If you’re an independently published author and bookstore placement is a goal for you, the good news is that you have options. Barnes and Noble can be indie author-friendly, but first you need to make sure your book is ready for prime time.
How to ensure your book gets bookstore placement consideration:
Professional book production is absolutely essential. One of the biggest mistakes new authors make it to skimp on editing. Your book should be well-edited, preferably by multiple professional editors. A few typos are forgivable; a dozen or more will remove your book from professional consideration, and likely be reflected in reader reviews as well.
The cover design should look like it came straight off the press of a big New York publishing house, which means you must work with an experienced book cover designer. There are all kinds of details that go into great cover design: font sizes, color balancing, images that aren’t too “busy,” are just some of the factors. Do yourself a favor and work with someone who designs covers for a living, otherwise you could regret your decision later.
A professional publishing company should be listed with your book (and registered with the ISBN). You should not be personally listed as the publisher (“Annie Author Publishing,” for example). And you shouldn’t have one of the “big box” print-on-demand companies listed as your publisher either. (Remember, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace do NOT play well together.) The publisher listed should be a company with a solid reputation, or if you’re self-published, a publishing company name that sounds like a legitimate publishing house.
Ability to accept returns. One reality of the bookstore industry is that stores expect to be able to return books that don’t sell. This is also part of your risk as an author and independent book publisher. For example, if the chain agrees to stock 300 copies of your book, you will ship them at your own expense, based on a purchase order issued to you (payment will follow in 60 to 90 days after shipment). Unfortunately, if the books don’t sell well within a few months, the store will ship them back to you, in virtually any condition, and expect a full refund (if you’ve actually received funds by then). Bookstore placement is a risky proposition and it’s not for everyone. Note this doesn’t just apply to indie authors. This is how the entire bookstore industry works and it’s the only retailer I know of that is allowed to return unsold merchandise for a full refund.
Books must be available through a major distributor with a substantial retail discount. Retailers expect to buy through book distributors, and those distributors need to earn a piece of the pie too. In order for Barnes and Noble to buy copies of your book, they will want to order them from Ingram (the largest supplier of books to bookstores) or another reputable distributor (see a full list here). That means that you must set a discount of at least 55% off your retail price (possibly more) so that everyone gets a cut of the action.
Book jacket must include several elements: a barcode with price embedded AND clearly printed near barcode, an ISBN number assigned, plus the book title and author name on the spine (bookstores care a lot about spines since that’s how most books are displayed).
A pitch packet to send along with the book. When you submit your book for consideration, include a packet that reflects the professionalism of your book. Your packet should include the following:
- A cover letter explaining why Barnes and Noble should stock your book. Indicate any past successes you’ve had with books in their stores, the size of your platform, how you’re marketing the book, what media coverage you anticipate receiving, and why your book will appeal to their customers. Don’t forget to include your contact information: direct phone number, email address, mailing address, and a link to your author website. They will research you before making a decision so make sure your website is dazzling.
- A marketing packet that details your current platform (audience size and reach) and how you are actively marketing the book (similar to the marketing plan you’d include in a book proposal). Note, this is the place to list media appearances, awards won, website traffic statistics, social media following numbers, and other factors that demonstrate how you will drive demand for book sales. Also mention if you are working with a publicist or marketing firm to broaden your reach. The point here is that you need to convince the book buyers that your book is IN DEMAND and will fly off the shelves.
- Any other materials that will impress book buyers, such as a professionally-designed promotional flyer.
Once you have all of the above items ready, mail one copy of your book with the materials listed above to:
Barnes & Noble
Small Press Dept.
122 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
You can expect to receive a response in writing after several weeks. If you receive a phone call, there’s a good chance you’re heading in the right direction!
Other Distribution Options
Another option for retailer placement is to work with a book distributor. Many distributors focus on niches, such as military history, medical guides, gift books, or cookbooks. Some work exclusively with airport stores, hospitals, gift shops, schools, and other non-bookstore venues. Distributors have sales teams and relationships with their book-buying customers, so they can offer opportunities that you may not be able to create yourself.
However, distributors don’t accept everyone. They will evaluate your book in much the same way as the Barnes and Noble buyers do. The author’s platform is often a consideration, though for some niche titles with clear markets it may not be as important.
Your retail discount will need to be as high as 65% to 70% in order to work with a distributor, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough room in your pricing to still make a profit. Retailers are going to take 40% to 50% off your cover price, and the distributors need to make a profit too. Also, you will have to front the costs of printing your books months before ever receiving payment for a sale. Books may or may not be returnable, depending on where they’re being sold. But most non-bookstore retailers do NOT expect to return unsold merchandise for a refund. That’s what clearance tables are for!
If this approach interests you, see our list of book distributors here. Check for submission guidelines on their websites.
Is bookstore placement as great as it sounds?
After reading all of these guidelines, you might feel discouraged by what you’ve learned here. You’re not alone. Most new authors have no idea how much work is involved in not only publishing and marketing their books, but in getting retail placement.
The reality is that it’s not always worthwhile because bookstore placement is risky. You have to front the expense of printing and shipping, and you can potentially end up issuing a refund even when books are returned to you haphazardly and often damaged.
Not every book is right for bookstore placement. If you have a niche title, such as a book for medical doctors or a highly technical manual used only by technologists, bookstores probably aren’t where your target audience is spending time. You will likely get better results by focusing on online sales, and perhaps placement with specialty stores or trade associations.
And like it or not, traditional book industry success often comes back to platform. When you build a larger audience, you create more opportunities for your book. If your goal is to sell thousands of copies, let this motivate you to focus on building your platform while you leverage online marketing strategies and speaking engagements to sell books. With consistent effort, you can create success for your book on your terms.
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