Stalking Our Books in the Wild

Getting your books into bookstores is kind of a holy grail for authors and publishers. Of course, every book can’t be in every bookstore or else bookstores would be gigantic multi-floored super warehouses. So how do books get into bookstores? The simple answer is, booksellers select them. The catch is, for a bookseller to consider a book they have to know it exists. That’s the part of the equation the author or publisher doesn’t have an easy time solving.

The easiest way for a publisher to get books into bookstores (and libraries) is to have a distributor with a good sales staff who attends bookseller tradeshows, makes presentations to buyers, goes on sales calls, puts out seasonal catalogs, etc. Even with all this, it still comes down to whether a bookseller wants a particular book in their store or not. Shelf space is extremely limited and turnover is fast, as bookstores always need to make room for the latest books.

The majority of Bedazzled Ink books are stocked by independent booksellers. Either a title fits a bookstore’s niche or taste, or it simply catches their attention. This is great because we love independent booksellers and are happy that sales of our books can help support them. But for most authors and publishers the shiniest prize is landing in a national chain. Nowadays, that means Barnes & Noble. Not just convincing your local Barnes & Noble to put your book on their local authors’ shelf, but to have it in Barnes & Noble stores across the country.

While it’s possible for an author or publisher to convince the Barnes & Noble corporate buyer to stock their books in their stores, it helps–a lot–to have a national distributor make a memorable presentation to the buyer. This doesn’t guarantee a book will land on the shelves, but at least it has a chance to make it onto the list of titles to be considered. This is important because the corporate office chooses the bookstore for each book. They may decide for a book to be stocked in just a handful of stores near where the author lives, or in a broader region, or nationally. Our books have been in all three scenarios.

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One of our books, Dog Church by Gail Gilmore, was shipped to thirty-seven Barnes & Nobles in New England. This made sense. Dog Church is about the Dog Chapel in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Not only did Barnes & Noble stock it, several independent New England booksellers also put it on their shelves. Just last weekend, Gail Gilmore walked into a bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire to see if they would sell her book and was pleasantly surprised to find four copies already on the shelf.

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Barnes & Noble also decides to stock titles nationally. This happened with Kingstone, Katherine Hetzel’s latest fantasy novel for children. Kingstone shipped to thirty-one stores across the U.S. Katherine lives in the UK, so there is no “local” for her in the U.S. Kingstone is sitting on the shelves at the Barnes & Noble at 82nd and Broadway in New York City and in Anchorage, Alaska. Every U.S. region is covered, but not necessarily stores in major population areas or well-known smaller cities or towns. For instance, it’s stocked in several stores in the Los Angeles area, but in only one store in all of Northern California (including San Francisco and the Bay Area)–in Citrus Heights, a suburb of Sacramento.

We decided to go on a field trip and visit the Citrus Heights’ Barnes & Noble to see one of our books in the wild, as we call it.

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We were curious about how Barnes & Noble selected which stores to send certain titles, so we had a nice chat with the customer services person. First, he confirmed that the individual store did not have a buyer. The corporate buyer selected the books for the stores. So we asked, why this store of all the stores in Northern California, was chosen to stock Kingstone. He said they’re one of the top sellers of children’s books. The light bulb went off for us–the seemingly random choice of stores across the country now makes sense. Now it’s up to the kids to pull it off those shelves and decide they want to take it home and read it.
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