How To Build A Great Relationship With Your Local Bookshop

“Whixall Nursery have asked for a signed copy of my book for their raffle, and want me to pick the winner because I’m a ‘local celebrity’ – how cool is that?!”

Joanne Phillips, self-published author of best-selling novel, Can’t Live Without 

There’s no doubt about it: people get excited when they know there’s an author living in their midst!

It might therefore seem reasonable for any new indie or self-published author to expect his or her local bookshop to be eager to promote their new books. Which new author hasn’t pictured in their mind’s eye a big pile of copies, prominently displayed in their local bookshop’s window beneath a big “LOCAL AUTHOR!” sign?

White Mountain by Sophie E Tallis in the local bookshop windo9w

Indie author Sophie E Tallis’s fantasy novel is in good company in the window of her local book retailer – The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

With local celebrity status, it’s tempting to rush in with your book hot off the press – or even before it’s been printed – in high hope of snapping up a book-signing session and an order. These things CAN be achieved – but sadly they’re not every local author’s automatic right. You’ll stand a much greater chance of such success if you first take a step back to consider your proposition from the retailer’s point viewpoint.

When I was researching  my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, I went to interview my local independent bookshop proprietor to extract his views at first-hand.

Hereward Corbett, proprietor of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, opened his own high street stores after a long career with the top book retail chains. He was very pleased that I was giving him the opportunity to put the retailer’s viewpoint to self-published and indie authors who are, by definition, not represented by mainstream publishers and their visiting salesmen.

Paula Lofting's book on display in the window of The Bookshop, East Grinstead

Historical novelist Paula Lofting is delighted with the support she’s received from John Pye of The Bookshop, East Grinstead

Booksellers need to make sound financial decisions in order to stay in business,” he told me. “For booksellers, publishers are great filters: they are the bookseller’s quality control mechanism and we trust their judgement. We don’t have that assurance when a self-published author comes in. Publishers also make very good use of our time: I’ve just had one of their reps give me a 10-second pitch for each of 100 of their new books. That’s very convenient.”

This is not to say he is unsupportive of the indie sector – far from it, as demonstrated by the  picture above.

I’d also stress that no bookseller will blindly follow publishers’ recommendations. Living and breathing books, they gain huge first-hand knowledge of what will and won’t sell in their particular shop. Hereward has a well-deserved reputation as a shrewd and dependable talent-spotter. He has an extraordinary habit of arranging for talks in his shop by authors who, only after he has booked them, are chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.(I’m off to see Artemis Cooper talk to his customers about her biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor next week.) He claims to have no inside knowledge from the BBC – just a genuine instinct for his local marketplace. Doubt  these booksellers’ judgement at your peril!

By the way, Hereward also remarked, when I presented him with a copy of my finished book to thank him for his help, that Sell Your Books! should be compulsory reading for all independent and self-published authors. A discerning bookseller? I rest my case!

Robert R Russell's books on bookshop table

Christian writer Robert R Russell finds The Right Way to get his books displayed…

Ink and Folly Bookshop

…in this fabulously named local bookstore

 You’ll find further insight into the bookseller’s viewpoint in Sell Your Books!, my book promotion handbook – see Chapter 8, entitled “Shop!” Getting the Retailer’s Attention.

Next time I cover the subject of bookshops will be with a special post about Waterstones. Follow the Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog to make sure you don’t miss it. (“Follow” button is in the sidebar to the right of this post.)

Footnote: Joanne Phillips, a very effective self-promoter, has done all the right things to establish a great relationship with her local bookshop! For more about her own experiences, follow her blog.

Photo credits: With thanks to Sophie E Tallis for the photo of her fantasy novel, White Mountain , to Paula Lofting for the photo of her historical novel Sons of The Wolf and to Robert R Russell for his photos relating to his autobiography The Right Way 

8 thoughts on “How To Build A Great Relationship With Your Local Bookshop

  1. Thanks so much for including me in this, Debbie. Bookshrop, in Whitchurch, have stocked my book, and have also agreed to let me hold the launch of my next book there in February. I also managed to get it stocked in the Nantwich bookshop – but they haven’t sold any 😦 This is my responsibility, though. The thing about bookshops stocking books via publishers is that they know the publisher is doing stuff to drive people into the bookshops to buy the books. Self-publishing authors also have to show the bookshop owner that they are willing to do the work to get buyers through the door.

    • Excellent advice from the front-line, Jo, thanks for sharing your experience here. It’s always worth giving a bookshop as much evidence as you can of the promotional work you are doing to drive customers into your local high street book retailer specifically to buy your book. More on this in Chapter 8…

    • Thanks for sharing this, Pauline, it’s an interesting and very detailed, thoughtful piece. I’d add that the questions that she suggests authors put to the bookstore should be stated VERY diplomatically to the bookstore proprietor to keep relations sweet – perhaps along the lines of saying “I’m assuming that you already do xyz” rather than seeming to be critical – many will assume they are doing the author a huge favour to promote them at all and may not take kindly to being told how to do their job! That’s what I would do, anyway!

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