In this free step-by-step guide, book buyer and book distribution expert Amy Collins shares the 8-step process every self-published author must go through to get your books selling on the shelves of bookstores and libraries across the US and internationally.

We all dream of seeing our books on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. We picture the thrill of seeing stacks of our books in front windows and imagine the day when we go to the mailbox and find checks with lots of zeros made out to us.

New York Times Bestselling Author? “Yup! Here!”

But if you were published in the last few years or even weeks, you may already be discouraged by how few stores and libraries are carrying your book.

Why do some books end up in stacks at the bookstore while others cannot even seem to get ONE copy on the shelves?

The truth is, it is MUCH easier for large publishers to get their books on the shelves at bookstores and book retailers.  They have the history and credibility of decades behind them.  They have scores of sales reps who have earned the right to ask the bookstores to take a chance on new books every month.  Those books fill up a LOT of the shelves, front windows, and display tables where you want your book to be.

But there is good news: You CAN get your book in Target stores, book stores, and other major retailers and libraries.

Book buyers are the folks who make the decision to put your book in a bookstore or not. I asked the book buyers who make stocking decisions to share their insight into how they decide to buy books.

8 Steps to Getting Self-Published Books on the Shelves

Follow these 8 steps to get your book into bookstores and on the shelves of major retailers.

1. Know the Market for Your Book

 What books and categories are selling well right now?

What is the average retail price that readers expect to pay for books like yours

What are the covers and designs people are comparing to your book?

Do the stores and libraries you are targeting BUY books like yours? Are you sure?

2. Know How They Buy Books

Most chain bookstores buy from wholesalers.

Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Bookazine, America West.  Libraries buy from Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Follett, Brodart, Unique, Quality and Midwest Books.

Independent bookstores buy from wholesalers AND also buy on consignment sometimes directly from authors or publishers.

3. Get Into Book Wholesalers

In order for bookstores and libraries to buy your books, they will start by looking at their favorite wholesaler’s database.

If you are POD with IngramSpark then you will already be in the Ingram Wholesaler database.

If you chose “Extended Distribution” at CreateSpace, you will ALSO be in the Ingram database because extended distribution means that CreateSpace put your book in THEIR IngramSpark account.

If you are not POD, then you can apply to the wholesalers of your choice.  Start by visiting these websites:

Baker & Taylor
B&T Application
America West
Follett (K – 12 and University Libraries)

4. Develop a marketing and media plan

The KEY to getting into stores and onto library shelves is to create and maintain a plan to create demand for your book. It is not enough to get your book onto the bookstore shelves; you need to do a great deal to get the books OFF of those same shelves.

Readers need to know about your book so they will look for it and buy it in bookstores. What are you doing to create that buzz? What media are you contacting and what reviews are you going after?

In spite of what we might wish, readers don’t just “find” our books; they have to be “shown.”  Create a constant set of activities to “show” the world your book.

5. Create Professional Marketing Materials

You have just moments to convince a bookstore buyer or a librarian to take your book.  These professionals can spot a “yes” or  “no” with just a few elements of information.

The best way to get in the “yes” pile is to show them these key book marketing tools in one place.

Free Book Marketing Tools

You will need a One Sheet that puts all of your book information at their fingertips [Download your free book marketing One Sheet here].

You will also need a Marketing Sheet that outlines your media and marketing plan [Download your free book Marketing Sheet here].

With these two forms and a copy of your book, librarians and buyers have everything they need to make the decision to buy your book.

6. Know Your Buyer’s Goals

Librarian or bookstore buyer, they have goals that keep them employed and happy.  Those goals include:

  • To Look Good to Their Bosses
  • To Choose Books That Appeal to Their Patrons
  • To Make Money for Their Location
  • To Increase Traffic to their Locations
  • To Not Have to Add A Lot of Items to Their TO-DO Lists

7. Contact Bookstore Buyers and Librarians

Here is the part that most of us think of as the first step.

It is actually WAY down the list.  But the best part of this is that you are now TOTALLY prepared for this!  Start by sending an email to the buyer or librarians stating that you are promoting your book.  Remember that you know their goals.

Every part of your communication should be focused on their goals, not yours.  Keep this in mind and you will get a LOT further than if you reach out to buyers hyping your book.

Sample Letter to Contact Librarians and Sell Your Book

The Write Way Sample Librarian Outreach Letter

8. Follow Up

After your initial email or phone call, you will hear from a portion of the librarians and bookstore buyers.  When you do, there are some questions that they may ask.

Do your homework and know the answers to these questions BEFORE the ask a book buyer to stock your book on the shelves:

  • Is your book returnable?
  • Where is your book available?
  • What discounts and terms are you offering?
  • What marketing are you doing?
  • Are there any events or programs you can do at their location?
  • Are there any articles or content you can provide for their website or newsletter?

There are tens of thousands of libraries and thousands of bookstores that are a great fit for your book. While not every location is a great fit for your book, lots of them are.

Find the right stores and libraries, do your homework, create your materials, reach out to the buyers and get ready for those checks!

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Funny, sharp, and smart, Amy Collins packs her books with tons of industry tips and executable advice. She has been a Book Buyer for a chain of bookstores as well as a Sales Director for a large books and magazine publisher. Over the years, she has sold to Barnes & Noble, Target, Costco, Airport Stores, Books-A-Million, Wal-Mart, and all the major chains as well as helped launch several hugely successful private label publishing programs.

In 2006, she founded the book distribution and sales company New Shelves Books, one of the fastest-growing book distribution, sales and marketing companies in North America. She is the author of the new book, The Write Way and works with self-published authors and small publishing companies to increase their sales in the marketplace.