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 4 below gives you an inside glimpse into how local authors can develop a relationship with 55 bookstores across the country.
Part 4: How can local authors develop a relationship with you?
New York: 192 Books
Local authors can build relationships by coming to the store often, attending events, and getting a feel for what we usually stock. I’m always happy to talk to folks and give advice on selling their book to places, and an author being a longtime member of the store community (that is, not just when their book is coming out) will increase the chance that I’ll give their book a shot on the shelves.
If you are a local author you should be visiting your local bookstore or book stores (particularly independent bookstores) on a regular basis. Every bookstore within 5 to 10 miles of where you live should know who you are. You should be visiting and patronizing the store on a regular basis. So visit your local bookstore and introduce yourself to the owner/manager and employees. Discuss books. Good authors read a lot of books.
Where are you buying your books? At an independent bookstore, right? You know that an independent bookstore manager/owner or employee is likely to talk to customers, may be friends with many of the customers, will talk about and recommend books to them. These people will often put books they like right into the hands of the customers who visit them. And those people are the ones who will talk about and recommend books to others. Get to know the independent bookstores near you. They have thousands of books to sell but if they like you, like your book and know who you are they will be glad to sell some of your books.
Colorado: Old Firehouse Books
Shop at the store! It seems obvious, but coming into shop, saying hello, talking with booksellers, and attending events is a great way to develop a report with an indie store. We have authors approaching us about carrying their books all the time. We don’t just want to hear your sales pitch, we want to get to know you! We want to see that you support the store as much as we will support you. Showing that you are just as involved in the life of your book and the local reading community is key to having a successful relationship with your local indie, and to getting the word out to readers about your book!
Ohio: The Book Loft
The best way to develop a relationship with your local bookseller is by visiting and supporting their shop. Basic kindness can get you a long way in the bookselling world. Tagging us in photos, re-sharing our social media posts, and shouting us out online is also helpful and VERY MUCH noticed.
Nevada: The Writer’s Block Book Shop
I like to think of our store as primarily serving readers, rather than authors. I realize this might sound potentially antagonistic! I don’t mean it that way. But if a customer gets to know us as a reader, and as a purchaser of books, I will be more inclined to get to know them as a writer.
But in general, I feel that authors will discover their best advocates and business partners in the publishing side of the industry; as booksellers, we exist further down the chain. I’m aware that publishing is a tough industry, plagued by systemic biases, favoritism, and arbitrary barriers to entry.
As booksellers, we try to counterbalance this by carrying titles from small, independent presses and taking risks on lesser-known books. But I prefer to work with publishers, rather than individuals, when doing my purchasing. Every buyer in every industry has the right to say no to a particular product, and this is much less awkward if done through a sales rep than to an author directly!
Utah: The Book Bungalow
There are a number of ways: they can stop in to meet me (although they had better be wearing a mask just now) and show me their book(s); they can join one of our three writing groups (meeting virtually just now) or one of our two book clubs (“Influential Women” and “International Literature”) also meeting virtually (check our events calendar for days and times); they can subscribe to our newsletter either online at our website (www.thebookbungalow.com) or in the store to keep abreast of our events; they can register for any of our Virtual Author Events (we have a great one coming up this Saturday at 1 pm…again, check our events calendar to find the page and the registration link); they can register for one of our writing workshops once we get those going again.
I haven’t tried a virtual one yet, but I’ll be gearing up to do it soon. In all these ways they’ll get a better idea of the kind of fiction and nonfiction that interests me and they’ll show their loyalty to what we’re trying to do for our community.
Louisiana: Cavalier House Books
Oh, about a million different ways. But the biggest piece of advice I would suggest when using a marketing approach is to bring something to the table. A marketing plan, an idea, a referral strategy – anything that shows us that you are interested in helping us generate sales rather than just hoping that we generate sales for you.
Aside from emailing our buyers directly, they should engage in the larger bookstore and writing community. Attending book clubs and other authors’ events is a good way for us to become familiar with a local author. And Austin has great local writing groups like the Texas Writers League and The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.
Mississippi: Lorelei Books
Since this is a small town, local authors regularly reach out to me for support. I am happy to give them firsthand insight from a retailer’s perspective. But the main piece of advice I give them is that an independently published book will sell best where they have relationships with local readers. They should work to drive customers to the bookstore with their own marketing efforts — local newspaper, social media, public speaking gigs — not just expecting the bookstore to do all the promotion. I have hosted events for local authors in the past where not even their own family members or coworkers or church members (in the case of a pastor/author) attended (and all the profits were to be donated to the church).
California: Skylight Books
I think authors should develop relationships within their own writing community. Writing might take place in a bubble but developing readers (particularly in this day and age) means getting out there. Going to readings, literary events, book groups, and writing groups help build a writer’s community and gather support. We meet many authors through other authors.
