Getting Your Book Into Bookstores

by Marylee MacDonald in Book promotion

What is the biggest frustration authors face? Getting into bookstores. Authors and independent publishers who produce print books through Amazon’s Createspace confront a nearly insurmountable hurdle. Even though the book has a great cover, bookstores still know the book has been produced by their sworn enemy–Amazon!

How can they tell? Amazon places a bar code on the last, inside page. An offset press, which is the kind of press major publishers use, has no need for such a code.

Another sign that the book comes from Amazon is its size. Offset presses can print in a range of sizes. Go to a bookstore and measure the sizes of books like yours. Compare to the sizes offered by Amazon and IngramSpark. They’re not the same. If you walk into your local independent bookstore and hand them your book, they know you produced it.

Every day they have local authors coming to their store and wanting them to carry their book. However, bookstores don’t have the staff to screen the books for quality. At best, they will take your book on consignment. You may even have to pay a small fee. Your book will slide in between the other books and be displayed spine out. Now, imagine having to do that again and again, to introduce both yourself and your book to a store manager.

One might well ask why independent bookstores aren’t more cooperative and willing to help local authors. To put it bluntly, bookstores aren’t nonprofits. A bookstore isn’t a charity. That’s why they’ll often charge a fee for hosting a book launch and why they’ll ask that you to guarantee a certain number of attendees. The store needs traffic. They need people to walk in and buy books.

Independent bookstores are fighting for their lives. And, now that Amazon has opened its own bricks-and-mortar stores, independent bookstores face an even greater threat.

Is there a workaround? Yes, there is. DartFrog Books has taken on this challenge–advocating for quality, independently published books and independent bookstores.

Let me tell you what this is all about and why I decided to jump into the DartFrog pond. But first, please check out this link to my short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD. DartFrog created the “Book2Look” biblet as one of many ways they’re helping me “get the word out.”

landing page

Twelve stories of wayward travelers. Twelve stamps on the passport of the soul. BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD.

I hope you will buy the book, read it, and leave a review on Amazon. Click here to go directly to the review link.

Whew! That was hard. Like most authors, I hate self-promotion. I would much rather promote anyone else’s book than my own. However, if I’m going to talk to you about the ins-and-outs of publishing, I had better model the behavior I know will be important for all of you. So, please buy my book and review it.

Now for the details.

What is a Dartfrog?

A dartfrog is a member of a family of poison frogs found throughout Central and South America. They are a species endangered in the Amazon. Wink! Wink!

dartfrog

This Amazonian dartfrog was photographed by Drew Bennett. (Creative Commons license)

The President of the newly formed DartFrog Books believes that indie authors and independent bookstores can form a partnership that helps both thrive. DartFrog vets the books and picks the best of the best.

If an independent press published your book, your book qualifies.

Prior to DartFrog, authors who published with independent presses had no way to get their books distributed. And yet, independent presses offer a great opportunity for writers who don’t want to deal with cover design and typesetting a print book. If you haven’t yet downloaded a copy of my pdf on independent publishers, you can grab a copy here. You’ll find over 700 listings, so don’t try to print it out. Just search for publishers in your genre.

But that’s not all. If you self-published, your book qualifies. DartFrog acts as a distributor, sending copies of its featured books to 20 independent stores.

The bookstores place the books face up in a special DartFrog section. Having the book displayed “face up” is key to making this work. If a book is spine out on the shelf, readers won’t even see the cover. Essentially, DartFrog is acting as a distributor for independent publishers and self-published books.

Online Bookstores Are Super Competitive

For quite a while now, I’ve thought that my books might do better in a bookstore than online. If an employee in a bookstore likes a book, they will often recommend it to their regular customers.

Most people who read my books like them, at least judging from the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. But my books face the same obstacles your books face.

  • I’m an unknown.
  • My publishers don’t have an advertising budget.
  • I can’t get my books reviewed in major newspapers. (Newspapers have fewer and fewer slots for book reviews, and they don’t review books published by independent publishers.)
  • My books don’t fall into the popular categories: romance, thrillers, and mysteries.

I write literary fiction. I guess you’d say my stories, and my novel, too, are character-driven. I can’t produce four to six books a year, which is the expected output for many romance writers. By writing fast these authors constantly place new “products” in front of an audience. Like musicians, they build a “fanbase” through marketing on social media.

I began writing long before social media played a role in an author’s career. I grew up writing letters and calling friends on the phone. So, I’m late to the game, and even if I were not, the printing revolution and the ability to produce a POD book has changed the industry irrevocably.

This past week I attended a workshop with Donald Maass, agent and writing coach extraordinare, and he said this:

There are 6000 print titles every year vs. 4000 new Kindle books per day. Half the new print titles are romance.

Maass added that children’s books and YA books sell relatively poorly as ebooks. He thinks it’s because parents read children books at bedtime. In addition, he mentioned that ebooks have settled down to 20% of any author’s sales.

