Self-publishing comes with several benefits, particularly for new poets and authors. And while it makes it possible for new writers to share their work with the world, amplifying your reach and growing your audience can be difficult compared to the traditional publishing route. But even if you self-publish, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your collection into bookstores! Going with a publishing company can make it easier to promote your book and get your collection into bookstores, but it’s not the only way.
And it’s not just about getting your work on shelves: it’s about getting your work placed in the right stores so that your target readership can access and purchase your work. We can break down how to get your collection into bookstores in seven steps:
Seven steps to get your collection into bookstores
Understand the market for your work
To understand how to get your collection into bookstores, you need to understand the market demand for poetry collections. Look at poetry books on the shelves in your favorite bookstores, and don’t forget to take notes! Are there certain genres that dominate the poetry section? What are they charging for their work? Do they have a large selection?
What you see can help you identify trends. If the bookstores in your area have several poetry books in stock, maybe they’re oversaturated in the market. Or vice versa: if there aren’t many in stock, it may due to a lack of demand. Are the books you’re selling only $20 a pop? As a self-published poet, you know better than anyone about the costs associated with printing. So if the average selling price of a similar volume is $20, and it costs you $30 per book, then you’ll need to pivot and have a compelling reason why your item should be priced higher, or consider other bookstores that have a higher-than-average selling price.
Learn how bookstores purchase their inventory
When it comes to large, chain bookstores that deal with a lot of volume, you’ll find they tend to buy from wholesalers. If you have the ability to generate a large volume of copies of your work, then working with wholesalers to place your book through them is a good option to consider. Each wholesaler has different requirements for the amount of product, and bookstore chains have minimum buys depending on the category and book. Reaching out to book wholesalers, like Midwest Books and Follett, to get the minimum requirements is an important step.
But if you’re financially limited and can’t print a large run of your poetry collection, then going another route is worthwhile. While large bookstores get their products from wholesalers, independent bookstores get their inventory from a variety of sources, including directly from publishers or authors. They typically buy the inventory from authors on consignment, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. Make a list of all independent bookstores in your area, and see if they will buy on consignment and find out about the terms that would apply for such a sale. Even if you’re only getting a couple dozen copies in your local bookstores, it’s a step in the right direction!
Use your marketing plan
Remember all that prep work you did to launch your poetry collection and to market yourself? That will come in handy. Part of bookstores’ decision-making process when they select inventory includes demand from customers. Like with any business, they want to make sure the products they offer will sell. If you create a situation in which person after person is requesting a copy of your self-published poetry collection, and they don’t have it in stock, that, in conjunction with your outreach efforts, will make them stop to consider if they want to stock your work. Again, this is a little easier with independent bookstores versus larger corporate locations.
So to make this happen, consistently post about your work, create a demand, and while you’re at it, encourage your followers to ask for the collection in their local bookstore. Enlisting the help of your fans will make the process easier and more effective. And don’t forget: consistency is key! Keep up those social media posts.
Prep and use your media kit materials
In addition to all that stellar social media work you’re doing, you’re going to want to use the media kit materials you prepared to get your collection into bookstores. First, find out who the buyer and decision-maker is, and once you have that information, you need to engage with them and send over your materials so they can become familiar with you. There’s a fine line between persistent and overbearing, so keep that in mind when you make contact.
Do you remember that sell sheet we told you to make earlier? If you’ve already got that, fantastic! You can use elements of that here. But if your work isn’t published in any brick-and-mortar or online retailer, you can use those same elements to generate a one-sheet that bookstore buyers can use to get the quick information they need on how to get their hands on your work. Check out this information on how to create an effective one-sheet (including some templates!).
Now it’s time to make contact
You’ve laid the groundwork: you’ve engaged your audience, prepped your materials, and researched the book-buying process for the stores where you want to sell your work. Now it’s time to make contact.
Before you write a single email or make a phone call, think about strategy and the motivations the person you’re trying to reach out to may have. If you proactively consider their wants and needs, you’re in a far better position to overcome objections and meet those needs (in other words, get your book placed eveeerrrywherrrree). The most predominant desire most book buyers and publishing-related staff have is (at least in most cases) to keep their job and look good in front of the person they report to. Use that!
Phone calls are the most direct way to reach people, but if you’re new to pitching or want a slightly more subtle approach, you can send an email to the buyer. If you reach out to a buyer with a slick media kit, sell sheet, and pitch about why your work is good and how they’ll make money and advance their objectives as an organization by placing your work, you’re making it SO much easier for them to stick their neck out and get others involved in the process of selling your book. Make sure you’re pitching in a way that makes it about them and what they will gain from the process and less about how it will make you and all of your loved ones so happy and excited, etc.
In addition to having slick materials and positioning your pitch in a way that meets your contact where they are, be prepared to have a clear insight on how your book will make them money and increase traffic to their locations. Having social media stats, web traffic stats, figures on how many copies you’ve sold on your own, and information on how there’s built-up demand (thanks to your social media work) will make it clear that you mean business. If you have specific financial projections on sales volume (real numbers), then share those too.
After your pitch, make sure you have a clear plan to follow up with them and gauge their interest level. If you note any objections from the buyer, do your best to respectfully overcome those objections with data and information, but don’t try to come at it from a place of emotion or defensiveness. And do whatever you can to make it easy for them to pass on your work. Offer to share the same information with higher-ups and be responsive if they contact you.
The art of the follow-up
So you’ve pitched the book buyer and you may or may not have had a good interaction with them about your poetry collection . . . now what? This is where the art of the follow-up comes in. Following up and being persistent is the true key to success in almost anything, but you need to come at it carefully so that you get the person’s attention without scaring them off or having them send your emails to the spam folder.
If you did have initial contact with them and asked for a time and date to follow up, honor that timeframe. If not, the frequency will vary slightly, but you should reach out at least every two to three weeks. Don’t come across as begging or whining: simply ask if they had a chance to read through the materials and reiterate the value you and your work offer their company and their customers. If you’ve sent them an email as an initial contact, moving to a phone call is another way to get their attention as part of the follow-up.
And if they do respond and want to talk further? Be prepared to answer questions. A lot of questions. They’re trying to gauge if you’re a good investment of time and resources, so being prepared goes a long way in demonstrating that is the case. As part of these conversations, be prepared to give specifics on the stock you have available, where it can be purchased, what terms and discounts you would offer for a bulk purchase, what marketing you’re doing to promote the book on your own, any upcoming digital events or promotion you’re planning (if it’s a new launch), and any work or news articles you’ve had published that would help cement your credibility.
Don’t ever give up
Even if you’re struggling to get your collection into bookstores and getting book retailers to take notice, never give up! The world needs your work and what you have to offer. Gaining traction and success in anything takes time, effort, and persistence, and with those three elements, over time you’ll begin to see results. It may take a few self-published poetry collections before you get your first bulk order placed in a local bookstore, but that time you had to hone your craft and your marketing skills is time well spent.
Especially with the advent of technology, digital publishing, and more readers than ever using digital devices to consume content, the time to be a self-published writer is now. Using your own website and other self-publishing platforms like Amazon, give poets a way to have their voices heard and offer an opportunity to make sales on their work, so make sure you’re exploring all avenues in addition to getting physical copies of your work placed in brick-and-mortar locations.