishing houses.

And so when a person sees the front, they’re going to immediately look at the back. And for a bookstore buyer, if they see it back that is not professionally formatted and designed, it will make them suspect that the inside of the book, the story itself is also not as professionally done as the other books in their store. So you want to make sure that you avoid having people think that way by making sure that the back of your book is also professionally designed so that their impression of what is inside is as favorable as it can be before they have even opened the book to see what is actually inside.

So we have discussed the outside of the book. Now the inside of the book. So again, I’m going to say never forget that you are competing against the best books in the world when you’re in a bookstore. And we see a lot of self pub published books, often we will find that the interior is just a word doc that basically has been converted into a pdf. So while that may work to actually get the book made, it immediately shows to the bookstore that this book is not, up to the standards of the other, you know, published in their store. So to have your book professionally formatted is really not a big expense, or it shouldn’t be, it doesn’t have to be. There are all kinds of rates out there, but doing this right does not have to be an expense that is too much, but it’s a really important expense because after someone looks at the front and the back, they’re going to flip open the book. And while they can’t really read the book yet, what they’re searching for is the formatting PR professional, is it up to the standards of the other books that they have in their store that they know are fully and professionally formatted on the inside. So it’s an important thing to invest in, but it shouldn’t, it doesn’t have to be a very, very big expense, but it’s a really important one.

The most important investment that you will make in your book is the editing, the exterior, the formatting, that’s all very important but ultimately, after a person gets beyond those steps, they’re going to begin to read your book. And having worked with a professional editor is a really important step. It will be your most expensive step. But it’s also really the most important and what you want to make sure is that you get an editor who’s really tough because bookstore buyers are tough and the people in a bookstore who are deciding whether to buy your book are even tougher. So you want a person who is going to push you to make sure that the punctuation, the pacing, the flow, the arc of the story, all of these pieces are intact. That’s hard work. It is the most expensive piece that you’ll have. But it’s also the most important because at the end of the day, a person is going to read your book and their review is going to be based on what they read.

So to get them to the point where they decide to read your book, you have to have a really good cover. It has to be formatted well and all of that. But at the end of the day, it is the story itself and how it is constructed that really matters the most. So make sure that you find an editor who is top notch and tough. It will definitely pay off. And yes, every writer needs an editor, even the best selling and in fact, all of the best selling authors, they’ll tell you they have a great editor. So make sure you find one that is really, really excellent and tough. It will pay off. Okay, so the book is all finished, cover, formatting, edited, it’s been made and now you want to get it into, in the stores. How do you go about achieving distribution?

So, at Dark Frog we actually say that there is distribution and there is placement and they are very different distribution in the self pub world means that your book is now on Ingram’s list. It does not mean that it will be in stores. It does not mean that any stores or anyone knows that your book exists, or would want to order your book. So the word distribution these days for the self published author really means you’re listed on Ingram’s list with millions of other books. But that doesn’t get you into bookstores. It gets you the potential if a bookstore were to order your book, they would be able to order it that way, but it doesn’t get you into bookstores. Placement, on the other hand is very different and it is what we do actually.

Placement is when a book is actually placed into a store, not just on a list per se, but on a real shelf and a real bookstore. And I think in the old days, I think that’s what distribution used to mean, but now it doesn’t. So the word that we use is placements. And that’s ultimately what every self published author and every author really is seeking is placements of your book into bookstores so that people can have the opportunity to see and buy your book and prove to the bookstore that your book will sell. So it’s important to understand that distinction between those two words and to be clear that ultimately what you’re seeking is to be placed in bookstores, not just to be on a list.

Now, with that said, in order to be placed into a bookstore your book has to be on Ingram’s list, because once it’s placed into a bookstore by us, the bookstore would need to be able to order more books. And the way that they would do that is through Ingram.So to be placed into a bookstore, you do need to be on the distribution list. And there are lots of ways to be on that list. Ingram Spark is one. There are also others as well. That will, when they help you to make your book, they will also put it on to Ingram’s list. But Amazon is not one of the groups that when they put it up onto Ingram will help you. And in the next slide we will, I will explain why.

