The secret of getting a self-published book into independent bookshops

Card declinedMy ID cards book Card declined is now available in four more bookshops: Politicos, the online political bookshop, and (appropriately for Independent Booksellers Week) three more independent bookshops in the Cotswolds – The Borzoi Bookshop in Stow, Evenlode Books in Charlbury and Madhatter Bookshop in Burford. Although still available from Amazon in print and Kindle, if you are anywhere near any of the physical bookshops – also including Jaffe & Neale in Chipping Norton and the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley – please buy from them, or Politicos. The NHS isn’t funded by taxes paid in Luxembourg…

Leaving aside tax issues, while Amazon provides a great way to start self-publishing, it’s easy for a book to get lost among the millions and difficult to it to be found in a serendipitous fashion. (I have sold plenty of copies via Amazon, but most of them have been through a link from my sites or one which has used one of my coded links – I know that because of the Amazon Associates referral fees I have picked up as a result.) One of the great pleasures of a physical bookshop is browsing, and finding something you didn’t know you wanted.

For a self-publisher I suspect that independent bookshops are easier to get stocked in than chains, because the secret of getting a self-published book into independent bookshops is… ask, politely, and give a good reason for them to say yes. The person who reads your email will probably be the owner who will decide whether or not to stock it – and, quite often, will also be the person you’ll meet if you deliver the books yourself. I used the Booksellers’ Association directory of independent bookshops for research – thanks Patrick Neale, co-owner of Jaffe & Neale and president of the association, for the tip.

If you can provide a good reason for a bookshop stocking your title – in the case of the Cotswolds bookshops the fact that both I and (even more interestingly) David Cameron live locally has probably helped, while for Politicos and the National Museum of Computing it’s the focus on politics and IT respectively – then my experience is that many are willing to give a title a go on sale or return basis.

There are two drawbacks to this for a self-publisher, compared to print-on-demand through Amazon or similar: you need to print a stock of copies at your own financial risk with no guarantee they will sell, and you need to distribute them. (Although another advantage of being a local author is that you can do your own deliveries and – if necessary – collections.) In the US, short-run printers including Lulu offer deals under which writers can make titles available to be printed on demand when requested by bookshops or other big buyers through the main distributors. The UK has a similar infrastructure of print-on-demand printers, used by Amazon among others, and book distributors: Lulu and its rivals should get something similar going here. It would help boost a move by customers back to physical bookshops, reported by The Times today (subscription needed).

But I’m very happy to be dealing directly with half a dozen independent bookshops that have risked some shelf-space, or web-space in the case of Politicos, on Card declined. Thank you all, and if you’re a retailer who would like to join this select group – even if I can’t do the deliveries in person – please get in touch.

Bookshops stocking Card declined

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