Since the Daily Mail article this morning, I have received twenty one (twenty one!) calls here at Ripping Yarns from self-published authors pitching their book to me over the phone. We are an antiquarian bookshop, folks. We do not stock new books.
It's very frustrating seeing so many self-published authors approach bookshops in the wrong way - it happens all the time. So, here is a blog post with some advice for those self-published authors who want to approach bookshops about stocking their book. It's something I've been thinking quite a bit about since doing my talk about bookshops at City University. I hope it's helpful. x
Advice for Self-Published Authors Approaching Bookshops
Before I start, I'd like to say that I'm a published writer (though I'm not self-published), as well as being a bookseller, so I understand life from both sides of the business.
Firstly: Look up Nicola Morgan’s advice on being self-published. If you decide to self-publish, you have to do the job of everyone within the publishing industry: editing, design, marketing, publicity. Your book has to look professional. Do your research when it comes to bookshops:
At the moment, I work in an antiquarian bookshop and get so many calls from authors who are clearly just ringing around every bookshop they can Google. As an antiquarian bookshop, we obviously don't stock new books. If you don’t know who you’re approaching, you look unprofessional and it does you no favours at all. Make sure that the bookshop sells grown-up books (if that's what you've written) and isn’t just a children’s bookshop etc.
Like with CVs, tailored emails make such a difference. Don’t write ‘Dear Sir and/or Madam’; it's lazy and implies you don't care. Find out who owns the bookshop - in the age of the internet, that’s not difficult. Likewise don’t email every bookshop at the same time, declaring ‘your bookshop is my favourite!’ when it’s clear by the ‘CCs’ that you’ve sent this email to about thirty different places.
In the email, be friendly and polite. Don’t tell the bookseller your life story. Explain professionally that you have written a book, and could you please send them a copy to read with a view to stocking it.
If you go into the bookshop, instead of emailing, don’t pressure the bookseller. They are busy trying to run the shop and serve customers. (Please please please don’t say something silly like: “I’ve always wanted to work in a bookshop, because you get paid to sit around and read all day.” Running a business is extremely hard. We do not read while we are at work.)
Bookshops get sent so many proof copies from publishing companies, and running a business is very difficult - especially in this climate. Booksellers give up their free time, outside of work, to read these books in order to select more books to sell in their limited shop space. You have to understand that having a publishing deal means that those authors already have a stamp of approval from several people, which makes it easier for the booksellers selecting from the hundreds of thousands of books published each year. Self-published books, I’m afraid, enter the slush pile when they enter a bookshop, like a manuscript would when it enters a publishing house - because that is generally its first port of call. That’s a choice you make when you self-publish.
When you pitch the book to the bookseller, don’t say your mum really likes it. That isn’t going to get other people to like it, or you.
Don’t say that the bookshop should support you because you’re a local author. Especially don’t say that if the bookshop has no idea who you are, and you’re not a regular customer. By your ‘local’ logic, you should be supporting the bookshop because they are local. Being local is not a good reason to support something - being good at what you do is. If your book is good, and the bookseller thinks it’s right for their market, that’s all that matters.
If you can, offer the books on sale or return; this really helps out the bookshop and gives you a greater chance of being successful via a trial run. It also shows you understand how the market works.
After leaving a copy for the bookseller to read: be patient. You can follow up with a friendly email in a few weeks, but don’t call the day after and ask the bookseller if they’ve read it yet. It won’t help you. Also, don't ask your friends/your mother/your neighbour to stop by and ask on your behalf.
Not everyone will like your book. That’s life. If the bookshop politely declines, be gracious. If they do take the book, please don’t call every day asking how many copies they have sold. Let them do their job. Don’t come in and rearrange the books so that they’re in a more prominent place. Don’t stop by and try and badger other customers into buying it.
This might sound like basic stuff, but self-published authors break these unspoken rules every day. Percentage-wise, in my experience, 95% of the self-published authors who have come into bookshops I have worked in have gone about selling themselves and their book in completely the wrong way. Many have been pushy, abrupt with little understanding of the book industry, declaring that they have written the best book in the world and that we, as their local bookshop, owe them a favour.
I beg you, please do not be in this 95%. I don't want you to be! I want that percentage to shrink dramatically. From a bookseller (and a writer) to another writer: I want to like you. At the heart of the matter: writers and bookshops need each other. Bookshops need good books to sell; books benefit from bookshop support and the booksellers' handselling. So if you’re a polite, friendly person who has written a good book that’s been edited properly and physically looks appealing, then that’s all that matters. Obviously a bit of luck when it comes to timing has to be involved, too, but if you approach several bookshops in this well-researched manner then your chances of success are even greater. Good luck!
Jen Campbell is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series, and 'The Bookshop Book.' She's also an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is published by The Rialto and she is currently writing a short story collection. She runs a Booktube channel over at youtube.com/jenvcampbell
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From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.