The largest bookseller in the world is Barnes & Noble. With their thousands of retail stores in the US, make most of their buying decisions at their corporate headquarters.

Other chains include Blackwells (UK) and Indigo (Canada).

There are also several thousand independent (non-chain) bookstores in the United States and in countries around the world. It may be easier to be chosen for an independent bookstore, but you must reach most of those one bookstore at a time, and that takes an extravagant amount of time and effort.

A bookstore must decide which books to stock on its shelves. It is estimated that only about 15 percent of books published each year end up on bookstore shelves.

Booksellers must read their markets well and decide which books their customers are most likely to buy. They make those decisions based on their perceptions of consumer preferences while looking at the various offerings of the well-known publishers. They know that customers are most likely to buy the books from the well-known authors and celebrities who are interviewed on the news and talk shows or who have their own television and radio shows. And the major publishers are the most likely to push their books to the media and get those highly coveted interview appearances.

If a book is selling well—for the chains, this is defined as selling at least a few copies a month at most stores—and “sells through,” meaning that enough books were sold and few were returned to make it a profitable book, it will be “modeled.” Modeling means that the buyer will place a continuous order to keep the stores stocked. Much more commonly, unfortunately, a book will sit on store shelves and not be sold, and then in sixty to ninety days, the stock of that book will be returned.

Online Booksellers Amazon is the largest online bookseller, but unfortunately shipping is expensive to countries Amazon doesn’t primarily serve. has the same problem.

Another good choice is with free shipping to lots of countries, including Australia, NZ, most of Europe.

Getting Bookstore Distribution for Self Published Books

One of the biggest challenges for self-publishers is to get adequate distribution. This may be the biggest argument for working with a traditional publisher that has working distribution arrangements, particularly with bookstores.

It is almost impossible to get a national chain to order a self-published book because they know the odds of high sales are very low, and they worry about the author’s and publisher’s ability to pay them if and when the books are returned. But you can often persuade a local non-chain store to stock your book or host a book signing. See the local store manager for information on having an author event at your local store.

Approaching Independent Bookstores

But if an author has a book already published and wants to try to get into some local independent bookstores, here are the things you need to know. Bookstore managers are very busy and they are approached every day by authors who want to place books in their stores. They take very few of them and the ones they do take have a few things in common.

The first thing is that the book must be of professional bookstore quality. Bookstores don’t take wire-bound soft cover books or hard cover books without a dust jacket. Every book in a bookstore must have an ISBN and a bar code and be priced to fit the market.

Try to match the book with the right bookstore. If the bookstore specializes in certain types of books or the book will appeal to the store’s specific clientele, that makes a difference.

Your first job should be to get the email of the bookstore buyer and send a nice email with all the pertinent information and asking if you can drop by a book. If you don’t get a response the first time, send another in about 10 days and then call after that. Don’t keep hounding them if you don’t get a response.

Consignment Sales

The way a self published book will be sold to a bookstore is on consignment. If you want to sell at a particular bookstore, you should see their web site and see if they give any information on how they work with self published authors.

Consignment means that they take a few copies of your book to display in the bookstore. Some charge an upfront fee just to cover the expenses of listing and inventorying the book. If any books sell on consignment, they pay you 60% of the list price. They may agree to display your books for a specified period of time to give them a good chance to sell. They return unsold books or reorder if there are good sales.

Many bookstores do not have their own consignment agreement forms so you should be prepared to take one into the bookstore. You should also be prepared to invoice bookstores if and when they let you know that books were sold.

To show you understand what the book is up against and to respect the time of the bookstore buyer, it is helpful to take in a sell sheet. The sell sheet should include:
• Blurb about the selling points of the book
• Title
• Author
• Publisher
• Category
• Binding (soft or hard cover)
• Number of pages
• List (retail) price
• Distribution (Ingram/Baker and Taylor)
• Testimonials
• Any local, regional or national marketing planned
• Photos of book and author
• Contact information

The sell sheet to sell the book on consignment through a book store is similar to the sell sheet you might use for other purposes, but in this case it is critical that you also list the wholesaler or distributor where the book can be purchased from, in this case Ingram.

Approaching Libraries for Book Sales

Much of the same things are true with another great market for books – the library market. There is no central list of all the libraries in an area, but with a little research you can compile a list and reach a few every day.

Again, the most important thing is that the book must be of professional bookstore quality.

Send an email to the acquisitions librarian with all the pertinent information, especially letting them know they can order through Baker and Taylor if the book was printed by Lightning Source.

Libraries are good sales prospects because they will buy one or two copies of the book and very seldom return books.

Approaching Chain Bookstores

Although it is a long shot and can be both financially rewarding and risky, some authors do choose to have their books evaluated by the big chains for potential orders. To even have a possibility of an order, books must be professional quality and must be unusual enough that bookstores don’t have plenty of other books just like them already on their shelves. Look up the chain and “small press” to see what must be done for your book to be considered. See this link for what Barnes & Noble suggests:

Book Fulfillment

So if books aren’t primarily going to be sold through retailers like bookstores, most books will probably be sold through online sources or by the author at events. This leaves the problem of how to get the book, once sold, into the hands of the buyer. For the first time author, at least to start out, Amazon may provide the ideal solution because Amazon takes care of the ordering and the order fulfillment and shipping.

But Amazon takes a 45% commission on the books sold (remember the 55% discount we talked about earlier) and if the author would like to keep more of the profits of the book, the author might decide to sell more aggressively on his or her own web site and take on the book fulfillment process. There is no reason the author can’t choose, with some help, to pack and ship books. But when that number gets to be 10 or more a day, the author may wish to have that process done by a fulfillment house, a business set up to take and fill orders, pack and ship. It can be hard to find a good fulfillment house that is both affordable and reliable.

Another issue for authors who do their own fulfillment is international orders. For instance, shipping a book from the US to Australia or Australia to the US can cost more than the book itself. Make sure and weigh both the book and packaging and get a good read on the international shipping rates before selling the book on the author’s web site.