Independent booksellers often talk about their tight bonds with their local communities, and, increasingly, one of the many ways in which they are engaging with those communities is by stocking self-published titles by local writers. For years, the libertarian and frequently contrarian nature of independent authors was at odds with the requirements of bricks-and-mortar indies; self-published authors were empowered by the emergence of online retailers that produced, published, and sold their works, and they didn’t consider how those books would be sold in physical stores. But the relationship between indie authors and indie bookstores has evolved, and numerous booksellers are willing to stock self-published titles—albeit within certain limitations. PW surveyed the members of BXsellers, our Facebook group for booksellers, to find out what criteria they apply to handling self-published work.
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore, which has two locations in Brooklyn, said she limits the selection of self-published books each store carries to authors who live nearby. “We do have certain requirements—the book must have the name on the spine, for example—and we have a six-month consignment policy, but we consider it a community service,” she wrote. “And some do end up taking off!”
George Rishel, owner of the Sly Fox in Virden, Ill., shared that his store sells only local indie authors as well, some of whom “have done really well, and others, not so much.”
Megan Andrews Blackshear, co-owner of Bookbound in Ann Arbor, Mich., concurred. She sells only books by self-published authors who live in the store’s county and admitted that, though a handful of titles are “awesome” and have become Bookbound favorites, “a majority of these books do not sell a single copy.”
Several booksellers said that they will consider stocking an author once that author has demonstrated that he or she has readers. Victoria Roberts, operations manager at Hugo Bookstores in Massachusetts, wrote, “We consign self-published books but do not order them in unless they have a track record of success. If we sell a lot of your book on consignment, we would consider ordering from Ingram, but only if it is available at a full discount.”
Megan Waterman, owner of the Book Nook in Canby, Ore., has been running her store for less than a year and has just begun incorporating local indie authors into the mix. Her process starts with them signing a contract. “Basically, we agree to carry their book for a set amount of time and we keep a percentage of the sales,” she wrote. “We ask them to advertise on social media and [post on] their website that the books can be found here. Some authors are better at that than others. If the books don’t sell, they are responsible for picking up their inventory from us in a timely manner.”
Cindi Whittemore of Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay, Calif., said she appreciates self-published authors who understand their role in the process. “Just because you wrote a book doesn’t mean you are done,” she wrote. “There is still a lot more work to do; the marketing is up to you. I’ll do what I can, but that’s only so much, since I have 100,000 other titles that also need my attention. Look at me, the bookseller, as your partner, not your employee.”
Claire Benedict, co-owner of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt., noted, “We have started to hold ‘How to Self-Publish Successfully’ educational events for authors. They’ve been very popular. Generally, we will carry a self-published book by a local author if its looks professional on consignment. For authors with a track record, we will buy them outright.”
One word of advice several booksellers shared for self-published authors: do not mention Amazon. Bear Pond’s Benedict wrote, “We do not carry Amazon-published books in our store, even for locals.”
Unorthodox book design was another no-no for booksellers. Emily Portwood, of Bob’s Beach Books in Lincoln City, Ore., wrote, “We get a ridiculous number of books that have nothing printed on the spine, text printed the wrong direction, or words that are illegible. We get books that are much larger than the standard book size that won’t fit on the shelf.”
Like nearly all the booksellers surveyed, Portwood said she genuinely wants to help indie authors and finds it difficult to reject them outright—especially when it has to be done face-to-face. “If their books are not ready for prime time, we encourage them to rethink and try again in the future,” she wrote.