How to Sell More Books Outside Bookstores

A Creative Idea to Help An Unknown Author’s Books Stand Out

In today’s competitive marketplace, authors need to “think outside the bookstore.” Sometimes placing a book with a non-traditional outlet will help it to stand out more.

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Books by J.K. Rowling get the prime real estate in a bookstore—right in the line of sight, in the highest traffic areas—because they are guaranteed to sell. Unfortunately, most unknown authors must compete for attention from an obscure shelf in a small section of the store. The only customers who might find their books are the ones specifically visiting that section and taking the time to browse it thoroughly. Understandably, this makes it difficult for the majority of newcomers to earn a decent profit from bookstore sales.

How Bookstore Retailing Works

To compound matters for new authors (self-publishers in particular), the majority of traditional bookstores will only buy titles marked as “returnable” by a publisher or distributor. This provides them with an out for any books that don’t sell. They can clear them off the shelf and return them for a full refund, making room for the fresh, new releases after a couple of months. Books are sometimes returned a bit scuffed or worn down, depending on how often they’ve been handled. At times, they even have the bookstores stickers still attached. Now authors are left with an unsaleable second-hand product and no royalties to show for it.

Bookstore sales work best in conjunction with an author signing because such an event allows authors and their books to appear front and centre if only for an afternoon. A lot of books can be moved this way, especially if the author is naturally social and willing to engage customers in conversation. The books are sold on a consignment basis by the bookstore which means no returns! Everyone wins! (Click here to read more details on how to set up a bookstore signing.)

How Chain Store Retailing Works

The rest of the time, it is wise to think outside the bookstore and consider another retail outlet altogether: gas stations; drug stores; department stores; mall kiosks; etc. The key is to stand out by being placed in as high-traffic an area as possible as this will attract new sales from impulse buyers who happen to be walking by. Why do you think grocery stores place chocolate bars and magazines at the front, right by the till? No one goes to a grocery store intending to buy chocolate bars and magazines. They go there for groceries. But everyone has to walk by the till … and, oh, those chocolate bars look good! Don’t they? And that story about so-and-so in Hollywood sounds pretty intriguing. Might as well pick up one of each! Authors can take advantage of human nature in much the same way grocery stores do.

Most large retailers require their merchandisers to obtain licensee liability insurance and fill out some paperwork before they will allow them to put up any displays. The same applies to authors. But this extra bit of effort may well prove lucrative in the end. If it takes a title from an obscure bookstore shelf and places it on a display rack facing a high-traffic aisle, it might just sell more copies. It’s definitely worth looking into.

This article was originally published at Suite101 in January 2010.

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