Bookstores and Self-Published Books

One of the questions that frequently comes up when I am talking with writers groups about self-publishing is the role of bookstores in promoting your book.

Bookstores are essentially places where publishers rent shelf space and then pay a commission to the store for selling their books. Publishers can, and often do, pay extra to have their latest books placed in prominent spots in the stores, for example on front tables or in the windows. Self-published authors rarely have the funds to compete for premium shelf space; in fact they often can’t even get their books into bookstores, for several reasons. One is that because books are sold on a commission basis, any unsold stock can be sent back to the publisher at no cost to the bookstore. While bookstores can always call up an author and tell them to come pick up unsold books, the staff time it takes to take in the stock, shelve it and then figure commission on sales is often more than many bookstores are willing to do for an author who might sell a couple of dozen books.

But a number of bookstores around the country are experimenting with new ways to help self-published authors promote their books, and it is a welcome change.

Boulder Book Store in Boulder, CO, has figured out a way to help authors promote their books while at the same time generating some store revenue. The store instituted a new fee-based program that allows self-published authors to pay a $25 stocking fee and buy additional services to promote their work. Authors can choose to have their work displayed on the store’s main floor or be included in the newsletter and on the website, similar to the services they offer the big publishers. Self-published authors also can pay to have a joint book signing by two or three authors. The writers get great exposure for their books and the store makes money not only on the fees but on increased sales. It’s a great service for authors who previously have been cut out of traditional bookstore promotion.

If there is an independent bookstore in your town, go in and ask if they might be willing to offer some of the same services.

By the way, my deep thanks go to Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara and Eric Love for a wonderful and fun book signing at the store in September. Chaucer’s, like many independent bookstores, does a stellar job of serving its writing community, and offers signings nearly every week by local authors, both traditionally published and self-published. We had a great turnout at my book signing, and for that I’m grateful and delighted.

(Portions of this blog appeared in my Willow Rock Writers e-newsletter in August 2010.)