Questions & John's Answers:
Selling Books in Bookstores
and Getting Distribution

The following are a few of the questions John Kremer has answered during the past four years of writing the free Book Marketing Tip of the Week ezine. These questions focus on selling via bookstores and getting distribution.

Question: Do People Buy Books from Bookstores?

“Do you recall the statistic on the percentage of Americans who shop in bookstores? I thought I read somewhere it was 5%.”

John's Answer

Here's what I know from some recent surveys:

In 2001, consumers spent $5.2 billion on 548 million adult books in the first half of the year (Adult Book Trends Update). Book clubs' market share was 22% almost equal to that of the chain stores. Independent bookstores captured 13.6% of consumer spending while web sites accounted for 7.5% and mass merchandisers 4.6%.

22% through chain stores and 13.6% through independents — hence, about 35.6% of books are bought via bookstores, but that still doesn't answer your question.

According to a recent survey, at least 35% of the U.S. population visit a bookstore at least once a month. In fact, Americans visit bookstores more often than any other type of store, except for the mass market chains (such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart) and grocery stores.

Question: Categories in Bookstores

You said we should promote our book as a memoir, not a garden book. What about a photography book? Can a book be placed in more than one category in bookstores?

John's Answer: A book can be placed in more than one category in a bookstore but that rarely, rarely works well for the book or author. If a bookstore chooses to place your book in more than one place, that's fine. That can work for their store. They know their customers best and can make an informed decision whether or not it would pay for them to invest in placing a book in more than one place in their bookstore.

So, market your book as a memoir for most bookstores. Elsewhere (other retail outlets, catalogs, media, etc.), you can market it as a gardening book, photography book, landscape book, memoir, etc.

Question: Distribution

We are still very new to the publishing game, and are trying to figure out how the whole distribution channel works. I was wondering if you could help us out and answer a couple questions. The split from a distributor really limits our profits, so do we raise prices? Or is the distribution channel that a distributor offers so great that it makes up for it? Do you have any recommendations as far as what distributor to work with?

John's Answer: Most of your questions are answered in my $30.00 report on Choosing a Distribution System. Order at

The margins are tough. You should have an 8 to 10 times markup on the costs of PPB (printing, paper, and binding) on a print run of about 5,000. For a smaller print run, bookstore sales will be marginal at best when using a distributor. You'd better have another outlet for selling books at full price or work to get a better margin. You can choose to raise the price but that doesn't guarantee greater profits. It simply might cut into sales.

Ideally you have a distributor and good margins and just the right selling price. But usually something has to give if your planning isn't just right.

Question: Distribution for One-Book Publishers

“I'm a one-book self-publisher and finding it tough to find a distributor. What should I do?”

John's Answer

There are a number of distributors you can contact who will take on one-book publishers with good marketing plans. Among them are Atlas, Midpoint Trade, Greenleaf, Book Clearinghouse, Cardinal Publishers Group. You can find their full contact information on my web site: A key to being accepted by any of these distributors is a good marketing plan, with specifics outlined in full, along with a selling book cover.

If you are not accepted by any of the above distributors or don't want to use them because of the cost, then you have four options. First, you can establish stocking relationships with some wholesalers. While Ingram has closed its doors to most one-book publishers, Baker & Taylor and some other wholesalers will still work with you.

Your second option is to work directly with booksellers. To do this, you'll have to notify them directly about your new books (either by mail or by phone), check their credit references, answer their phone calls, ship the books, and make collections. This can be time-consuming -- and take you away from publicizing your book.

Your third option is to sell to bookstores on a STOP order basis. STOP stands for single title order plan. Under this situation, you take phone, fax, or mail orders from bookstores and ship copies to the bookstores for their customers. Normally, you give stores a 40% discount and charge them for shipping the book. Most stores will send a check with prepayment or order via credit card.

Your fourth option is to forget bookstores and sell via online bookstores, direct to consumers, through specialty retailers, via catalogs, or by other special sales routes.

