Numerous experts in the book publishing business, including John Kremer, Dan Poynter, and countless others, subscribe to the belief that bookstores are the worst place to sell your book. They have some legitimate reasons for making that statement, including:
The shelf life of a traditionally published book is about three months in a bookstore.
Your audience may not include people who go to bookstores.
Your book will not stand out among countless other books on the bookstore shelves.
You can make more money selling your book yourself at author events.
These points are all valid. But that doesn't mean an author shouldn't devote time to building strong relationships with bookstores regardless, and good relationships, especially with your local and independent bookstores, can result in significant sales and publicity.
Most people who love books and read lots of books still visit bookstores. I've seen Jack Canfield state that only one in seven people visit bookstores. But if you do the math, one in seven Americans is a heck of a lot-about 45 million people. That's one big potential audience. Yes, people might see your book in other places, including gift shops, craft shows, and the Internet, but if 45 million people are visiting bookstores, I think there's a good chance you'll sell some books there
Authors should try to work with chain/big box and independent bookstores, but most authors, whether traditionally or independently published, will find independent bookstores more receptive to working with them. Big box stores tend to have a lot of red tape and corporate policies that make them unfriendly to self-published and local authors. Even if the local branch of a big chain store wants to work with an author, it is often helpless to do so because of corporate guidelines that govern return policies or refuse to carry self-published books. In addition, chain stores tend to have larger staff and greater turnover that make it more difficult for authors to build relationships with store employees. And yes, your books stand a good chance of being buried on the shelves in a big box chain store.
Independent bookstores, by comparison, can be a delight to work with. People who work in independent bookstores love books. They are big readers, and if you develop a relationship with those people, they are going to remember you and your book and recommend it to people. If you build a relationship with an independent bookstore's employees, they will reciprocate by acting as intermediary in building a relationship between you and your reader.
Here are just a few of the benefits authors I know have received from working with independent bookstores:
Independent bookstores advertise in local newspapers, on local television, and in other outlets to get customers into their stores. When was the last time you saw an advertisement on TV or in the newspaper for Amazon or Barnes & Noble? While many people go online to buy books, there remains a huge population of seniors who are avid readers and have a lot of time on their hands to read, but they have resisted being online. They are more likely to find out about your book through TV and newspapers, so bookstores that advertise your book signings and books will reach this audience as well as local readers in general. Seniors are also more likely to shop in brick-and-mortar local bookstores.
Local independent bookstore employees know you so they are more likely to host a book signing for you. And because you live nearby, if they have a cancellation by another author for an event, they might even call you up to come and participate.
When customers ask for suggestions, employees at the bookstore you have a relationship with are more likely to have read your book and recommend it to customers.
The money from sales at independent bookstores stays within the community-you're not sending that money off to another state. It provides jobs within your community and supports the bookstore's local staff. It generates money into the community and to the people who are likely to buy your books.
Independent bookstores may work on consignment or may buy directly from the author. Either way, once the books are sold, it's rare for an author to have to wait 90 days for payment, which is the typical wait when dealing with big box stores, book distributors, or traditional publishers.
Libraries love to deal with independent bookstores because they are more flexible than big chains at giving libraries special rates. If your books are at independent bookstores, libraries will be more likely to buy them.
Independent bookstores will often sponsor events with the local library, as well as participate in local festivals. Big box stores are much less likely to participate in community events. As a result, authors associated with independent bookstores can build their connections to key organizers of community events. An author associated with a local independent bookstore can create greater community awareness of his books and build up a community perception that he is "one of them," thus becoming a local celebrity.
Because of their close association with libraries, independent bookstore owners and managers have been known to sit on library boards and participate in greater statewide book events, such as deciding on a "community read" or even which books the state library will promote as notable. A relationship with the bookstore can help your book to get noticed for these reading programs.