July 28-31, 2022

New York City


3 Tips to Pitch Your Self-Published Book to Bookstores and Libraries

While bookstores and libraries are known for being wonderful community gathering places with staff that genuinely care about the book industry, they can’t do everything they do for the love of books alone. They still need to achieve their objectives.

Anyone who says independent publishers and self-published authors can’t have the same book distribution as traditionally published books is misinformed. With IngramSpark, independently published books are distributed to over 39,000 retailers and libraries, so availability isn’t an issue. Whether those bookstores and libraries place an order to carry your book may just depend on your pitch, so here are some tips to help you pitch your self-published book to bookstores and libraries so that both you and they succeed.

Know Your Audience

This means knowing your book’s audience (as in readers) but also, knowing the audience you’re pitching (as in the bookstore or library you’re asking to carry your book).

You need to know who’s likely to read your book, be able to describe your demographic, and demonstrate that you understand the demographic of the store or library. Bookstores and libraries are a reflection of their communities, which means not every book will perform well at every bookstore or library. Their readers won’t be your readers if your readers don’t visit their establishments, so don’t do a blanket request to all bookstores and libraries; get personal and say why your book is right for that particular institution. These channels connect with readers on a personal level, which is how you should present your book. Familiarize yourself with their inventory and see if your book fits in. If a bookseller or librarian does not foresee his/her patrons being interested in your book’s subject matter, he/she is not going to carry it.

Market Your Book

Contrary to popular belief, booksellers and librarians don’t care if a quality book is traditionally published or self-published. They care if the book will find its way off their shelves. It’s the bookstore and library’s job to carry your book, not to market it. They want to know what an author/publisher is doing and will do to create book buzz, regardless of whether the book belongs to a self-publisher or a traditional publisher.

Pay attention to the type of author events a bookstore or library you’re targeting typically hosts. Do some research to find out how they use social media to promote books and drive traffic. Learn how they engage with the community, and then pitch the same marketing models they already use and love. You may also want to try pitching a new way to engage with those they’re already connected with or a unique way for them to tap into a new segment of the community.

You should have a clear marketing plan that tells booksellers and librarians how you’ll get the word out about your book that will generate traffic to their checkout counters. It’s not just about getting the library or bookstore to carry your book, it’s about getting it into the hands of readers when they do.

Provide Business Reasons

At the end of the day, bookstores and libraries are business-oriented and have to justify the cost of the books they place on their shelves. Here’s what speaks to their business sensibilities:

  1. A Quality Product that Meets Industry Standards

Bookstores and libraries care about the quality (content, cover, editing, formatting, and design) of the books they stock. Your book must look professional in order to end up on their shelves.

That’s not the only industry standard they need to meet, however. Bookstores, not libraries in this instance, need your book to be discounted and returnable. Bookstores typically buy books from publishers at a 40 percent discount—minimum. 53% is recommended. If they can’t get a discount on your title, they’re going to pass and purchase books that offer the kind of trade discount that allows them to make a profit. It’s not about your book’s contents at this point; it’s about business. They need to make a profit selling your book, not just break even.

You also need to reduce a bookstore’s risk by making your title returnable. Bookstores are much more willing to give new authors a chance if they’re able to return books that don’t sell, which is another reason you want to make sure your book fits their audience and that you’re marketing it appropriately. If your book is a good fit, the returnable option just provides peace of mind that the bookstore will have no reason to use.

  1. A Proven Track Record

If you can share sales numbers with booksellers and librarians, that always helps them understand demand for your title, but keep in mind that booksellers do not want to hear about your success on Amazon. It’s fantastic to have successful sales numbers on Amazon, but consider the fact that Amazon is a bookstore’s biggest competitor before you brag about how well your book is selling there. Because of this, the platform you use to self-publish also matters. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon (sidenote: Amazon also doesn’t allow returns), so bookstores are already less inclined to carry your self-published book if it was published through CreateSpace.

If you don’t have a proven sales track record, endorsements from trusted sources are the next best thing. Is your book an award winner? Have you gotten endorsements or reviews from a reliable source? Getting a positive review in a publication that bookstores and libraries recognize (such as Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc.) helps inform their purchasing decisions.

  1. Availability

One of booksellers’ and librarians’ biggest reservations about stocking a book from an independent author is the nightmare they imagine in trying to order books from an individual person. Booksellers and librarians appreciate the one-stop shopping experience they get when they’re able to order all of their books, regardless of author or publisher, from the same source. When your book is available for order via Ingram, you can watch them relax as you just made their lives a million times easier. Bookstores and libraries work with distributors because they can order, sell, and invoice books in bulk that way. If you’re working with a longstanding and well-respected distributor, such as Ingram, this increases your professionalism in their eyes and makes you a safer bet.

Bottom Line

The most important thing to remember when pitching your self-published book to bookstores and libraries is to focus on their goals. The right pitch makes all the difference.

To learn more and ask an expert, check out IngramSpark’s session at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference:

Bookstore & Library Distribution with IngramSpark

Saturday, August 11 @ 9:00 a.m.

In this session, learn how to broaden your book’s print distribution by using IngramSpark. Distribution, discount, and decorum are all keys to success with booksellers and librarians. Learn insider tips and tricks to working with these important players in the book industry.

Won’t be at the conference? That’s okay! Just check out IngramSpark’s free podcast and weekly blog for more information on this topic and many others.

About IngramSpark
IngramSpark is an award-winning independent publishing platform, offering indie authors and publishers the same print and digital products and global distribution enjoyed by big-time publishers. Once you finish and format your book, IngramSpark makes it possible to share it with the world, allowing you to focus on creating innovative content while they do the rest: print, ship, and distribute.

In 2017, the Author’s Guild awarded IngramSpark for their Distinguished Service to the Literary Community, alongside Toni Morrison and James Patterson, which speaks to their focus on supporting the author not only as a printer and distributor, but as a resource for overall publishing success.

If you’d like to learn more about how IngramSpark supports writers, like you, produce quality publications, achieve global distribution, and access free resources to help you publish successfully, please visit www.ingramspark.com/writersdigest. You may also find a promo code for free title upload there. (Hint: you will.)