In this six-part series, we asked bookstores across the United States to answer some of your burning questions.
- How can authors get their book on your shelves?
- Do you accept self-published authors? In what situations would you consider this?
- What’s your processing for vetting books?
- How can local authors develop a relationship with you?
- Do you host author/book signing events/readings?
- Is there anything you would recommend to authors/publishers about how to best position their books in the market?
Part 2 below gives you an inside glimpse into whether or not 48 bookstores across the country accept books from self-published authors, and what goes through their minds when they consider putting such books on their shelves.
Part 2: Do you accept self-published authors? In what situations would you consider this?
Georgia: Hills & Hamlets Bookshop
Yes, we occasionally carry self-published works, but if you want total honesty, 95% of self-published authors are a huge headache for indie booksellers. Partially this is a quality issue, the books are often poorly designed, don’t have titles on the spines, haven’t been well edited, etc. but for me the hassle is less about this than it is about distribution issues.
We are a small operation and aren’t set up to manage sending checks each week to hundred individual author-vendors. If you are self-published we pretty much require that your book is available through Ingram to simplify our restocking workflow. Indie bookstores can’t keep 5 or 10 copies of most books in stock, we usually only stock 1 or 2 copies of all titles except the very highest demand titles. That means as they sell we have to constantly reorder and restock everything, and we can’t be calling or emailing individual authors to restock their books constantly.
Their books need to be available from the places we are already placing our daily or weekly reorders with, and they need to be available at the standard industry wholesale discounts (at least 40-45% off the retail price).
Nevada: The Writer’s Block Book Shop
We do not carry self-published books. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to vet individual books and I rely on the presumed quality assurance that is a benefit of traditional publishing. In addition, we do all of our ordering and reordering electronically through a service called EDI; corresponding with authors on an individual basis to request restocks and provide payments isn’t tenable.
If we have a personal relationship, built over time, with a local author and if their book appears to be an appropriate fit for our store, we will sometimes purchase a few copies outright. We are unusual among bookstores in that we are non-returnable, meaning we don’t return unsold books, so consignment buying isn’t a good fit for our store.
California: Skylight Books
It is true that it is easier to accept books that have already been vetted by a publishing house, but that doesn’t mean we ignore self-published authors and tiny presses. Again it depends heavily on how the book fits in with the other books we sell and if we think it will be of interest to our community. A few self-published books and zines have been some of our bestsellers – How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety (a hilarious self-published zine) sold over 3000 copies!
New York: Postmark Books
Generally no but the exceptions are when we have an established relationship with the author. They’re all existing customers or friends, and in most cases they’ve already started drumming up local demand through a marketing plan they’ve outlined for us (see above answer!).
If a friend of the store tells us they’ve already lined up a dozen neighbors to buy the book when we have it, that’s a sure-fire sales victory and we happily stock it. It’s rare that we find a self-published title on our own that we look to carry — when that happens it’s usually a zine or a mini-comic or something on that level of book art.
I have but less than I used to. First the author must be interested in working with me to create an event that would most likely include a few authors and a few books. Authors must understand how selling books on consignment works and the usual split is 60 percent of retail price to author and 40 percent to bookseller (50-50 is even better of course). The retail price of the book should be reasonable… if most trade paper books retail for between 15 and 18 dollars, your book should be $20 or less at most. It won’t sell to strangers at $25 dollars unless the author becomes a celebrity or household name and even then there will be some resistance as to why it costs more than most books.
Authors should be willing to have events with other authors in order to draw a larger audience. The more work the author does in creating an event, the easier it is for a bookstore owner to say YES. Some self-published authors are aware that they need to work very hard and market their book. They are good public speakers and can create an interesting talk/event regarding their book. They hopefully have some charisma and social skills. They understand there are 1,000s of authors who have recognizable names with multiple books that already line the shelves at bookstores. Few people will know who a self-published author or have ever heard of their books.