So most people will self publish their book using Amazon. And that’s fine. And your book should definitely be available for sale on Amazon. That’s a really important place for self published authors to sell their books. So by all means you need to be on Amazon. But the important piece to understand is to not select Amazon’s expanded distribution option and the reason why is, when you do that what it does is it makes your book available on Ingram through Amazon, but that actually flags your book in Ingram’s system and makes it so that when a bookstore goes to order your book, they’ll see that it came to Ingram through Amazon and they will not order your book. And it really doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that bookstores don’t like Amazon, though most of them don’t.

What it really has to do with is the terms. Amazon is not offering the same terms and so bookstores don’t want to order those books. So when you click the expanded option and, and it says that it will then put your book onto Ingram’s list so that bookstores could order your book if they wanted. It’s actually doing the opposite. It actually flags it so that when a bookstore goes to order your book and sees that it has come to Ingram through Amazon, they will not order your book. So the better thing to do is to not click the expanded option and then upload your book again, either through Ingram park or any other group, that will make your book available on Ingram as well. And there are lots of them.

But just make sure that, if you want a bookstore to order your book, that you,that you get your book onto Ingram’s list some way other than Amazon’s expanded option. Okay. So enough on that, next slide we will discuss what the terms are that you need to have for a bookstore to actually order your book on Ingram. When a bookstore goes to search your book in their Ingram System, there are a few things that they need to see. First of all, you have to have a discount that will work for their store. Now, stores all have different discounts based on number of books they order a year, years that they’ve been in business and all the rest. So to ensure that any bookstore, regardless of their wholesale rate, that any bookstore who wants to can order your book, you need to select the 53% discount option in Ingram, that will ensure that any bookstore can order your book because they, you will meet, every possible discount that any bookstore might have.

If you choose a discount rate that is less than 53%, it is possible that there are stores who may want to order your book, but decide not to because the discount rate is not good enough. The other piece is you must select yes, for returns. A bookstore will not order a book, even if they want to, they will not order a book if it cannot be returned. Now there are options as to what type of a return. We always recommend that you choose the option that’s called “yes, destroy.” And what that means is that, when it is returned, you’re not going to get billed for all the costs to mail it back and all of that. It’ll just be returned. And you would owe the return rate, but you wouldn’t also have to owe all of the costs of actually getting the physical book back to you.

So, we suggest that folks choose the yes destroy option. But it’s very important that whichever of those options you choose, you have to choose yes for returns in order to have a bookstore decide to order your book. The other thing that I’ll say, there’s a lot of fear around returns and the fact is bookstores don’t like returns. Ingram doesn’t like returns. We don’t like returns. Authors don’t like returns. So, all the bookstores that we work with, we really urge them not to order a lot of books at once, but to order just a few at a time so that the returns are greatly reduced if there are any at all. And that’s, and all the bookstores that we work with honor that, because they understand that if they order 15 books and then return eight, um, that it isn’t as helpful to you as if they ordered two at a time, three at a time for three, two or three or four times in a row. That way you have no returns. There’s orders happening constantly. And you earn from Ingram.

But definitely at least the 50 or you should have a 53% discount in Ingram and you need to click yes for returns. So ultimately, you need to make it easy for a store, to say yes and to remove as many of the hurdles, that would keep a bookstore from ordering your book. So you have to set the discounts, as I was saying, and the returns. You also have to make sure that your book is available through Ingram because bookstores will not order directly from you. If they did, they would be placing orders with hundreds of different people every month. And that is just not what they can do, and also as we started with, to remove all of the hurdles that come with a sub par cover or a poorly formatted book, all of these things, if you do them well, will immediately remove all those hurdles and will make it easy for a store to say yes.

