When you self-publish a book (and, in many cases, even when you go the traditional route), you need to wear many hats: writer, self-editor, proofreader, design consultant, marketer, publicist, and yes, sales rep. The truth is, you can (and you should) build a team to help you with most of this task list, but when it comes to “selling” your book to stores, well, no one can do that better than you.
Today, even if you have a distributor (there are several Canadian ones that specialize in small press and independently published books), telling bookstores how and why to order your book is still part of your job. Sure, distributors send out catalogues and attend book fairs, but large, personalized sales teams are a thing of the past, and booksellers are inundated with promotional materials and stacks of ARCs (advance reading copies) that they are expected to wade through in order to make their choices. Trust us – they do not have the time or resources to adequately familiarize themselves with all of the new book releases, and that’s where you come in. Nothing gets a bookseller more interested in a new read than having the author right in front of them, delivering a sales pitch for their own book.
When we were in Nanaimo for the Spring Writes Festival, we met with Barbara Pope, owner of The Mulberry Bush bookstores in Parksville and Qualicum for the past 25 years. There was a time, she told us, when sales reps would visit and tell her exactly what she needed to order, stocking both stores completely for her specific clientele. It was that easy. Today, she spends the equivalent of two whole months paging through catalogues, scanning sell sheets, and skip-reading (if time permits) ARCs to choose the right books for her stores. That’s why a personal visit to your local bookstores with a few copies of your book should be at the top of your to-do list. And for those bookstores that are more far-flung (in your province and beyond), mail them a copy, with a personal letter and a sell sheet, then follow up with a phone call.
At The Mulberry Bush, every customer receives a bookmark that says “Thanks for shopping at your local independent bookstore. Here’s what you just did”:
You kept dollars in our community.
You embraced what makes us unique.
You created local jobs.
You contributed to the tax base.
You supported our local schools.
You created more choice.
You took advantage of our expertise.
You supported local and BC authors.
You made us a destination.
You helped our community gifting program.
All good reasons to make sure your book sits on their shelves. Most independent bookstores are supportive of independent authors. After all, it takes an indie to understand an indie. We’re all in this together.