Over the years many authors have asked me about how to get their books sold in local bookstores. As a former bookstore owner, I can tell you that this is probably easier than you think. Most local bookstores, especially the independents, are happy to support local authors. They may even have a special section dedicated to books by local authors (we did at my store).
However, not all stores will be willing to buy the books from you outright. Many will ask that you offer them on consignment, and they will pay for them once the books are sold. In the grand scheme of things, this is a small compromise in exchange for shelf space at your local store. But if you do sell your books on consignment, you should get something in writing. Stores will often have their own consignment agreement, but you should have your own agreement prepared just in case. I put together a free agreement in Word format which you can download and modify for your needs. Note that this is not a legal document prepared by an attorney, but it’s a good start for this kind of arrangement.
What You Should Know About Selling Books to Bookstores
First, you should know that bookstore owners and managers expect to be approached by authors on a daily basis. The best way to make contact is to simply walk in and ask to speak with a manager, and then introduce yourself as a local author. This is one of those times where your book will be judged by its cover, so professional production is incredibly important. The manager will likely flip through your book and try to spot errors. If it passes the eyeball test, your next step is to simply ask if the store would be willing to carry some of your books. Be sure to mention any major media appearances or anything else that might generated demand for your book if possible.
The standard discount for bookstores is typically 40% off of your book’s retail price. So if your book retails for $14.99, you can subtract 40% off the price ($6.00), and the balance is what the store will pay you for each book sold ($8.99). You may occasionally be asked to sell your books at 50% off of retail, which is a standard discount level for other types of retailers like gift shops, grocery stores, and restaurants.
If a store is willing to buy your books outright, you will need to provide an invoice–so be prepared with an invoice when you approach a store. Large stores will want to issue you a purchase order, which is a document that commits to payment at a later date. A check will be mailed to you usually 30 to 60 days after a purchase order is issued. Smaller stores can often issue a check on the spot.
When you sell books to a retailer, you should NOT need to collect sales tax since they already have a sales tax license and you will be selling them the books at wholesale, which is exempt from sales tax collection.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll go through all of this in order to sell just one to three copies to the store, on average. Once your book logs some sales history, the store may request more copies, but usually they will start with a very small number. If you want to increase that number, offer to host an event in the store or let them know if you have a local media appearance coming up (like an interview on the morning news show). Store managers will appreciate the notice about potential demand for your books and may be interested in stocking up ahead of time.
Is It Worth It to Sell to Bookstores?
I have been outspoken over the years with my opinion that bookstores are one of the worst places to sell books. I personally don’t spend time or effort pursuing bookstore sales. However, there are exceptions to every rule. It can be nice to be able to tell colleagues that your book is available at a local store. So it’s up to you whether it’s worth the effort or not. It certainly can’t hurt to place your books at a few stores, but it probably won’t lead to fame and fortune!
If you like this blog post, you’ll love the recordings from our previous Nonfiction Writers Conference events. Check it out!