Bookstores always want to support local authors. So even if your book doesn’t meet all of the standards of the other books in their store, the fact that you are a local author may for some bookstores be all that they need to place your book into their store. But with that said, if your goal is to get into bookstores beyond those right in your local area, you’re going to need to impress them with the, you know, by the book itself. Because they aren’t going to know you and they aren’t going to feel compelled to place your book into their store because you live in their town. So for that, you’re going to need a plan. Obviously you can reach out to stores on your own, but at some point that gets, too far and wide for any author on their own to be able to do. And that’s ultimately what Dark Frog does is we have partnered with bookstores. We are partnered right now with 65 bookstores and those bookstores trust us to vet and to place into their stores books that meet all of the needs that they have, meaning the cover, the formatting, the story itself, the editing and all the rest. So that is ultimately what what we do at Dark Frog, is we help authors get access to bookstores beyond their local stores. And to do that there are very specific standards that have to be met which are those that we have have already explained in this talk.

So just a few words on book clubs, which is really an enormous important part of your outreach, because book clubs obviously are people who gather because they love to read and are always looking for a new book to read and to discuss. So that’s a perfect fit for introducing them to your book. So the question really is how do you engage book clubs. So obviously one option is to seek out the individual book clubs, perhaps on online or in your town and ask them if they would want to read your book. But just like bookstores, a book club will be reluctant to read a book that does not present itself as a fully professional book that can compete with the major publishing house books that that book club reads. And so for this reason, we now have a partnership with bookclubz.com. It’s spelled with a z. They have a network of over 3000 book clubs and they just, like bookstores, trust us to vet books and then directly promote those books to their book clubs. And we are the only indie published books on their site and we place three per month. And this is one way to be able to access book clubs all at once, you know, in mass as opposed to hunting around, to reach one book club at a time online. But ultimately it is the same process of clearing all of the hurdles so that the quality of the book is one that can compete against the other books and in these book clubs that they read. Okay, one more slide here.

So at the end of the of the day, access to bookstores, really comes down to vetting, and if your book meets the standards, that allow it to occupy space in a bookstore. Then our goal through Dark Frog is to then give you the opportunity to gain nationwide placements, and book club placement, but nationwide placement into bookstores. So not distribution on a list, but actual placement into stores, reaching out to your local bookstore is always an option of course. And most bookstores are very receptive to their local authors. But even with that said, making sure that you have checked all of the boxes that you now know that a bookstore needs to have checked before they will really want to have your book in their store. You can make it much easier for your local bookstore or the bookstores in your area or your state even. If you want to go to each of those on your own, that’s great, but you’ll make it much easier for them to say yes. If you have done all of these things so that when they hold your book, they’re impressed. When they flip it over, they see the back cover, they’re impressed. When they flip it open and they see that it is fully formatted well, they’ll be impressed. They may read a half page or so and they’ll see that it is written well, and then they’re going to ask you, “Huh, this looks like a nice book. Is it on Ingram?” And you can say “Yes and I offer the standard discount of 53%, and we also offer returns.”

All of a sudden you’ve removed all the hurdles for that bookstore to be able to say to you, “Wonderful, we would be happy to have your book in our store.” And that’s what we do on a larger scale. But that’s what you can do as well, by walking into your own bookstore in town or in your state, and making sure that you have all the boxes checked so that it’s easy for them to say yes. So, I want to thank you so much for your time. Feel free to visit our website, which is, um, dartfrog books.com. We wish you all the best with your book and thank you for hearing this talk and we hope that you enjoy the rest of the Self PubCon and have a great day. Bye. Bye.

Indie Authors in Bookstores 2: Learn What Bookstores Want (and Don't Want) From Self-Published Authors with @dartfrogbooks Click To Tweet


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This session is sponsored by

DartFrog provides independent authors with direct access to bookstores and book clubs. We curate titles from self-published authors, and consider manuscripts for publication through our own hybrid publishing platform, DartFrog Plus. DartFrog has dedicated shelf space in 65 bookstores across the United States, and exclusive access to 3500 book clubs through our partnership with BookClubz.com

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