Why Your Self-Published Business Book Doesn’t Belong in Bookstores


Why Your Business Book Doesn't Belong in Bookstores

The long wait is over. After months of writing, editing, and agonizing over every word, you finally hold your book in your hands. You’ve done all the right things, even some pre-launch promotion on Twitter and social media. You’ve told your coworkers, clients, business colleagues, and your mom. Maybe you’ve hired a publicist, you’ve done a press release, and been interviewed on local radio.

Then comes the question:

Why isn’t my book in bookstores?

We get asked this a lot. As a self-published author who’s hired a publishing consultant or book coach (or even if you’ve gone it alone), this might feel like the next logical step. After all, bookstores are the stairway to published author heaven. In a world of Amazon online shopping, to see your physical book on the shelf of your local book store is a real thrill. We get that. Really! We wouldn’t be in the book business if we didn’t.

While we can’t speak for other book consultants, we can say that for Brilliant Idea Books authors, bookstore distribution and placement is NOT the most effective way to promote your book.

Why? Here’s the short answer.

It takes a (helluva) lot of time and money for self-published books to get on the radar (never mind into the inventory and then shelf space) of a retail bookstore. In the case of big bookstore chains it’s just about impossible. They just aren’t that interested you (sorry). There are too many traditionally published books clamouring for attention—over 300,000 per year. Frankly, bookstores have enough on their plate competing with Amazon for readers’ dollars than to give up shelf space to a self-pubbed author.

And now the long answer.

The Business Book as the New Business Card

The Brilliant Idea Books model of self-published business books is “the book as business card”, or the $20 Business Card, to be exact. We’ve written about it before here, and we’re backed up in our thinking by this Fast Company article by Ryan Halliday and this one by James Althucher.

In our model, the goal of the book is not retail sales (digital or print). Instead, your book is a promotional tool that establishes your brand, your credibility as an expert, and your tangible difference over your competition. It’s a vehicle for spreading your philosophy and ideas.

There is something powerful about being able to say: “I wrote the book on XYZ, AND here it is.”

What we’re not talking about is a business book masquerading as a 45,000 word brochure, full of salesy schlock and rampant self promotion. We don’t want to read that and neither does your tribe. The best business books, self-published or not, are thoughtful, well written, researched, and enlightening.

In our view, you should write a business book to enhance your brand because advertising is expensive, and publishing your own book is cheap by comparison. Depending on the industry, marketing budgets can range from 1% of sales to over 30% . Print materials and trade show gimmicks get thrown out. Emails deleted. But a book, especially one that’s well written and designed, that speaks to your customer’s problems, has lasting impact.

Bookstores don’t serve your target audience

So, if a book belongs in your marketing arsenal, let’s look at what being in the bookstore brings to the table. Sure you can “say” your book is available at Powell’s, but what does that really get you?

For one thing, you won’t be able to target your ideal customer. A book on a shelf is like a splatter gun approach to marketing. You hope browsing customers will pause long enough to pull your title out of the stacks and read the back cover. Plus you will be one of hundreds of business books. You’ll be competing with big name authors with coveted space on tables or ends of the aisle (endcap).

For example, to get into Chapters-Indigo in Canada you definitely need a bona fide book distributor to have any chance. While it’s possible for one or two locations to carry your self-published book, for anything more, a distributor is a must. And there are good reasons why. Distributors have an established account and confirmed terms, they know how to fulfill orders and how to ship in a timely fashion to individual or regional locations. But equally, the retailers would know where to get more books quickly should it sell and also where the returns are to go when it doesn’t.

It is a numbers game. Why would a chain spend valuable time tracking down each self-published author to pay for sales or take back books that didn’t find an audience?

So what are you supposed to do then, once your book is launched, and you are sitting there with a palette of books?

Don’t think about making money selling books, think about spreading the word about your ideas. In short:

Think giving, not selling

Here are some simple, non-retail promotional strategies for your book marketing plan.

1) Add your book title and thumbnail in your email signature.

2) Print your book thumbnail on the reverse side of your business card.

3) Create a dedicated book page on your company website or create a completely separate author website (actually, we recommend doing this at least four months before launch to establish an online home base for your book).

4) Send copies to your clients with a personalized note, inviting them to share the book with others or request additional copies.

5) Get your book included in the attendee goodie bag at niche industry events or conferences.

6) Update your online bio everywhere: Google+ Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook, to include yourself as the author and the title of your book. Use the same picture of you or the book cover so there’s consistency across all platforms.

7) Get an Amazon listing and author page. Yes, you absolutely should have an Amazon listing. Amazon is now a global book catalogue so you should be listed there. Plus, a listing is an easy way for interested people to find out about your book. For our Brilliant Idea Books authors, we look at Amazon as a promotional tool. Through Amazon, you can also offer a digital download copy of your book for free.

8) Host giveaways of your book through your social media connections or other networking events.

9) Put together a book package instead of a standard collateral package for interested customers.

10) Still keen to sell copies? That’s okay too! Look for handselling (back of the room) opportunities at events such as keynote speeches and workshops.

Yes, but how do I get my book into bookstores?

(Sigh.) So, what if your goals ARE retail sales? You gave a pound of flesh writing the damn thing so you want it to sell…

We still don’t think you should invest the majority of your efforts getting your self-pubbed book into bookstores. But if you are willing to be strategic, there are a few key ways you can be successful in the bookstore game.

We suggest starting with your local independent sellers. The Indies (bless them). Find out if they host local author nights. Book store owners are often proud to serve or feature authors from the community. If you can connect with the owner, see if you can get on the calendar for their next event. Books are often sold on consignment in this case so you’ll have to negotiate sales arrangements with the store. For more tips, here’s a great article from The Book Designer.

A final note about online sales

If you are interested in online book marketing with the goal of selling thousands of copies, here some great resources I recommend:

  • Your First 1000 Copies, (Tim Grahl) – Really a great investment in your knowledge of book marketing. Packed with tips
  • Sell More Books Podcast – A fun weekly podcast that gives you a feel for the self-pubbed and indie book scene
  • The Creative Penn (Joanna Penn) – A very thorough and respected resource for authors
  • The Book Designer (Joel Friedlander) – Another great site with constantly updated information on helping authors write and publish books
  • Seth Godin – Always great advice: here’s this link is to his famous post to authors

Our approach to business books at Brilliant Idea Books  may not be for everybody. Let us know if you agree or disagree with investing time and dollars getting into bookstores.