Dear Agony Aunt,
My local bookshop isn’t getting behind my book, which I find really disappointing. I’ve approached them a couple of times and it’s still not on the shelf. How do I get their support?
Let me ask, where do you buy books? I certainly hope that it’s from your local bookshop. Because as an author, don’t expect people to support your work if you don’t support theirs. Now let’s hope that you didn’t scan the shelves for your book, march up to the counter and ask imperiously ‘why don’t you have my book?’ Seriously, speaking as an ex-bookseller, you would be amazed at how often authors approach the bookshop counter in this manner.
If you are published by a company and your local bookshop doesn't have your book you should ask your publisher if they can make contact, or how they've already made contact and if they are okay with you following up. It doesn't help you or your publisher if you go into a bookshop and make a bad impression. You are not only tainting your own reputation but potentially harming theirs. If you are self-published then, unfortunately, it's a lot more difficult to get a foot in the door. It's more of a gamble for a bookshop to take you on without an established trading partnership behind you. Buck up though, it's not impossible, especially if you follow this advice:
When you approach bookshops and libraries, don’t do so with what they can do for you at the forefront of your mind; ask what you can do for them. Booksellers and bookshop owners/managers love books and writers but they are also very busy people who work with the occasionally ungrateful public, and with all sorts of budget and time constraints. When publicist Sarah Allen approached her local bookshop on behalf of self-published author husband Chris Allen, she did so with some introductory cupcakes. Cheesy? Sure, but it was the beginning of a great relationship which was the springboard to approaching other bookshops and beyond. Once you’ve built a relationship with one bookshop it’s easier to take that example further afield.
If the bookshop that you’re approaching runs events, then suggest an event to them – make it easy by thinking about the audience, supplying some suggestions or even teaming up with other authors. Be as creative in your marketing as you were with your book: crime writer Katherine Howell has an offer on her website where if you buy her book through a particular bookshop website it will be signed before it’s sent. (Sure, it’s her partner’s bookshop but don’t let that stop you trying something similar if you’ve got a bookshop handy).
Now, here's the spoonful of perspective that's hard to swallow. Every year, just in Australia, nearly 20,000 books are published. In the US and Canada it is close to 200,000. That is per year. Per year. My point being that there is a metric fucktonne of books out there that can not fit into a bookshop. Bookshops must choose sparingly. When you are asking people to stock your book, you're really asking them 'Hey there bookseller, can you take copies of my book instead of copies of all those other books?' Give them a reason to choose you. Why will your book appeal to their community? Express that in your extremely polite cover letter/email/conversation.
The fact that bookshops generally receive far more self-published books and new release sheets from publishers than they can handle, doesn’t mean that you can’t put your best foot forward and approach them with enthusiasm and the suggestion of a mutually beneficial relationship – and hey, if that fails, there are always cupcakes.
Want some more bitter pills to swallow? Check out these other Agony Aunt posts
Garage Graveyard (ie what to do with boxes of your own books)
Pantry Procrastinations (or some tips to break your writers' block)
Journal Jeopardy (where should you submit to)
Red Pen Wary (coping with editorial feedback)
I'm Listening (where writers can go to find feedback on their work)