7 Ways to Get An Independent Bookstore To Stock Your Book: Robert Gray Tells It Like It Is

Robert Gray–Shelf-Awareness columnist, writer, and former bookseller–moderated a panel called “Getting Your Book into Print”, on which Arielle sat at the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association convention last month. Robert had so many interesting things to say about the business that we tracked him down afterwards and interviewed him. Having been at the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont (one of American’s best bookstores) for years, Robert had much to say about how authors should approach independents. And perhaps even more to say about how they should not! We’ve gathered seven essential dos and don’ts here.

Before we get to his list, we wanted to share something Robert said that we love and have used many times since: “Bookstores are the last three feet of the publishing business, the place where the industry and the real world meet.” Bookstores are the rare place where you have access to industry professionals without a connection or having to pay large sums of money. You can’t just call up or pay a visit to an agent, publisher or editor. But you can do this with a bookseller. That’s why it’s incumbent upon authors to consider bookstores sacred spaces and booksellers sacred resources!

And now to the list…

1. Don’t walk blindly into a store. Secretly explore it first.

2. Check out the “staff pick” cards to find a friend–the person who reads the kind of book you’re writing. This person may or may not be a buyer. Then find out when they’re working and start up a conversation about what they’re reading.

3. Whoever you’re talking to at a bookstore, always create a conversation, not a pitch. Booksellers are resistant to pitches.

4. NEVER SAY: Why don’t you have my book?!

5. Booksellers are the most under-appreciated and underpaid people in the industry. They’re expected to have graduate level reading experience at retail salaries. That’s why you must show RESPECT when you approach a bookseller. To receive respect, you must give it!

6. Never go into a bookstore on a Saturday afternoon (and even worse, a Saturday afternoon before Christmas) to hawk your book or get advice from booksellers.

7. Most buyers are not around on Saturdays, often not on Friday either. The exception here is if you’re approaching a very small store where everyone does everything. Ask for the buyer’s email address and try to make an appointment with the buyer. Be a professional.

And here’s one last piece of wisdom from Robert that we didn’t want to lose: You may not realize this, but booksellers, much like writers, are constantly dealing with rejection. Your job as an independent bookseller is to hand sell and create a conversation with customers, i.e. to talk people into buying a book (or, even better, multiple books). Booksellers spend their days pitching books to customers with their hearts and souls and get rejected all the time.