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Navigating Local Bookstores: A Guide for Authors to Get Their Books on Shelves

For authors dreaming of seeing their books on the shelves of a bookstore, the process might seem daunting, especially when considering major chains like Barnes & Noble. However, the key to breaking into the world of physical bookstores often lies in the embrace of local, independent establishments. This article will explore the challenges of getting poetry books into major chains, shed light on the importance of local bookstores, and provide a step-by-step guide for authors eager to see their works displayed in their community.

Challenges in Major Chains

Authors aiming to get their books into large chains like Barnes & Noble might face significant hurdles. The poetry section, in particular, tends to be limited, with prominent poets like Rupi Kaur dominating the shelf space. These bestselling authors often have established relationships with major publishers, making it challenging for lesser-known poets to secure a spot.


The Power of Local Bookstores

While major chains present challenges, local bookstores offer a more accessible avenue for emerging authors. Independent bookshops are often more willing to support local talent and showcase a diverse range of voices. These establishments take pride in curating unique selections that reflect the interests and culture of their communities, providing a valuable platform for local authors to connect with readers.


Step-by-Step Guide to Approaching Local Bookstores

  1. Research and Identify Target Bookstores:

    • Explore local independent bookstores in your community.

    • Consider stores that align with the themes or genres of your book.

  2. Establish a Presence:

    • Attend events hosted by the bookstore to familiarize yourself with the staff.

    • Build relationships by becoming a known face at book signings, readings, or other literary events.

  3. Prepare a Professional Pitch:

    • Create a compelling pitch for your book that highlights its uniqueness.

    • Emphasize any local ties, themes, or aspects that would resonate with the community.

  4. Craft a Stellar Press Kit:

    • Develop a comprehensive press kit that includes a professional author bio, high-quality book cover images, and relevant media coverage or reviews.

  5. Reach Out to Bookstore Staff:

    • Contact the bookstore manager or owner directly, introducing yourself and expressing your interest in having your book featured.

    • Provide a brief overview of your book and its appeal to the local audience.

  6. Offer Consignment or Sale Terms:

    • Propose a consignment arrangement where the bookstore takes a percentage of each sale.

    • Be flexible and open to negotiation, making it easier for the bookstore to take a chance on your book.

  7. Promote Local Collaboration:

    • Emphasize the local angle of your book and how it can contribute to the bookstore's sense of community.

    • Offer to participate in book signings, readings, or any events the bookstore organizes.

  8. Provide Marketing Materials:

    • Supply the bookstore with promotional materials, such as posters, bookmarks, or any visuals that can enhance the book's visibility.

  9. Follow Up:

    • After your initial contact, follow up with the bookstore to reiterate your interest.

    • Be respectful and patient, understanding that they may need time to review your proposal.

  10. Show Appreciation:

  • Express gratitude for the opportunity, whether they decide to carry your book or not.

  • Keep the lines of communication open for potential future collaborations.

While landing a spot in major bookstore chains may be challenging, local independent bookstores provide a welcoming environment for emerging authors. By strategically approaching these establishments with a personalized pitch and fostering genuine connections, authors can see their books embraced by the communities they call home. Remember, the journey to getting your book on shelves is not only about distribution but also about building meaningful relationships within the literary community.

Here's a suggested dialogue for an in-person conversation with bookstore manager or staff with examples of what the manager or staff might say:

This helps you imagine the in-person conversation and prepare beforehand.

Author (Entering the Bookstore):
Smiles warmly "Hello there! My name is [Your Name], and I'm a local poet. I've been a fan of [Bookstore Name] for a long time, and I was hoping to chat with someone about a poetry book I've recently written."


Bookstore Manager:
Welcomes with a smile "Hello [Your Name]! We always appreciate a visit from local authors. Tell me more about your poetry book."


Excitedly "Absolutely! It's called '[Your Poetry Book Title],' and I've poured my heart into it. What makes it special is that it's a poetic journey deeply connected to our local community. The verses celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of our surroundings."

Bookstore Manager:
Curious "That sounds wonderful! How do you envision your poetry fitting into our bookstore?"


Enthusiastically "I'd love for '[Your Poetry Book Title]' to find a home here, resonating with our neighbors. I'm also keen on being involved—whether it's through book signings, poetry readings, or any events that bring the community together."


Bookstore Manager:
Smiling "We're always looking for ways to highlight local talent. I appreciate your enthusiasm. Could you tell me more about the book and how you see it engaging our readers?"


Sharing details "Certainly! I've brought along a press kit with a professional author bio, high-quality images of the book cover, and some early reviews. I believe the themes explored in the poems will strike a chord with our readers, offering them a unique and evocative reading experience."


Bookstore Manager:
Nodding "Thank you for sharing this with us. Let me discuss this with our team, and we'll get back to you soon. Would you be available for a follow-up meeting?"


Grateful "Absolutely, I'd be thrilled to follow up. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I'm looking forward to the possibility of seeing '[Your Poetry Book Title]' on the shelves at [Bookstore Name]." With a friendly smile "By the way, here's my business card. It has all my contact information, including my email and phone number. Feel free to reach out whenever is convenient for you. I'd love to discuss further or answer any questions you might have about '[Your Poetry Book Title].'" 


