Have you considered working with an independent bookstore to market your books? Many indie authors rely solely on online distribution channels such as Amazon and Kobo. But for those of us who dream of seeing our books on store shelves, indie bookstores are an excellent avenue.

I attended Book Expo 2017 and heard from a panel of indie bookstore owners from Green Apple Books (San Francisco) and Penguin Book Shop (Pittsburgh), among others.

Here’s what they said about how to approach indie bookstore owners:

1. Indie bookstores prefer authors from their city or community.

Have you done something significant in your community (won an award, mentored kids, etc.)? Do you write about local places, characters, or history? Highlight the value your books can bring to the bookshop’s customers.

2. Do your research.

Before you come into the store asking for shelf space or hosting an event, do your homework. Are you a fit for the store?

For example, a bookstore in my Chicago neighborhood carries edgy, alternative books. My nonfiction book about creativity is not a good fit. My urban fantasy series will be. Likewise, approaching a family bookstore about your steamy erotica is a bad idea.

Always check whether the store has a website. Many stores also have social media profiles—find those and follow them. Start engaging. Like everything else in business, the best way to get noticed is to start building relationships. Visit the store, ask the staff for recommendations, talk to them about what they are reading. Always buy a book!

3. Learn how to approach an indie bookstore asking for an author speaking event.indie bookstore

Let’s assume you did your homework and there’s an indie bookstore that’s a good fit for you. You should be able to find out via their website how they prefer to be contacted.

For stores that prefer you email or fill out a contact form, send a short email intro. Keep your book’s description concise; don’t send five pages of description. Emphasize any connection that you have to the store’s community. For example, do you have a network of fans that would be willing to attend your event?

Stores love when you can show that you’re able to get people into the store—people who will not only buy your book—they will buy other books and visit again.

If there’s no website information about how to contact the store, or if they prefer you visit in person, present your best self. Ditch the sweatpants and dress better than normal.

When you visit the store, politely ask to speak with the person who handles author events. Your best window of opportunity is during a week day (avoid lunchtime or just after the store opens). If the right person is not there, get the event coordinator’s name and contact information.

4. Know these guidelines for a successful in-store book event.

Stores want to see the author make an effort before the event to get people into the store. Leverage your social network on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Include the store’s social media handle. Be sure to use the correct store location for your event if there are multiple stores in the area.

  • During the event, have a friend who can support you. Your assistant should post photos from the store to your social media.

  • After the event, leave several signed copies. Then email your list to visit the store and buy a signed copy if they missed the event.

  • Treat the event as very important. Meet the bookstore halfway—they will do some promotion on your behalf. Reach out to your fanbase, and try your best to get people in the store. All the store owners on the Book Expo panel agreed that the worst thing is when an author makes no effort to get people to the event.

  • Show appreciation for the store and for indie bookstores in general. Store staff members are sensitive about Amazon. Do NOT mention Amazon in your presentation or pass out flyers that say “available on Amazon.” If you hand out material, have a link to your own landing page or say “available where books are sold.”

  • Include an Indiebound.org button on your website. When someone clicks on this link, they can find local bookstores in their area.

  • Always send a thank you to the store. This will set you apart from most other authors and help get you future events. A handwritten thank you card or small gift is best. An email thank you will also work well. David Sedaris sent flowers after one of his first events.

  • This should be a no-brainer, but be polite to the staff.

approach indie bookstores5. Know the basics of book distribution.

Many authors wonder how to get their books into a store. For an author event, the process depends on each store. Some stores will order through your publisher (if you have one).

For indie authors, you should offer your book via Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Keep in mind that stores may not accept Createspace books because Amazon owns them.

Most stores prefer to order books from the publisher since they take returns in case your books don’t sell. Pricing in stores is usually full retail price.

For indie authors, some stores will ask the author to bring their books for consignment. The store takes a cut of any sales (50/50 or an even lower percentage for authors). Some stores will work with an author to see how many books are sold, then pay the author after the event.

Bookstores report their sales to the New York Times and American Bookseller’s Association Indie List. So, if you’re trying to make one of the bestseller lists, having your book sell through stores is crucial. The playing field is very competitive and you must sell several thousand copies to have a shot at the NYT list.

6. Get involved.

Check out BookWeb.org for a list of all independent bookstores by region, state or city. Consider joining a regional Independent  Booksellers Association.

You can also become an affiliate with Indiebound.org and get a URL for your book. Indie bookstores will take pre-orders or call-ins. In fact, you can partner with a store to sell pre-orders. Stores can handle pre-orders from all over the country. They will ship out your books and sales will count toward the NYT list.

Many indie bookstores offer community events. They have better relationships with readers than chain stores like Barnes & Noble. Check out local events hosted by your indie store.

Small business Saturday just after Thanksgiving is an excellent day to support your indie stores. Also consider Indies First Day. 600 stores take part and authors volunteer to come into stores and work for the day.

7. Be creative.

The indie owner panel also suggested getting creative with events. Are there other authors you can collaborate with to host a multi-author event? Keep with the theme of driving foot traffic to the store.

If done well, an author-bookstore relationship can be symbiotic. Keep these tips in mind and indie bookstores can help you sell books for many years.