This post is USA orientated. I have no first-hand knowledge of UK, CA, AU practices on this subject.
Let’s go ahead and draw a distinction between a store like Books A Million (BAM) being able to order your books for a customer and being able and willing to order copies to sit on a shelf in one of their stores. This same philosophy works on most retail bookstores.
If your book is available for expanded distribution through Amazon Print, IngramSpark, Lulu, the now-defunct CreateSpace, etc. your book was available for retailers to order the books upon a customer’s request. It doesn’t matter if you used Amazon’s ISBN or had your ISBN attached.
But being able to order your book and being willing to stock your book are two different animals in the publishing world.
To get your book on the shelf of your favorite bookstore, you’re going to need to have your ISBN (To purchase your own in the USA, use Bowker https://www.myidentifiers.com/) I recommend you sign up for their newsletter, so you can purchase a 10-count or higher when they are on sale. It’s cheaper to buy 10 at $250 than 1 at $125.)
For those not in the USA, please Google your country and ISBN to find out how your country handles these things.
The best option to have your book on shelves is IngramSpark. They are the same company that major publishers use and for good reason. Their quality and customer service is awesome.
When your book is available in expanded distribution, it means that companies are offered a retailer discount (usually 55% off the cover price) to order copies and offer a return policy. This is a good thing. Retailers like Books A Million (BAM) and Barnes and Noble (B&N) won’t order books that they can’t return. You enjoy having a return policy from stores and stores enjoy having a return policy from distributors.
Each company has its guidelines, but for BooksAMillion American-based bookstores, they order shipments through American Wholesale. It’s a company that acts as a gatekeeper for stores. If your book doesn’t look professional, it doesn’t pass inspection. American Wholesale only approves about 10% of the books submitted. If you don’t pass the first time, give it some thought to why it didn’t. Does it look professionally formatted? Does the cover fit the genre? Is the cover too naughty? —stores won’t shelve something that borders on porn looking. Could your book look better at a smaller size? (I had a book rejected as a 6 by 9 but accepted as a 5 by 8). Is your retail price within the norm?
The price must be in the UPC for American Wholesale to consider the works, and that same mentality goes for retail bookstores.
- Books A Million—https://www.booksamillion.com/publishers/index.html. This post on BAM’s website includes the downloadable form for submission to American Wholesale. It’s easier to just use this one than navigate the American Wholesale website.
- Barnes & Noble—guidelines. http://www.barnesandnobleinc.com/publishers-authors/sell-your-book-at-barnes-noble/
Once your book is in the American Wholesale System, approach your local store managers and regional managers. Managers love promotional opportunities and being able to use you to get people into a store is the perfect excuse for a manager to order your book for a shelf spot.
If your book sells well, the regional manager might order books for more stores within his district and that can have a chain reaction in getting you more recognition.
Even if your book doesn’t pass American Wholesale, take a copy with you and talk to your local managers. It’s a longer process to get your book into a store, but by building up local networking opportunities, it’s possible.
Now, this post is geared more toward Books A Million and Barnes and Noble. You might have an independently owned bookstore in your town that might take commissions or your local chamber of commerce/welcome center—you provide the book, and you and the store have a 60-40 or 70-30 split on the profits in your favor. You can look online or ask in your favorite writing groups for advice from authors who engage in this on what their contract looks like. I strongly suggest you get any dealings in writing.
1st and 2nd tier publishers have a leg up on indies and smaller publishers in having an established relationship with mega-chain bookstores. They have history, but at one point, they had to follow the same guidelines. Even as an indie, you can develop the same relationship by working with local managers and becoming someone in your town before tackling the country. No matter whose ISBN is on the back of your paperbacks, connect with your local stores first and see what they can do for you.
Amazon is viewed as competition. Most corporate offices will tell you they won’t order from Amazon. In the USA, that’s like the Chevy vs Ford rivalry. Now on the local level, anything is possible.
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This post was edited/proofed by ProWritingAid.