These statistics mean that authors who can get their books displayed face up in bookstores stand a chance of having a random reader pick up the book and, at least, consider it.

Book Distribution

Many readers of this blog do not live in the United States, but I’ve heard from many writers in other countries, and I know you face the same challenges. You write your book, but then what? Book distribution is the big bottleneck.

Furthermore, in today’s online world, it’s hard for any author to stand out. That’s why I’ve invested a great deal of time learning how to build an author platform and sharing what I’ve learned with you.

To get into bookstores, US authors must go through Ingram, which is both a POD publisher and a book distributor. You cannot simply upload your book to Amazon and expect your local bookstores to carry it.

For a comparison of the two POD publishers, read this excellent article by Giacomo Giammatteo.

Bookstores Order Through Ingram

Let’s start with this assumption–that any author who wants to get their book into bookstores will upload their book to IngramSpark as well as to Createspace. I’ll demonstrate how this works by using my recent experience as an example.

I heard the President of DartFrog speak at a San Francisco Writers’ Conference. I approached him and asked if they might consider my book.

He asked me to upload a pdf of my book to the DartFrog portal. The book went through a vetting process, and within a week and a half, the DartFrog reviewer had sent in a rave review. If the reviewer had found problems, DartFrog would have let me make revisions and resubmit. (I should also mention that there is a substantial upfront cost to having a book considered. That could be a drawback for anyone on a tight budget.)

After I got the green light, DartFrog asked for the production files. I sent them the InDesign file, and they placed a DartFrog logo on the back. They also slightly shrank the size. The size needs to conform to their printer’s requirements. The book kept the same ISBN number, however.

Luckily, I had already uploaded the book to IngramSpark. Bookstores typically order through Ingram, and my book was already in their system. After DartFrog changed the file to conform to their requirements, I had Ingram send 20 copies to DartFrog. That, too, was at my expense. When–and if–those copies sell, the bookstore can reorder through their normal Ingram channel.

DartFrog seal independent bookstores

DartFrog gives its Gold “Book of Distinction” badge to books that rank highly during an initial screening process.

My book is now in 20 independent bookstores. And, I’m in good company. There are many other fine books in the “DartFrog Approved” section of the store.

And here is where I ask one more time. If you live anywhere near these stores, or you have friends or family nearby, I encourage you to invite them to go in and buy a DartFrog book! Take a picture and post it on social media.

I hope this experiment will work. By “work” I mean that I hope unknown authors finally have a chance to showcase their books and forge a connection with readers.

If you can’t make it to a store, I will ask you again to order my book and post a picture on social media.

Here are places where you can buy the book:

Dartfrog

Amazon

Amazon.uk

Barnes & Noble

And here’s where you can leave a review.

I’d be very interested in knowing what your experience has been. Have you found that your local bookstores have supported you by hosting a launch for free? Has more than one store stocked your book? What have you done to drive traffic to the store? Please leave comments.

Walls of Books Zanesville 1212 BRANDYWINE BLVD ZANESVILLE Ohio 43701
Walls of Books Newark 1281 LOG POND Drive NEWARK Ohio 43055
Fountain Bookstore, Inc. 1312 East Cary Street Richmond Virginia 23219
Walls of Books 733 Commercial St ATCHISON Kansas 66002
Walls of Books 4508 Armour Road Columbus Georgia 31904
Walls of Books 7739 Tylers Place Blvd West Chester Ohio 45069
Burry Bookstore 130 W Carolina Ave Hartsville South Carolina 29550
Walls of Books 357 Main Street Tifton Georgia 31794
Walls of Books Commerce 233 POTTERY FACTORY DRIVE COMMERCE Georgia 30529
Walls of Books Watkinsville 1971 HOG MOUNTAIN ROAD WATKINSVILLE Georgia 30677
Walls of Books 96 Craig St #104 East Ellijay Georgia 30540
Gottwals Books 660 Peavy Rd Byron, GA Georgia 31008
Page and Palette 32 S. Section Street Fairhope Alabama 36532
RiverRun Bookstore 32 Daniel St Portsmouth New Hampshire 03801
King City Books 104 N. 9th Street Mt. Vernon Illinois 62864
Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop 631 N Carrollton Ave New Orleans Louisiana 70119
The Conundrum 11917 Ferdinand Street St Francisville Louisiana 70775
Gottwals Books 2834 Riverside Dr Macon GA 31204
Gottwals Books 909 Carroll St Perry GA 31069
Gottwals Books 1806 Russell Parkway, Ste 1400 Warner Robins GA 31088

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Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, and BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many other awards. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State. She has been a Writing Fellow at Arizona State University and has taught workshops on literary editing.


2 Responses to “Getting Your Book Into Bookstores”

  1. Good information that is new to me.

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