In between my sophomore and junior year of college I took a break from school in order to work as a Financial Representative. During that year and half that I spent selling investments, I was given some tips to teach me how to make a sale. Even though I eventually decided I wanted to go back to school to become a writer, I still value the skills that I learned at that job. Selling is more about the pitch than the product, and I will use some of my experiences to discuss a way that you can approach bookstores about carrying your titles.
This post is not focused on trying to get your novel into Barnes and Noble. That is a completely different beast. In this post we are going to tackle selling to an independent bookstore. An Independent Bookstore is the same as your local mom & pop shop and we want to convince them to BUY your book rather than sell it on consignment.
Consignment is when you agree to give the bookstore a few copies at no charge to place on their shelves. If a customer decides to purchase one of your books then the store will send you a percentage of what it was sold for and keep the rest of the money. After a given time you can return and pick up the unsold books. This is safer for the bookstore, because they do not have to make an investment on an unknown author. If the books sell then they make money without having to pay to you if they do not sell.
Even though this is risk free for a bookstore, the risk is still present for you. You are responsible for paying the cost of the books while still allowing the store to make a substantial profit from your investment. We will use a fictional scenario to show how to sell to a bookstore, as well as illustrate how it helps both parties involved.
Phase 1: The Cold Call
First you should approach the bookstore by one of two methods.
Option 1: Call and ask for the owner. If that fails go to a manager. Once you are talking to someone who can make a decision, introduce yourself as an author and that you would like to come in to talk about the possibility of having the store carry whatever title you are focusing on. If they agree, set a date to meet in person. The goal of the phone call is not to sell the book; it is to get a meeting.
Option 2: Go to the bookstore in person, and browse for a book. After a moment, find an employee who you think is in charge and ask for help finding a novel or for them to make a recommendation. Make small talk, and be as personable as possible. Try to engage about things other than the book you are looking for. Examples are: places to eat, how busy or slow it is, sports teams, etc… The goal is find some sort of personal connection to build rapport. Once you have talked awhile, buy the book that you were looking for or they recommended. When you are purchasing it, say that you are an author and ask if it would be possible for you to come in sometime and pitch your book to them. If they agree, make an appointment to come back.
In both situations do not try to close the sell on the first contact. It will ruin your credibility. You will appear desperate, unprofessional, and pushy. The first phase is only about earning the chance to talk about your book. It is not about the sale.
Due to the length of this piece, it is going to be broken up into three different posts. To learn about the next step, the Pitch Meeting, check back next Monday for Part 2.