For this week’s Pen to Pen, author ’Nathan Burgoine offers six tips on approaching your local bookstores to carry your book. Having managed bookstores for twenty years before turning to writing full-time, he knows this topic well from both sides.
And if you’ve never read anything by ’Nathan, go change that now. I highly recommend his debut novel Light, a gay superhero adventure story that won my heart. But he’s also got a series of novels about a polyamorous vampire-demon-wizard trio and so many amazing short stories I can’t keep track. You’ve got plenty of delectable options to choose from.
Although I’m an author and am in the position where I can focus most of my time on writing, for twenty years I managed different bookstores in a large chain (and now work part time at an indie). Even before I ever tried to get published, I actively wanted to support local authors.
Authors who came to the store fully prepared made that easier.
So, if you’re an author, and you’d like your local bookstore to carry your books, I’ve got six quick tips that might help:
- Be a customer. This may sound basic, but often the first and only interaction I’d have with authors were these pitches to carry their books. Authors who were regular customers I definitely wanted to support—after all, they were already supporting me.
- Does the store carry similar books? A bookstore near a downtown business tower carries different stock from a suburban mall. Some indies are specific to a genre or category or type of book. If the indie is LGBTQ+, and your title isn’t, it might not be the best place to ask to be stocked, or at least go in ready for a gentle letdown.
- Don’t show up during busiest times (usually weekends) to speak to the manager. Call ahead on a Tuesday late morning, and ask when a good time might be. Similarly, ask if they’ve got a bookseller who loves your kind of book. Bringing them a copy will be better than giving the manager a précis.
- Know your distributor. It takes one thing off the plate of the book store if you walk in with the “how you can order my book if you choose to do so” answered for them. Bella? Ingram? Raincoast? This is something your publisher or platform can answer for you.
- Related to distribution: Is your book returnable? (If a book can be sent back to the publisher, it’s much less risky for the store to try out someone new.)
- If your book isn’t returnable, consignment might be an option. Consignment is pretty cool (though it means using your own stock and will likely not track as a “sale” to a publisher). But if you want to take part in consignment, follow the contract. We asked consignment authors to check in with us monthly. I lost count of the authors I never heard from ever again after they dropped off their books to sell. That meant I had to mail unsold books to them (at my own cost) and even had to beg them for invoices so I could send them payment for what had sold (seriously).
One general last tip? Awesome authors sent people to the store and let people know (through their mailing lists, website, and social media) the book was on my shelf. Not as awesome was checking out author websites, social media, and mailing lists and seeing listings for Amazon—and nothing else. Especially when our own online division sold the author’s book, that felt very much like, “I want to be on your shelf, but I’m going to tell people to buy it from Amazon.” I’m not saying you can’t list your titles on Amazon. I personally don’t have Amazon listings on my website, as I know people know where Amazon is and they know how to use it. But if you do, make sure you list other options, too, and maybe not list Amazon first.
Especially if your local store is carrying your book.
’Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and earned a literature and psychology degree part-time while making a living as a bookseller. His first short story, “Heart,” was published in Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction, and since then he’s had dozens of short pieces published. His debut novel, Light, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and his second and third novels, Triad Blood and Triad Soul, are available now from Bold Stroke Books. A cat lover, ’Nathan managed to marry Dan, a dedicated dog person. The ongoing “cat or dog?” détente ended with the rescue of a six-year-old husky. They live in Ottawa, Canada, where the husky, at least, appreciates the snow. You can find ’Nathan online at apostrophen.wordpress.com, on twitter as @NathanBurgoine, or on Facebook .
And if you’d like to be a guest author, drop me a line.