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FaulknerHouseLg-XLThanks to book publicist Claire McKinney for this guest post! Pictured here, a favorite indie book store, Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, LA.

The short answer is yes, it is possible to get brick and mortar bookstores to take your self-published books, but it isn’t an easy option. The simplest course is to hire someone to get your e-book set up on every available platform including Nook, iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, etc., and then market like crazy online.

But today I am highlighting an author and how his perseverance with booksellers continues to pay-off, over a year later.

A gentleman hired me to work on his debut novel. It was well over 450 pages long and he wanted to print it in hardcover–did I mention he was doing this by himself?  The book was professionally edited, a compelling story, and he did everything he could to maximize the actual look and feel of the product with beveled edges, a beautiful cover, and decorated end papers.  Next, he set up his own press, where he featured other previous non-fiction work (of his)  as well as his upcoming titles.

Now, he wasn’t a person who had grown up through the digital age, and the whole Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Goodreads world was not something that came naturally.  What he was hoping for was attention in traditional newspapers like the New York Times, which I told him was not going to be an option, even though we did try.  

In the old days (like 10 years ago) if you wanted to build interest in a novel by a new author, one path to success was to market heavily to the independent bookstore market. But independent bookstores are not necessarily selling venues for independent writers.  ooksellers have been hurt by the advent of e-tailers and the decrease in sales of print books just like everyone else in publishing.  They have only so much shelf space and they have seen and heard every pitch.  But that didn’t daunt us, or our author, in this scenario.

In fact, we put together the most thorough list of independent booksellers in the Northeast, along with the local chain.  Our author set his hardcovers up with a distributor for legitimacy and also just for ease of distribution.  I mean, whose back can hold up packing and shipping cartons of big hardcover books from their house?  He also offered traditional publishing terms with a 40% discount to booksellers off the cover price and free shipping BOTH WAYS.

Then we all hit the phones.  “You are representing who?  And What?”;  “Send it to me and I’ll see what I can do.”; “I have a pile a mile high of potential sellers.”  These were some of the responses we received.  But we marched on with the knowledge that there were 2000 copies of this bad boy to get out the door.

books-for-saleWe emailed and pitched with every possible thing we had; we offered additional marketing materials and advertising; we even offered to give them the books if they just tried to sell them during their busy seasons.

In the meantime, our author was setting himself up for appearances where he promised to show up at the store, sit at a table, and simply sell and sign the books for the store.  I think between what we set up and what the author did himself, we had almost twenty stores for him to visit.

In the last couple of months I’ve been receiving requests for copies of the novel’s book jacket for event promotion, from Barnes & Noble to independent stores.  I hear the book has gone into a second printing.  It is just over a year since the book was originally published.

I was told that E. Lynn Harris sold books out of the trunk of his car before becoming a bestselling (romance) author.  It’s not the same genre and it’s not the same time period, but I learned a few things from this experience:

1. Literally “never say never.”

2. If you leave your pride and ego at the door, much can be accomplished. (If it isn’t already, this one could be inside a fortune cookie.)

I’m not necessarily recommending this way as a means to a selling end, but I am just pointing out that there is always an extreme case out there where something initially thought impossible, becomes possible.  Was it the best course of action?  It was what our author and the book needed in order to get noticed.  Did it get the book where we wanted it to go?  There are movie options being discussed and books definitely got sold!

claire mckinney pr When is the Right Time to Hire a Book Publicist?Claire McKinney PR, LLC specializes in campaigns for books, authors, educational programs, websites, art, film, and other intellectual properties. They work carefully with clients to create messaging; branding concepts; and marketing and media strategies that integrate both traditional and new media opportunities.

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7 thoughts on “Will Bookstores Sell Your Indie Books? A Self-Publishing Series Case Study

  • November 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I posted this on LinkedIn, but I think it’s appropriate to post here as well:

    Interesting story. Sounds like something I am currently undertaking. My self-published YA fantasy was my first book, and since then I’ve had seven books published, legit publishers (actually, my selfie had a publisher but not someone who published books). That was in 1996. We printed 2000 copies.

    Being a local journalist gave me a little cred, and I was able to get nine reviews in local and regional publications. I did readings at Barnes and Noble, did a few signings, went to a couple of schools, placed copies with a distributor, and placed books on consignment at a fair number of bookstores. I even contacted David Letterman and send him a document designating him as Chief Ha-Ha — the book’s title is Hi-doh Hi-dee Ha-Ha. Someone from his staff actually called and left a message on my phone machine that Dave enjoyed the honor.

    But the biggest thrill was one 4th grade I visited to whom their teacher read the entire book, all 190 pages — the principal later verified this because her office was next door and she knew each day when their teacher was reading it, because of the ruckus that went on. I remember some local children’s book critics (librarians and a local children’s book seller, who was supposed to be the area expert on kid lit) didn’t like the title. So, I asked the 4th graders if I should change it, and their answer was a loud and resounding, No! I later went back and did a presentation for the entire school, after which I spoke to the principal who told me that story.

    The result, however, was a failure. I sold some books, not sure how many, but also lost some, as the distributor to whom I sent a couple of hundred books, only paid for about a dozen and never returned the rest, saying they had gotten lost, somehow. In the years since I have found it all selling over the Internet, not at my authorization, some as far away as England.

    Fast forward to 2014. My 6th and 7th Underground Railroad books are coming out this — actually the 6th came out in June and the 7th by the end of this year. A friend of mine’s wife read the fantasy and she enjoyed it, and they said, if I’m ever going to get this book out there, that I should do it now. And so, I have embarked on a second try, placing it with a distributor, putting up ebooks, refashioning my website (I had an old, outdated site up all these years that no one ever visited), linking up with social media, and am at the start of my P-R quest.

    Go to my website: and tell me what you think. There’s a link on the home page to the promotional trailer I made on YouTube and there is a page with three reviews, two by writers I have never met, and the other by someone unknown to me but whom I met after I sent him a copy of the book — so you know they aren’t vanity reviews.

    Is it the greatest fantasy since Harry Potter (actually wrote it before HP came out) — probably not. But I think it’s the best book I have written. I just hope I can get it to some readers and see what they think.

  • November 5, 2014 at 2:13 am

    I could only afford soft-cover printing of my 24 full color children’s book “Lucky, the Left-Pawed Puppy” (Of course, I had first published as an ebook). I imagine a story like this can ONLY happen with a hard cover book. Any ideas would be most helpful 🙂

  • November 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    May I please know the title and author of this book? Thanks.

  • November 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Wow! Luv the inspiration, thank you.

  • September 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Great story. Shows perseverance pays off.

    What you didn’t cover in the story is what all this printing, publishing etc cost. Given what you said you both did to make this happen, I’m guessing there was considerable expense.

    Publicity isn’t cheap.

  • September 17, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Encouraging, even inspirational!

  • September 17, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Bravo. I have done the same with 2 self-published books, A Biblical Feast and Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories. Act like a pro, and you will generally be treated as such.

    I make my contacts by phone. I have “met” the nicest indie booksellers!

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