One of the most valuable assets for small published authors is the independent bookstore.
I have heard so many authors utter those exact words. Unlike other businesses, like Barnes and Noble or (the dreaded) Amazon, booksellers at indie bookstores actually read the books they’re recommending. They add that touch of humanity that is so vital to the book industry. They listen to the customer’s needs and know the perfect book for every situation.
Booksellers are passionate people, and they want to talk about books with everyone who comes within earshot.
Now, as a former bookseller, I may seem biased by my professional association. However, I want to talk about a book with you, dear reader. But not just any book: I want to talk about your book.
During my stint as a bookseller, I learned a lot about what makes a book sell and what doesn’t.
Throughout the year, we would see hundreds of local author books come through our doors. We were instructed on the process of analyzing every single one and determining if it was a proper fit for our bookshelves. For the benefit of all small and self-published authors, I thought I would share with you some of the insider secrets from the bookstore buying guide.
Avoid these common mistakes and your next book might just be a local bestseller!
The idiom goes: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Well, the cover and some good reviews sell the most books. But in general—when a book is sitting on the shelf—the customer is judging the book by its cover.
It’s easy to fall prey to the allure of featuring a friend or family member’s art as your cover image, but unless it is absolutely breathtaking, try to avoid making promises.
If it’s an adorable drawing your niece made that was inspired by your story, include it inside the book with a little note about the drawing.
Cover photos should be high-quality, relevant, and professional. Keep in mind the mood your cover is trying to portray, and that the title is clear and readable. Like this (image source: The Blue Doorknob by Rita Rodriguez)
(image from the Telegraph’s “35 Hilariously Bad Kindle Book Covers”)
So many books were turned away because there was either no spine (as the book was in spiral or stapled), or there was an empty spine.
This avoidable mistake was all too common among self-pub authors, and it occurred simply because the spine was often overlooked or too much emphasis was put solely on the cover.
People need to be able to find your book, whether they are looking specifically for it or just browsing. If you have a great title, it means nothing if you don’t have that title on the spine. Please spend the extra money to ensure you have a visible spine, because it will pay for itself in sales!
The content of the book is important, but even more so is the content selling it.
By that I mean the blurb, the reviews, and the author information. Basically anything that might be included on the jacket or back cover.
Authors often had great ideas, but the back of the book was riddled with spelling errors. We, as booksellers, should not (and many times would not) professionally recommend a book that has a spelling error in the blurb on the back page.
Additionally, it is worth your time and money to hire a professional editor, or use professional software to proofread your product inside and out. Craft Your Content was made specifically for this problem, so utilize it!
If you want to save money, you can have your friend edit your piece, but make sure they are knowledgeable proofreaders who are willing to give you constructive criticism (and make sure you are willing to receive it).
Students, newspapers, and even authors fall prey to classic classroom examples of plagiarism.
In fact, one of my favorite examples of professional book plagiarism is in Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1972, Angle of Repose directly quotes without attribution the private letters and unpublished manuscripts of Mary Hallock Foote.
Despite the fame of this book, I will tell you this is a bad example to follow. Don’t be “that guy.” (image source: indiebound.org)
It’s obvious he was heavily inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), and Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), but he made his own story out of his inspiration. Do be “that guy.” (image source: indiebound.org)
One of the indie bookseller’s biggest pet peeves is when an author sends us their book and a note that says, “It’s available on Amazon!” *sigh*
That simple statement turns away a lot of small press books.
We, the bookstore, cannot and do not order from Amazon, because they do not “share” well with small businesses.
Amazon offers great opportunities for small-press authors to sell their books and reach a wider audience, but Amazon is also constantly trying to push small businesses (like bookstores) out of the market.
Plus, when it comes to ordering from Createspace—Amazon’s small publishing company—the bookstore cannot make a profit. Instead, we will try to order directly through you (the author), so try not to mention the dreaded Amazon when selling us your book. Say instead that you can supply the copies.
In a similar vein, when selling your book, think of yourself as a small business. Look into the best ways to price your product in comparison to other books in your genre.
Yes, your idea may be unique and priceless, but we are not going to be able to sell your spiral bound book collection of modern art posters for $45. Please be reasonable when you price your book and when you determine the bookstore’s profit margin.
Our go-to was always a 40/60 cut, where the author gets 60% of the price and the bookstore keeps the rest.
Once you have brought your book to the store, it’s in the bookseller’s hands to determine if it is the right fit for the bookstore’s clientele.
Be aware that the bookstore may turn away your book, even if you’ve followed all these steps.
The booksellers are experts on their store, and they will know if a book will appeal to their customers or just collect dust. That detailed book on “Computer Coding for Kids” just isn’t going to work in your local religious bookstore. Again, think of yourself as a small business, and learn how to handle rejection professionally.
If you are professional about the situation, the bookseller will be more likely to help you find the right niche-store or be more likely to look at your future works.
You have officially joined the bookstore community, but the work isn’t done.
The bookstore has its own marketing department. They may help you with promotion and hosting a signing party for you if there is an opening, but don’t assume that they are going to exclusively promote your new book that month. You will need to tell your family, friends, and fans that they can get their copy at the local bookstore or that you will be having a signing on a planned day.
The bookstore will help you however it can, but it’s not their responsibility to sell your book.
As a bonus, send the booksellers some complimentary copies to take home and read. If the whole staff has dived into your book, then there’s a greater chance of everyone recommending it.
Bookstores love their local author community, and local authors can really benefit from a business that supports them in their creative endeavors. Now, take all this information and get out there and write!
Katie McBeth is a Freelance writer and former bookseller from Rediscovered Books in Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, attending indie concerts in small bars, and long walks on the beach. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth. (photo by Matthew Wordell)