Bookstore Manager:
Smiling "The pleasure is ours, [Your Name]. We'll be in touch soon."


Important Notes

Leaving a copy of the book during the initial interaction can be a thoughtful and proactive approach, as it allows the bookstore staff to have a firsthand experience with the book. However, whether to leave a copy immediately or wait for the follow-up meeting can depend on several factors:

Reasons to Leave a Copy During the Initial Meeting:

  1. Immediate Consideration: If the author senses a high level of interest from the bookstore staff during the conversation, leaving a copy could expedite the consideration process.

  2. Visual and Tangible Impact: Having the physical book in hand allows the bookstore staff to flip through the pages, assess the cover design, and get a better feel for the overall presentation.

  3. Immediate Availability: If the author has multiple copies readily available, leaving one ensures that the bookstore staff can start reviewing the content without delay.


Reasons to Wait for the Follow-Up Meeting:

  1. Focused Discussion: Waiting until the follow-up meeting allows for a more focused discussion about the book. The author can provide additional context, answer questions, and address specific aspects during this dedicated time.

  2. Personalized Presentation: The follow-up meeting provides an opportunity for the author to personally present the book, discuss key themes, and share insights that may not be immediately apparent from a quick perusal.

  3. Coordination with Marketing Efforts: If the author plans to coordinate the book's presence with specific marketing efforts or events, waiting for the follow-up meeting allows for a strategic and coordinated approach.


Ultimately, the decision depends on the context of the conversation and the author's assessment of the situation. If the bookstore staff expresses immediate interest and the author has extra copies available, leaving one during the initial meeting can be a proactive step. However, if a more detailed discussion is anticipated, waiting until the follow-up meeting may be a strategic choice.

Here's an example email pitch:

Subject: Proposal for Inclusion of [Your Poetry Book Title] in [Bookstore Name]


Dear [Bookstore Manager's Name],


I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I am reaching out to express my interest in having my poetry collection, "[Your Poetry Book Title]," featured at [Bookstore Name]. As an avid supporter of your bookstore's commitment to promoting local talent and fostering a love for literature, I believe that my poetry would resonate with your discerning clientele.

"[Your Poetry Book Title]" is a collection of thought-provoking and emotionally resonant poems that explore themes of [mention specific themes such as love, self-discovery, nature, etc.]. The book aims to evoke a range of emotions while providing readers with a unique and immersive poetic experience.


Why "[Your Poetry Book Title]" Belongs at [Bookstore Name]:

  1. Local Connection: [Highlight any local ties your poetry has, whether it's inspired by the community, landmarks, or events. Emphasize its relevance to the bookstore's local audience.]

  2. Diverse Representation: My poetry seeks to contribute to the diversity of voices on your shelves, offering readers a refreshing perspective and a distinct literary experience.

  3. Engagement Opportunities: I am excited about the prospect of actively engaging with the community through book signings, poetry readings, or any events that align with the vision of [Bookstore Name].

I have attached a press kit, which includes:

  • A professional author bio

  • High-quality images of the book cover

  • Any relevant media coverage or reviews

I am open to discussing a consignment agreement that ensures a fair partnership. I understand the importance of collaboration and would be happy to negotiate terms that are mutually beneficial.

I would be honored to discuss the possibility of featuring "[Your Poetry Book Title]" at [Bookstore Name]. Please let me know if you are available for a meeting or a phone call at your earliest convenience. Additionally, I am happy to provide any further information or materials you may require.


Thank you for considering my proposal. I am eager to contribute to the literary tapestry of [Bookstore Name] and I very much look forward to the opportunity of seeing "[Your Poetry Book Title]" on your shelves.


Warm regards,

[Your Full Name]

[Your Contact Information]

[Your Website/Social Media Links]

Here's an example follow-up email:

Subject: Follow-Up: "[Your Poetry Book Title]" Inclusion at [Bookstore Name]


Dear [Bookstore Manager's Name],

I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to follow up on my previous message regarding the potential inclusion of my poetry collection, "[Your Poetry Book Title]," at [Bookstore Name]. I understand that you are likely busy, and I appreciate your time in considering my proposal.

I am enthusiastic about the prospect of having "[Your Poetry Book Title]" on the shelves at [Bookstore Name] and believe it would be a wonderful addition to your curated collection. The unique blend of [specific themes] and the local connections embedded within the poems align seamlessly with the values and interests of your diverse readership.

To facilitate your review, I have included the press kit once again. Please feel free to reach out if there are any additional materials or information you may require.

I am genuinely interested in discussing any questions or concerns you may have about featuring my poetry book in your esteemed bookstore. I am also open to adjusting any terms to better suit the needs of both parties.

If it would be convenient for you, I am available for a meeting or a phone call at a time that works best for your schedule. Alternatively, if there's a specific process or formality you'd prefer, please do let me know, and I'll ensure all requirements are met promptly.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to the possibility of collaborating with [Bookstore Name] and contributing to the vibrant literary atmosphere you foster within the community.

Best regards,

[Your Full Name]

[Your Contact Information]

[Your Website/Social Media Links]

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