Booksellers will sometimes be able to read the book and if they actually enjoy the book will tell some of their customers about the book and suggest that they buy the book. No author however should ever expect that a bookseller has the time to read their book. Personally I always have a stack of 20 or more books that I should be reading and another 20 or 30 that I would like to read. A book by a self-published author who I don’t know isn’t likely going to be at the top of my pile suddenly. I have 3 to 6 books open and started at all times and I have personal friends who are authors and want me to read their work (sometimes before it is published).
A well written/edited book has a much better chance of getting my interest than a book that has not been professionally edited. I have wide interests and insatiable curiosity about many things but if I have recently read several books similar to yours, I won’t be very interested in reading it. If it is a subject I’m interested in and I have the sense that you have written something that approaches the subject in a unique way I would be interested in reading your book. However, most books are at best mediocre and don’t rise above.
Illinois: 57th Street Books
It is exceedingly rare. We believe in the publishing process (including the hundreds of small and micro publishers we work with!) and think it is exceedingly rare that one person can write, edit, produce, design, market, and publicize a book with professionalism and a commitment to excellence. We carry a couple of dozen self-published books at a given time (out of 100k books total) and those are all because of the authors’ work in the community. They are authors we knew before they approached us to carry the book. If an author introduces themself and their self-published book at the same time, the answer will almost certainly be a “no.”
Nebraska: The Bookworm
Yes! I love supporting local authors. It’s harder when the author isn’t from Omaha or has no friends or family here. We rely on them to do most of the promotion of the book using whatever social media lists they have. I am willing to give them shelf space….but they need to take responsibility for getting the word out.
California: Borderlands Books
We do accept self-published authors as long as 1) The book is professionally produced (i.e. industry standard layout, proofing, typesetting, and cover design), 2) The writing is of professional quality, 3) The book is offered, at least, at the industry standard discount of 30%, and 4) The book fits within our specialty.
New York: Rough Draft Bar & Books
We generally do not accept self-published authors. Again, because our space and time are quite limited, it helps when we know an author has been vetted by other literary professionals, and also that we know their books are easily accessible, that we get a standard rate, and that we can return those unsold. We do make exceptions for local authors who have a personal connection to the shop, and who can demonstrate that their book will sell in our store.
Colorado: Old Firehouse Books
We do! Not every author chooses to go the traditional publishing route, but we still think it is important to support our local authors however we can. We take submissions on a quarterly basis from authors based in our area and sell them on consignment. We do limit the number of consignment titles we carry at one time. Full details are posted on our website, and we always prefer local, self-published authors to review this information before contacting us.
Maine: The Owl & Turtle Bookshop
SOMETIMES. Tricky one. We applaud those who have finished a book and have published it–no matter how that’s happened. But editing is the sticking point. If they did not use an experienced editor, the answer is probably no. Again, Maine-based authors or subject matters would have priority in our consideration.
New York: Off the Beaten Path
We do accept self-published authors. The book needs to be available on Ingram. I have a couple popular self-published authors that are only on Amazon, but their demand is high enough locally that I make an exception. I’ll bring in any local self-published author that is also willing to do an author event. It’s important that they show the commitment to market their book.
I have accepted non-local authors’ work into the store. They pitched their book well in either an e-mail or physical marketing kit. Every bookstore knows its customers. What may sell to one bookstore, may not have a customer base in another store.
Tennessee: Reading Rock Books
One of our mantras at Reading Rock Books is that we are “bringing readers and writers together to create community.” Of course we accept self-published authors. We have several books by self-published authors on our shelves, and we enjoy working with authors who are respectful of our time and resources. Our consignment program allows self-published authors access to shelf space as well as opportunities to participate in book signings and readings. If a self-published author has written and published a book that I can confidently hand sell to my community of readers, I would be crazy not to consider giving it shelf space.
Minnesota: Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery
We do accept books by self-published authors as long as their books were not printed by Amazon or its affiliates.
We do many events, particularly in the summer. One event, which we call Author Fest, is for Minnesota authors. We invite 25-40 authors, and a number of them are self-published. We’re glad to do events in the store by self-published authors if we feel their books will appeal to our customers.