New York: Postmark Books
The best thing is stop in and buy books! That’s how we develop relationships with everyone. Since we don’t stock self-published books as a general rule we don’t recommend emailing us pitches for these, but we do welcome marketing material from publishers (or authors who have publishers). If those strike a chord we do establish business relationships that way, even with folks from other states who haven’t been here before. Sending us ARCs or finished book samples is a great way to get books right in front of us and our customers to judge for ourselves.
Missouri: Skylark Bookshop
Buy books from us, for a start! It is never a great look when someone comes into the store asking if we will stock their book if we have never seen them before. We develop relationships with almost all of our customers, and authors are no different in that regard. We all love to talk about books and writing and we always like it when authors join in those conversations. We have quarterly readings specifically for local/self-published writers and we always encourage writers who have their books with us to sign up for these. It’s always a fun night and people enjoy the opportunity to read from their books and discuss them in public. We’re working hard to build a community; come join us.
Colorado: Barbed Wire Books
Please don’t cold call. I was doing SOMETHING when you arrived or phoned. Treat my time as valuable. Send me an email. Describe the book clearly with no gimmicks. Tell me why I should put time into your project. Then let me decide. There’s no need to send me a book. The stack is taller than I am!
New Hampshire: A Freethinker’s Corner
Before their book reaches our shelves, they can develop a relationship by following the process; don’t come in demanding that their book be sold in our store. Don’t praise Amazon. We know it’s important to be on their platform, but we’d much rather hear how the book does elsewhere, and how they will support us if their book is accepted. Once the book is on our shelf, a good relationship can develop based on how much support we get from. If all they do is promote their Amazon link, we won’t work with them once all the books are gone. So promote the store(s) on social media, add a link to us on your website, and mention us in blogs/vlogs/vids/interviews.
Georgia: Hills & Hamlets Bookshop
Be a regular customer of our store. Buy your books from us. Send your friends & family. Post about us on social media. Don’t act like you’re doing us a huge favor by offering us your book, have some humility about it, and respect that we are usually overwhelmed with requests to carry books.
North Carolina: Malaprop’s Bookstore-Café
Most of the authors we have strong relationships with have been longtime customers of ours. These sort of relationships are symbiotic, of course — we’re more likely to put a lot of energy into supporting authors who have also supported us, too. We’re always focused on our community, and knowing our community — and the authors in our community — is important to us. Authors who support us and other indie booksellers instead of big corporations are also the ones we’re most likely to put support behind.
Indiana: Indy Reads Books
The best way would be to come into the store (when it’s open) and get to know the sales associates! We are a very small staff of 4 people, most have been here for several years so each staff person has a good amount of experience and input. And, of course, as I’ve said, plan an event with us!
Missouri: Subterranean Books
We are approached almost daily by local writers who have written a book (generally self-published). If they are already customers then this is very meaningful. If they have never shopped in our store we are still happy to stock their books but they simply go on the shelves with all the others. My advice is to support your indie bookstores before your book comes out.
Nebraska: Chapters Books & Gifts
Read and follow the guidelines on our website, sewardchapters.indielite.org/authors. First, write the most professional book they can. Then do the research and be able to tell me why their book is a good fit for my store. I prefer that authors email or send a sell sheet through US mail. I don’t like phone calls from authors trying to sell me their books. I also prefer if authors don’t come to the store to sell me their books, especially without an appointment. Attending our events, even when they’re not the featured author, linking to independent bookstores on their website, and shopping at our store are other ways to develop a positive relationship.
Utah: The Printed Garden
Honestly, the best thing a local author can do to get into the store is just to drop by. Of course, this isn’t as easy to do as it was before, but hopefully, as we move into a new year in a few months, things will begin to look a little more normal. When a local author calls, I always recommend they drop by so I can meet them and see a copy of their book. If they’re interested in having a book placed in the store, I recommend they bring three copies, and ask them to promote the fact that the book is in our store on social media and other places.
New York: Rough Draft Bar & Books
It’s always great to get to know our authors BEFORE they try to sell us something. We love knowing that an author has been to our store and had some coffee; been to see some of our literary events; or has just introduced themselves and told us about their work.
Ohio: Wheatberry Books
Learn about us and what we stand for, then reach out to start a conversation. Understand that the relationship between an author and a bookstore is a two-way street. We will stock and promote your book, but we expect you to advertise that readers should buy it from us and not a huge online retailer.
Local authors should be customers. Period. It is extremely annoying when local people approach us to sell their books and host events when they have never been in our store.
It’s a mutual relationship. They are not doing us any favors by offering their books for sale. We have plenty of books to sell. Their books take up real estate on our shelves so we want to partner and support true local friends.
Oregon: Chapters Books & Coffee
A relationship will not get their book in my store. My budget is tight, like everyone’s, and the book (not the author) is what will get my attention. I am not looking for something obscure for my shelves. It needs to have wide appeal as I am a general interest store not a specific topic (like a sports or craft emphasis).
