Why you should never try and get your books in bookstores or libraries

The first time I published, I went with Ingram Spark because I heard it would be easier to get into bookstores and libraries. That claim is false. While theoretically your books can be ordered by libraries, it’s unlikely they will – you need to get them reviewed by MG/YA book reviewers or big organizations. You can advertise in magazines and journals that target libraries, or advertise directly to specific libraries, or approach thousands of libraries one by one, but it’s a lot of effort and the most they’ll order anyway is 2 copies (though, get on the right list and an association head might order hundreds for their whole district).

But that will happen when you get great, credible reviews from big influencers or bloggers, tie into a current issue that matters, get press for said issue, etc. If it’s just a great story but not groundbreaking, that’s OK if readers love it…which you can prove by getting it into the hands of real readers of your target age group – yes you can have them request your book at a library and they will look it up, but they’ll check your online reviews and see how it’s performing first and whether it has any credible reviewers they recognize.

So – there are ways to do it, and it might be worthwhile, but there are easier ways to sell more books with less effort. Generally, libraries shouldn’t be your first step. The first step should be selling well on Amazon, getting regular readers to review and like it, getting local press or small mentions in school newspapers, maybe doing local signings, sending out ARC copies to the big book reviewers that libraries trust (check out bestselling, trad published books on Amazon and read their editorial reviews and you’ll start to see which ones keep surfacing).

Those reviewers are unlikely to check out an indie published book unless it already has some accolades or awards, some credibility. So start small, build up to bigger reviewers, then run an ad in a journal that gets sent to libraries featuring your books and your excellent, credible reviews (even so, personally, I probably wouldn’t do that for most of my books… simply because the readers who buy cheap books on Kindle aren’t the same buyers who go to libraries to read books). As for bookstores, basically all the same things apply.

You can do it on consignment, store by store, or organize signings, but it’s a lot of work for little pay and you’ll probably lose money. Focus on keeping your ebook ranking high and moving copies. Focus on finding readers – any readers, not necessarily readers who are willing to pay for your first book. Build trust and a platform. (If you want to do the more traditional stuff, libraries and bookstores, you’re competing against traditional publishers with much bigger budgets and better connections. It’s fine, you can do it, apply for all the book awards and send out ARCs to everyone (which should have been done 3 months before publication). But for indies, it’s much harder – indies need to win where they can, where they have an advantage over traditional publishers: and that’s online. Because we can reach more people with much less money, by doing things the traditional publishers can’t afford to do.

It’s worth mentioning: Books that are in bookstores fight for that spot, and if they don’t sell the bookstore return them to the publisher and the publisher pulps them at a loss. So “getting into bookstores” isn’t a super thing – it looks cool and makes you feel good for awhile, and yes it might help sell lots of books. But you’re only getting 7% of sales anyway. So if you get into bookstores you might almost make a living. Whereas, for the majority of traditionally published books, you get the credibility and respect and good feelings of having accomplished something wonderful, but a very small advance (usually under 10K for about 90% of books, I believe) and are unlikely to earn anything else from that project. Publishers are spending tens of thousands of dollars promoting their books, because they need to sell many more copies than you need to in order to make a profit. Throwing your money against them to try and compete for the same limited space is not a profitable business move.

So stop thinking bookstores and libraries. Start thinking creatively. Where are my readers. How can I get my book in front of them. How can I entice them to open it up and start reading. Those considerations come BEFORE pricing concerns (if a book is 99cents, you’ll have to work 10x harder to convince readers to read it than if you gave it away for free.)

Free books aren’t a permanent solution, but it is an easy and simple fix for obscurity and invisibility. You can also apply to contests and pay for expensive book reviewers or advertisements, and you can and should do both… when you’re ready. But don’t sink your savings into the first book. Start small, put it in front of real readers, learn to improve your craft, learn the business side of publishing and how some indie authors are actually making a living writing books. Then do it better than anybody else has done it yet.

But wait!

If you still want to get into bookstores anyway, for non-financial reasons, there’s nothing wrong with that – my friend Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur just wrote a post on how to get into bookstores (it’s easier than you think). << Check it out


  • Kristen Steele Posted

    I think it really depends on your goals. If the primary goal is making money, you’re right. But for some authors it’s a dream of theirs to see their book on the shelf and if that’s the case they should absolutely go for it.

  • Kristan Cannon Posted

    My dream was always to see my books enjoyed by other readers. While I don’t concentrate on getting my books into libraries (and then only certain ones) I found the opposite effect. I think it’s not just getting the books into any library but the right library for your books. By all means, approach your local library – especially if you have registered with your national library registry. Depending on country, this could be free or free “with a catch” and that catch being they want your books in said national library! Canada is like this. Get registered at LAC for ISBN (also free in Canada!), copyright (not free, but not prohibitive) and get the LAC Control number and entry and the catch is you donate two of each title in each format to said national library. For a Canadian indie, this is like being in the US Library of Congress (because it *is*) and carries the same weight.

    Unlike the US Library of Congress, the LAC gladly accepts self-published and indie published authors… so long as they are Canadian. That is the other major catch. Unfortunately, this isn’t open to an author from another country, unless they *were* Canadian and have moved out of country… or are published with a Canadian publisher at which point the publisher does all that on the author’s behalf.

    I digress.

    The whole point is that if the author is willing to get their ISBN, and copyright, through their national office (at least in Canada), you may as well go one step further and get it into a few libraries. Go local. If there’s enough interest at another library, there’s always inter-library loans. If there’s enough interest that other library is going to want to fill demand.

    But only go for a few libraries – not all of them. If you’ve traveled around, contact the one where you were born, where you grew up, went to school… and where you live now. Sure, they might only buy a few copies (or expect you to donate it) but librarian read – and they review books too. A few of my editorial reviews have come from a local librarian – and those reviews are like GOLD.

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