Pennsylvania: Bindlestiff Books
We carry a few such titles where they speak directly to our neighborhood, either about our city or by local authors, at least initially on a consignment basis. Most such titles do not sell in the absence of an event or something else that brings them to our neighbors’ attention, though there have been exceptions that sold fairly well by our standards (we are perfectly content to keep books on shelf that sell 2 copies a year).
Missouri: Skylark Bookshop
Yes, we have a section in the store for self-published authors. Anyone can submit their book for consideration. The most important factor which determines what we take is whether the author is local, although we do ask authors to explain why they think their book would be a good fit for Skylark. Given our limited space, we prefer to give shelf room to local authors. More information is available here: skylarkbookshop.com/selfpublished-authors.
New Hampshire: A Freethinker’s Corner
Yes, we accept self-published authors, except those who publish through Createspace/KDP. This is self-defeating, paying an author for their book, only for them to purchase it, to send to us, from Amazon, a company who is trying to put us out of business. There are many other platforms to use to publish through, although some are more expensive (Lulu, for example), which may cause the author to have to set a high retail price for the book, which in turn will not help it sell.
Utah: The Printed Garden
As someone who enjoys writing, I not only stock books from local self-published authors, I feel a responsibility to. I do have to limit the self-published books in the store to local authors, as so many people are doing this now, but it’s a terrific way to show support to writers living in my community, and give the store a unique addition of offerings based on the writers that live here. Some people traveling through the area from out of town deliberately look for local writers if they’re readers and looking for a unique souvenir.
New York: 192 Books
We rarely take self-published authors, and do not work on consignment. As a very small organization, we don’t have the employees necessary to organize consignment sales, so all our inventory come through publishers or distributors. If you can get your self-published book on Ingram with a near 40% discount, then we can buy. That said, a self-published book would really have to fit in our profile for us to go ahead with it, and show real sales potential for our market, absent any big publicity pushes (i.e. a review in a big publication).
Utah: The Book Bungalow
Having been self-published myself, I’m open to selling local (Utah) self-published books on a consignment basis (60/40 split) on my Local Authors Shelf. I’ll only accept two copies of each title and I provide the shelf space free of charge for the first 3-month period.
After that, if they haven’t sold, the consigner would need to pay $25 per title for additional 3-month periods. Anyone interested should email me at email@example.com. I can provide more details plus a consignment agreement form then.
North Carolina: Malaprop’s Bookstore-Café
We always consider self-published authors. One of the important missions of the store is to support authors, whether they’re traditionally published or not.
Again, it can be trickier for self-published authors to get their books on our shelves without the aforementioned distribution. We do have a robust consignment program for self-published authors, but we have to restrict it to locals. We’ve found the logistics of ordering and reordering self-published authors who have to ship books to us gets too messy. That’s why we like to stress the importance of distribution. If done properly, any bookstore anywhere can get their hands on your book — plus, there’s less work for you and less work for us.
Oregon: Chapters Books & Coffee
I want to accept self-published authors but I often will not take their books for a couple of reasons. They rarely look professionally done. Occasionally, I’ll get a really sharp edition but this is not the norm. I get A LOT of people trying to sell me their books.
Because I don’t want to have to return books that don’t sell to the actual seller (as opposed to my wholesaler), I usually will take self-published books only if they are available through Ingram Books which I use for my wholesaler. And they must have a 40% discount and be returnable. I also do not often do consignment just for the bookkeeping nightmare.
Alabama: Ernest & Hadley Booksellers
We have many self-published books that we either get directly from the author at a 40% discount or from Ingram Book Company if it is available there. The problem I see with many self-published authors is that their discount rate is too low and thus not profitable for most bookstores to carry. The book also has to be relevant to our community for non-fiction.
Pennsylvania: City Books
I prefer not to work with self-published authors because I have had significant difficulty with a few in the past. It is counterproductive to have a book on my shelves at full price when it is being sold for $.99 on Amazon.
Very rarely. We have only one or two self-published books in the store. These are high quality books of photos of our scenic area–the kind of thing tourists ask to buy.
Minnesota: Fair Trade Books
Local, self-published authors are welcome to bring as many books as they would like to sell to a scheduled meet the author Saturday afternoon event. We presently do not have shelf space for self-published books.