Pennsylvania: City Books
I engage with a lot of local writers online even before I meet them. It certainly helps them to have a personal relationship with me before they pitch their book. It’s much harder to say no to a friend. But otherwise, I prefer a query letter or email first and then if I’m interested, they can follow up with the review copy. I definitely don’t want to be contacted by phone while I’m trying to run my daily business.
Texas: Blue Willow Bookshop
The best way is to shop here! I am always surprised how many authors want us to carry their book but they don’t shop here. By shopping here, you also get a feel for whether your book is a good fit with our shop.
California: Books Inc.
Shop in our stores. Come by, introduce yourselves, even months before your book is out. Support other local authors at our events. Interact with us on our social media accounts.
Pennsylvania: Bindlestiff Books
We will talk with local authors and look over their books to see if they make sense for the store. Unless someone has strong networks they can plug into to promote an event, we have found that we are not able to generate a reasonable audience for author events unless the book has a compelling subject that connects to our readers or the author has strong community ties.
Massachusetts: Eight Cousins Books
Be a customer. Attend events. Get to know our store. Ask to set up an appointment during the off season (not summer or holidays). Cold emails rarely work. Drop ins without an appointment are very difficult.
Illinois: 57th Street Books
Just as they would a journal they are trying to be published in – engage with us and our literary community. Know what we do and why. If someone approaches us with a get-rich-quick book, we know they have never browsed our shelves.
Michigan: Canterbury Book Store
If we do carry your books, sending a brief email or call every 6 months or so to check in if a restock is needed usually suffices. Authors don’t need to be spending all their time following up with bookstores where their titles are carried, nor would bookstore owner want that, but it doesn’t hurt to check in.
New Hampshire: Gibson’s Bookstore
The best way is for the local author to be a customer. Authors who buy on Amazon and whose marketing is Amazon-centric have a hard time gaining our support.
Minnesota: Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery
By calling and making an appointment—don’t just drop in. Expect to spend a short time with us. We’re not interested in a person’s life story or detailed synopsis of the book. Authors should have prepared an “elevator pitch.”
It helps if local authors have friends/family in the area whom they will refer to our store
North Dakota: Main Street Books
Local authors can e-mail me information about their book — the title, subject, etc. Always include the isbn and if they do live local 99% of the time I will give their book a try — three copies to start with on consignment.
South Carolina: Fiction Addiction
Shop with us, attend our events. Email us info about your book as early as possible. Make a paid appointment with Jill Hendrix, the store owner, to ask advice.
Maine: The Owl & Turtle Bookshop
Come into the shop. Tell us what they are reading. Tell us what they are writing (just not in a pushy, sales-y way!).
Rhode Island: Riffraff
Be a customer first and foremost. Understand what we’re trying to do. Understand our taste. It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine.
New Mexico: Bookworks
By establishing relationships with our owners and booksellers (when we are open), by following, sharing, and referring to our social media, by promoting our website links for buying your book.
Tennessee: Reading Rock Books
Local authors can develop a relationship with me just like anyone else. Spend time in the store. Talk to us. Follow the store on social media. Participate in conversation with us both in person and online.
Connecticut: Barrett Bookstore
By being loyal customers 😉 and reaching out to discuss what they’re working on/publishing.
South Carolina: Main Street Reads
Be visitors to bookstore. If an author walks in, hands us a book and doesn’t even bother to look around the store, that’s likely not going to get our attention. 🙂
Vermont: Norwich Bookstore
Shop here! Shop local. Link to Indiebound or Bookshop on their websites and when they promote their books.
Connecticut: Breakwater Books
They can come into the store, present their books and discuss them with us.
Minnesota: Fair Trade Books
Stop by for a visit to introduce yourself!
Indiana: Three Sisters Books & Gifts
For local authors, I really appreciate their establishing a relationship with us BEFORE they ask us for help.
Nebraska: The Bookworm
They can buy books here! That’s the easiest and best way.
Oregon: Jan’s Paperbacks
Visiting the store is great. Instagram or Facebook. Email.
New Jersey: Little City Books
Shop in our store and come to our events. Get to know our booksellers.
Texas: The Twig Book Shop
Come on by! We love meeting local authors. We have met many authors who come to some of our events or just drop by the store.
New York: Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop
Attending our readings and events and/or participating in our occasional poetry workshops is a great way to connect.
New York: Off the Beaten Path
Shop at our store. Engage with us on social media.
North Dakota: Ferguson Books & Media
Be a loyal customer, of course! We have many of these. 🙂
Vermont: Bear Pond Books
The relationship is developed by simply bringing or mailing the books to me. They are responsible for creating the consignment form. I contact them when the books are sold, send them a check and decide on whether to reorder the books.
Virginia: Winchester Book Gallery
We’re always happy to host local authors with book signings or readings; a few of our local authors are customers and are involved in the community as well.
Vermont: Bennington Bookshop
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.