On Writing,  publishing

Think Like A Publisher #9…. Selling to Independent Bookstores

There is no way that some of this chapter will make sense unless you have read the previous chapters, and most importantly the chapters about sales.  Chapter #7… A Sales Plan and Chapter #8…Price, Discounts, and Sales.

Finished refreshing your memory? Good.

Now one quick warning: What I am about to talk about applies to indie publishers who have a large number of books. If you only have one or two or three books, read this, but you won’t be able to try it except on a small level.


Number one: You won’t have enough feedback loops between books to get readers finding your other books even if you did sell a few copies to bookstores.

Number Two: You won’t look like a regular publisher, but only an author, and thus will be ignored by most of the indie bookstore owners.

How many products is enough? Ten or so, with more on the horizon. And again, these are Print on Demand (POD) books, not electronic. If you have less than ten, file this away and practice some of this on your local stores. You won’t have enough books to make it worth the costs or give dealers a reason to buy your work. Traditional publishers work on volume, and I will talk about that in an upcoming chapter.

Here we go with the first part of selling to independent bookstores.

This part will be selling POD books. I will, as I have said before, talk about some ideas on selling electronic books to independent bookstores, and maybe even into other stores. But that will be another chapter down the road. First we must deal with 80 some percent of all books sold, which are paper books.

Building an Ad

Independent bookstores are buried in garbage sent to them by writers. Bookmarks, letters, book covers, and so much more it stuns you when you see the piles they recycle without looking at. And among that are some professional catalogs from publishers. Those they look at.

And they also look at professional-looking sales flyers from publishers.

They also look at books sent to them with flyers. (Hint: Independent booksellers will never throw a book away. They will give it away or sell it, but never toss it out.)

So your job, if you want to sell to an independent bookstore is to create and send the bookstore one of the following:

… A professional-looking flyer.

… A professional-looking catalog depending on how many books you have available.

… Samples with professional flyers.

… Samples through a normal channel they are used to getting samples through such as the ABA White Box program.

… Electronic catalogs directly or through other ABA programs.

Will this cost some money? Yeah, a little. A few hundred bucks for some ways, maybe a little more. But honestly, not that much considering the benefits if you do it correctly.

The key is doing it correctly.

So in this chapter and the next chapter I will outline how to sell to independent bookstores correctly, working from the simple ways to the more complex and expensive.

Tri-Fold Flyer

A simple single sheet of paper is the best flyer to start with. To be clear, a tri-fold flyer is an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper folded so that it would fit into a #10 envelope. Only you do not need to put the flyers into envelopes. A single piece of paper will mail easily just folded with a sticker sealing it.

So take a blank piece of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper right now and fold it like you were planning to put it into a standard envelope.

Notice after folding you have two sides showing now on your paper. Turn the side toward you that has no flap. That is your mailing side. You will print your publishing company name and return address in the upper left and leave room in the middle right for a mailing sticker and upper right for a stamp. In the center bottom you will seal it with a small round sticker when ready to mail.

Write all that in pen on that side.  Then flip it over so the flap is downward.

This 1/3 page side is critical. It will be printed bright and glossy and with a book cover or two and more than likely something about your publishing house. (It can be printed either vertically or horizontally.)

In other words, that 1/3 side of paper needs to be a great ad for your press and your books. Mark that page “small ad.”

Open the flyer half way and you have another  1/3 of a page that is tucked inside. On that page you will print your dealer terms clearly, your address, your web site, and phone and any other contact information the bookstore or customer who picks it up will need. Mark that page “ordering information.”

Then when the flyer is completely open you have a full page ad. (One side of the full paper will be a full ad, the other side will be the other three smaller pages.)


Suggestion #1. Don’t try to advertise too much on the full page ad. Get the dealer going to your web site to find your other books. For this flyer, stay focused on one series or one book.

Suggestion #2. Make the ad bright and glossy.

So how do you learn to do a professional flyer? Actually, very easily.

You study professional ads from the traditional publishers like the one on the right here. Pick up book magazines such as Publisher’s Weekly or Locus or RT Book Reviews and look and study the full page ads.

There are lots of ways of designing full-page ads, so look at a lot of them until you see something that fits your publishing house. Then build it with your covers and blurbs and book information. (Back to using InDesign or PhotoShop programs.)

So now you have a full flyer. For printing, just Google printers for printers with mailing services combined and look for the right price. You can have your printer also do the folding for you for very little extra money as well.

For example, I found with a quick look some printers who could print 1,000 two-sided full-color flyers glossy from a file. Those printers would then fold flyers and ship them for around $200.  $300 for two thousand. Mailing services to send the flyers directly from a mailing list to bookstores would cost more.

You can take the flyers with you to conventions or you can mail them to bookstores.

What Should Be In The Flyer?

#1…Featured book cover, short blurb and tag lines, ISBN, price.

#2…Second and third books (pictures) in the same series or similar. (Also, if you have room, a list of a few other books available.) Same information as the first book with each secondary book.

#3… Author promotion information such as “Bestseller” and “Reviews” and such.