Colorado: Barbed Wire Books
Self-publishing has changed a great deal lately and I hope it will continue to evolve. I won’t accept any CreateSpace books. Amazon is the enemy and I won’t support them. Besides, if you have them you don’t need me. I believe that there are companies out there that do more than just take an author’s money and allow a substandard book to be printed. If the book means anything to you, don’t go for fast and cheap!
Ohio: The Book Loft
We do! The Book Loft has long been a supporter of local/self-published authors.
New Jersey: Little City Books
We accept self-published authors who live in Hoboken. We find this limitation useful, as there are very many of them. We really prefer to stock authors who are active in our shop as customers, event participants, etc.
Louisiana: Cavalier House Books
Sure, we appreciate our relationships with authors that chose to self-publish. In fact some of our top selling titles in our store’s history have been independently published. Relationships are key to this.
Nebraska: Chapters Books & Gifts
We take most self-published books on consignment, and we typically take books by authors from Nebraska or books about topics we know our customers will be interested in. If an author doesn’t want to sell their book on consignment, their book needs to be available at standard, returnable terms on Ingram.
Maryland: Cricket Book Shop
IF a local author has a book they can bring it in and we will put it on the shelf on consignment. Having anyone else that is not local but self-published is not good for me because I am a small store and do not have the space for all the self-published books in this universe.
Indiana: Three Sisters Books & Gifts
We do stock some self-published titles, most of which are Indiana authors including local authors. This means there are some not good books in this group, but I think we owe this particularly to local writers. Other self-published Indiana and Midwest authors, I want to see a copy of the book.
Massachusetts: The Bookloft
Self-published authors bring us their books and we have them in store on a consignment basis. If at any time the book has not sold in 120 days, we ask the author to come back and pick up their books. Others have remained on consignment with us for a long time, because they are good at self-promotion and their books become popular locally.
Ohio: Wheatberry Books
We do carry self-published authors. In our shop, we are passionate about supporting local authors, and many of them are self-published. If an author is not local to our area, the book would probably have to possess some other very special appeal to gain a spot on our shelves.
Mississippi: Lorelei Books
Yes, I will accept review copies from self-published authors, but I must be convinced of the book’s quality and I need to see a specific regional fit.
Connecticut: Burgundy Books
We rarely accept self-published work. The quality, peer review, and marketing just isn’t there.
New Mexico: Bookworks
We do accept self-published authors, but we are really particular about books we bring into the store and making sure they are a good fit for us to be able to sell to our customers.
Virginia: Winchester Book Gallery
We do accept self-published authors. We consider the popularity of the subject and the interest we think our customers would show.
South Carolina: Main Street Reads
Yes, if we’ve heard good things, read the book and loved it, or they’re a local author.
New York: Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop
Usually self-published books come to us in person. We are particularly interested in beautifully constructed, handmade books and chapbooks.
Massachusetts: Brookline Booksmith
Yes, we have a consignment program and we accept all titles that we think have a good chance of selling from our shelves.
Texas: The Twig Book Shop
We do. If we do not have an account with the publisher or if their terms are not favorable for us, we would buy the book from the author and sell it on consignment.
Rhode Island: Riffraff
As a rule we don’t accept self-published books. We’ve made exceptions for a few locals and customers, as many do, but that’s about it.
We offer a consignment program to self-published local authors (and sometimes from broader Texas or other regions if there’s potential for an event).
Indiana: Indy Reads Books
Yes, on consignment, as long as they agree to do an event.
Michigan: Canterbury Book Store
We do on occasion, but usually only if they live within an hour radius of our town, or if we like their book.
Vermont: Bennington Bookshop
Yes, we do. But see the consignment agreement: Only books with a spine displaying the title and the author’s name will be accepted. Books should have bar codes. Spiral-bound books are not acceptable.
Natalie Gasper is an internationally performed poet whose work has appeared in The Write Launch, The Hickory Stump, Sheila-Na-Gig, Noon by Arachne Press, and ellipsis…literature & art, amongst others. She works as an interviewer for The Nasiona and is a developmental editor for Envie, a Magazine for the Literary Curious.