Finally, you can combine all four of the above options, placing more emphasis at various times on one or the other option as the demand requires. Most one-book publishers attempt to do this.

There are no easy answers to distribution to the book trade. Most independents carry a limited stock and, unfortunately, are still not as open to self-publishers as they ought to be. Chains do stock many one-book publishers, but they are terrible at paying if you ship direct to them. In most cases, though, the chains require that you be stocked by one of their wholesale suppliers.

One final option that I have recommended to one-book publishers is to work with another book publisher who already has distribution in place. Let them distribute your book. Contact any publisher who publishes books similar to yours (but not competitive) or who are approaching markets you want to reach with your book. Any distribution agreement you make with a publisher will be very similar to one you would make with a distributor.

Question I from Reader . . .

“I understand you have made some very derogatory comments regarding A Novel Idea. Apparently you either do not understand the business plan, and/or possibly have not taken the time to read it--or you have some other ulterior motive!! From my understanding of your comments in your newsletter, it would appear that you are neither a successful business person or promoter--and definitely appear to be near sighted. I will wager you that I will bring people into the stores and they will buy books. You have not done any home work. I have. If you would like to discuss your ridiculous opinion, I would love to have a dialogue. Your position is as wrong as it can be. How many books do self publishers sell of the 378 billion dollar book business? I can be reached at 435-674-9222 if you would like some enlightenment.” — Jack Ferm, owner, A Novel Idea

Question II from Reader . . .

“As a self-published author, A Novel Idea seems to have great idea, but your opinion is as about as negative as it can be. Since you are so negative could you give us some reasons behind your opinion.” -- John H. Sweet

John's Answer

In my last newsletter, I gave the following opinion of the pay for placement in A Novel Idea bookstore:

Now, my opinion: This is a bad idea for authors or self-publishers. The likelihood that anyone will come into the store is small. The likelihood of anyone who does come in picking up your book is even smaller. The chance they will buy it is even smaller. If an established bookstore were making this offer -- someone like Tattered Cover or Vroman's or Prairie Lights -- then this would be a great offer.

Well, I still stick by that analysis, even if it seems negative. I know from long experience that even the established bookstores are struggling to get people into their stores -- and they offer all sorts of benefits, have build community awareness over many years, and stock the bestsellers as well as some books from smaller publishers.

What chance does a new bookstore -- in Las Vegas! -- have of attracting lots of people and justifying the $30 you will have to pay (plus the cost of shipping five books to them)?

If I were going to risk $30 on such a venture, I'd do it with an established bookstore in my own community. Offer them $30 to stock your book for six months. I bet many of them would be happy to share the risk with you. And you will sell more books.

Reader Feedback:
Paying to Be Stocked by a Bookstore

As for Jack Ferm's comments, I have no ulterior motive other than giving authors and publishers the best advice I can give them. I am not nearsighted, nor ignorant, nor ridiculous. And, gosh, I wish the book publishing business was a $378 billion business. That would be great! But it isn't. More like $40 billion at best. But that's enough for me.

“When you consider all the remainders that large publishers have to accept for bestsellers that are dumped in bookstores, paying to stock a book doesn't seem like it would work. Most people, we find, go into a store looking for a particular title (something featured say on Coast to Coast). That is not to say that folks don't browse, but it's probably in a particular area they are interested in. How many people will buy a book on being a successful writer if they are not interested in being a writer before they went into the store to begin with? If a store were a speciality store then the $30 might be money worth spending. But I wouldn't do it. In the early days we left a few books around on consignment and that was not a successful business plan. It's hard enough trying to get paid from some bookstores for titles ordered, much less for something the owner wasn't enthused about to begin with. But every book has its own story to tell. It's own shelf life. Some of our titles in the metaphysical/occult area have been selling for 30 years in one version or another.” — Timothy Green Beckley, Global Communications. Web:

Copyright © 2010 by self-publishing expert John Kremer

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