#4…Publisher contact information, ordering information, and discount schedule. (On one 1/3 page flap.)

#5…Your web site URL in numbers of places on the flyer with the publisher name or logo and the phrase “For more information…”

#6…Your return address and room for the store address on one side as I described above. (Basically the mailing side.)

#7…High gloss finish with bright colors and professional design.

A hint: Make sure you don’t date the flyer in any way. You are going to want to use it for years ahead.

Mailing to Bookstores

Okay, now you have a professional flyer done and ready to mail to bookstores. Why would you want to do that?

#1… To make some direct sales of the books advertised.

#2… To help the bookstore get used to seeing your publishing house name.

#3… To get the bookstore to go to your publishing house web site to see what else you have for sale to get better discounts. (More they buy, the better the discount you give them, remember?)

#4… To get bookstores to go to one of the distributors such as Ingrams and order your book through those channels.

#5… If the flyer is sitting where customers can find it such as dealer’s table at a convention or in the bookstore, your hope is to have the customer order from you directly or go to your web site or order the book online. In other words, the flyer is promotion for your book through all outlets.

Rememeber, the idea isn’t to just sell some copies of the book on the flyer, but to start to build a relationship with the bookstore and with customers. All you need is about 70 stores to be regular with your press. Or one-thousand true fans. And you build those stores and customers one-at-a-time.

This is not an overnight thing. Plan on a few years of slow work to build an indie store network.

How Do You Find the Addresses of Bookstores and What They Buy??????

This is so simple, it is scary, actually.

You go to the main source. The American Bookseller’s Association.  (ABA)

Now, to become an associate member of the ABA, which I will talk about in a few moments, it costs $350.00 per year. And the things you get as a publisher for that membership are just amazing.

But say you only have ten books or less and you want to start slow and not spend the $350.00 per year, what can you do to find bookstores?

Go to the American Booksellers Association Member Directory and simply plug in any search you want.

It’s Free!


For example, I plugged in “Oregon” under state and hit search. It brought up six pages of listings, over sixty bookstores with mailing information, descriptions of the store, and sometimes what they buy.

That way you can pick which stores you want to send flyers or catalogs to. You can start building a data base. And you can do it cheaply and at your own pace.

You can start doing that even if you only have one or two books on your list at the moment.

Larger Publishers’ Use of the ABA

Just a point first. Paying the $350 will be worthwhile for a publisher who is producing a new book two or three times per year. Or more. And after your company has a nice backlist already in place.

For example, publisher members can buy the full 1200 bookstore mailing list very reasonably. It comes in such a way as to be sent directly to a printer to do the mailing. Expensive? On the scheme of things, no. But don’t think about it early on. It is not worth the money for only a few books.

However, for smaller indie publishers there are other programs that might make an associate ABA membership worth the $350.00 per year. For example, the liability insurance.

I copied this information below from their site. Go look around for yourself.

ABA Membership benefits for a publisher:

Associate: Publishers, distributors, wholesalers, and other vendors (annual dues $350)

  • Access to the Book Buyer’s Handbook
  • LIBRIS Publisher’s Liability Insurance
  • Eligibility for ABA Publisher Partnership
  • Business Management Products (shipping, credit card processing, computers, bags, labels, store supplies)
  • Discounted ABA mailing-list rentals
  • Bookselling This Week

ABA information: http://www.bookweb.org/files/open/pdf/membership/GenBro.pdf

ABA Member stores (around 1,200) To just search for stores http://www.bookweb.org/aba/members/search.do

Red Box and White Box Program

The Red Box contains Indie Next List fliers plus publisher-supplied items such as shelf-talkers, bookmarks, posters, catalogs, and time-sensitive marketing materials. The Red Box will land in each store by the 15th of the month.

The White Box contains galleys, ARCs, and finished books supplied by ABA publisher partners. Each participating store will receive the White Box by the end of the month…


There is another program that you learn about once you become a member that is an electronic mailing with new releases on it. Stores each week get the electronic list of available new books from publishers and check-off the books they are interested in. The publisher mails them either a proof or a copy or often an electronic copy. (So costs on this could be very low.)

In other words, the ABA makes it simple to find and contact bookstores.

And the bookstores, if they are signed up for any of the programs, want to look at the material the publishers are sending. So you have a professional flyer and include it into the Red Box program, a thousand bookstores who want to look at the information will get it without you having to do any mailing. Nifty, huh?

Free bookstore addresses that can be searched by area or programs that go to all stores around the country and Canada.

It doesn’t get any easier to find bookstores.


Get a flyer done. You are going to need at least one or more professional flyers.

Get your publisher’s website updated and solid before you start any of this.

Get either an ABA membership or use their free address service to find bookstore addresses.

Send your flyers to the stores you pick.

In the next chapter I will talk about possible returns and what you can expect. And also when to do catalogs and when to go to conventions to get your books out to dealers in the dealer’s rooms. And also a little about when you press will be big enough to do a table at a major book fair.

Stay tuned, there is a lot more to cover on just this one topic.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean