• Brooke Warner
  • 5 Reasons Why Your Book Isn’t Being Carried in Bookstores
This blog was featured on 08/29/2016
5 Reasons Why Your Book Isn’t Being Carried in Bookstores

Having worked my entire career for small presses, I’ve received the “why isn’t my book in the bookstore?” e-mail many many times from authors. Most new authors assume their books are going to be carried in any brick-and-mortar store they go into; savvier authors who’ve been around the block a few times know that it’s not that cut-and-dried. This is only becoming harder in today’s publishing climate, as more and more books compete for less and less shelf space; and if you’re a self-published author, you’re operating at a significant disadvantage. Though your local bookstores might support local self-published authors, without traditional distribution, it’s almost impossible to get your book carried beyond your local mom-and-pop store, let alone to get a non-local bookstore to host an event for you.

Even if you have traditional distribution, or CreateSpace’s "expanded distribution," there are lots of reasons bookstores won’t be carrying your book by default, including the following: 

1. You’re up against too much competition.

Bookstore buyers are considering thousands upon thousands of newly published books to stock in their stores every year, from which they will purchase hundreds. The books that get the most attention are those that have sales reps behind them, meaning books that are tied into some sort of distribution model, whether that’s Random House’s own sales force, or a sales force that carries many publisher accounts (like PGW or Ingram Publisher Services). If you are published by a press that has a sales force, the reps are selling your book into bookstores, but even so, buyers are mostly taking ones and twos, if not passing altogether. Compelling reasons to carry your book include you (1) being a local author; (2) having strong publicity backing your book; or (3) proving that you will bring in the readers/buyers. If you don’t have any of these three things, you’re a tough sell. 

2. Your publicity and marketing is looking a little lackluster, or you’re not communicating what you’re doing.

It’s a hard truth that it’s simply easier to carry books from authors that seem like a “sure bet.” This is why it’s so critical to have a publicity and marketing plan in place, and to communicate this plan to your sales force/reps (if you have them). Publicity hits can be a reason for a rep to go back to their accounts to convince them to carry a book they might have previously passed on. Your publisher may be taking this on themselves, but if you have an outside publicist (and many authors do these days), you and/or your publicist need to keep communicating your hits to your publisher to pass along to the reps, which in turn creates more visibility for your book—in bookstores and elsewhere.

3. You’re self-published.

If you’re self-published, you are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores. Some bookstores even have a policy against carrying CreateSpace books (because they’re anti-Amazon). Even if you’ve opted into “expanded distribution” programs, your book is not likely to be carried in bookstores. Bookstores mostly prefer not to deal with self-published authors because too few of them understand the ins and outs of this returns-based industry. Buyers are wary of getting saddled with non-returnable inventory. If books aren’t easily accessible, set at the right discount, and readily returnable, bookstores simply don’t want to deal. They opt out, and self-published authors are marginalized as a result.

4. You don’t have any reviews.

Reviews still drive buys, and anyone who tells you they don’t is misinformed. Reviews from the industry magazines/sites (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness) drive buys from bookstore buyers, librarians, and special accounts—especially in categories like literary and upmarket fiction, and memoir. But reviews matter across all genres, really, because buyers are reading industry magazines as a way to help them decipher what’s what. Books that are getting reviewed are rising above the noise. This is another reason self-published authors get marginalized, too—because having their own review outlets (like Publishers Weekly’s Select and Kirkus’s Indie Reviews) just draws attention to their self-published status, and book buyers are not reading those sections when deciding what to carry in their stores. In fact, I don’t think book buyers are reading those sections at all.

5. You’re not pounding the pavement.

Your entire job in the months following your publication date is to get your name out there. Post-publication publicity and marketing should be a full-time job, though few authors have time for that. The more exposure you can get, the more reason a bookstore has to carry your book. You can walk into any bookstore in the country, too, and ask them to carry your book. If you are distributed by a major distributor, lead with that. Bring a copy of your book to show, and also give the bookstore good reason WHY they should carry your book. Do you have a local community that you will drive to their store? Will you blog about their bookstore and encourage people to buy there? Put a link on your site encouraging readers to buy from that store? I’ve seen many She Writes Press authors get events at exclusive bookstores simply because they talked up the buyer and made a compelling case. But keep in mind that bookstores are trying to sell books, and they are not in the business of carrying a book just because it exists. You need to help the bookstore help you. Finding ways to do that might result in a veritable coup for you and your book, but there’s no way to do it other than one bookstore and one relationship at a time.


To conclude here, don’t assume that just because you have a publisher or a distributor your book is going to be in bookstores. Your distributor’s job is to keep the channels open and flowing. Distribution means that your book is readily available and easy to get. Distributors provide the systems and the data processes that make books visible and easy to order and return. They ensure that there are no obstacles for the buyers, and because they will have presented your book to buyers, if a rep has a reason to go back a second or third time to pitch your book, a store might very well take the buy. But remember, your job is to give reason, and to be working all the angles to make your book attractive to buyers. Your publisher may very well be working these angles, too, but don’t assume they are. If you’re doing something on your own, or through an outside publicist, let your publisher know and explicitly ask that they pass the info along to the reps. It’s astounding how busy people are today, which means that you need to stay on their radar. And the only way to do that is to keep showing up.

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  • Thanks for the comment, Joyce. I'm glad the post helped.

  • Thank you so much, Brooke. I've learned a lot about publicity as well as bookstore stocking from your article. I really needed to know these valuable tips. I've got to soak up everything, so I'm having to sit on my own She Writes blogs while about rewriting this memoir.

  • Irene Allison

    I'm adding my gratitude for this informative article. Yes, very good (essential) things to know. And an eye-opener too. Thank you, Brooke! 

  • S. Ramos O\'Briant

    Thank you, Brooke, for detailing the preparation and work required to market your book. I learned all this the hard way, but stumbled into some good fortune, as well. Because I'd previously set up panels for two anthologies in which my work appeared, my local L.A. bookstore accommodated me solo. I invited hundreds; about 40 showed up. The bookstore was thrilled. My historical novel is set in my hometown of Santa Fe, NM, and it won 2 awards-Best Historical novel and Best First Book, so I planned a reading tour in NM. The main bookstore in Santa Fe was anti-Amazon and refused to host me. That hurt. Taos and Albuquerque were gracious. I got newspaper coverage and sold books. Sent the info to the Santa Fe bookstore. Nothing. The book continues to sell through my blogging efforts on Huffington Post. Interesting to me-more reads and sales through hits on Twitter than Facebook. I never sold through a Createspace account where I would have generated more profit, but list only Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

  • Michelle Cox

    Thanks, Brooke!  Always good to hear this stuff...!

  • Phoenix Rainez

    Very helpful article thank you.

    Are book stores really loathe to take self published books from Createspace and why?

    Is there a better option than Createspace to go through here in the UK.

    I have just published my debut novel on Amazon as a paperback and eBook and was hoping to approach book stores and department stores to see if they will put my book on their shelves, but if these outlets are not willing to accept self published books from Createspace who should we be working through here in the UK?

    Thanks again for these helpful tips.

  • Good luck, Sue!

  • Sue Y Wang

    Brooke, Thank you for this insight. I just finished a draft for beta readers and now can consider the publishing options and get ready for marketing etc!

  • That's good to hear—Yolande—about distribution being a priority. I've definitely seen how important it is.

  • Yolande Brener

    You are so on point with this, Brooke. Although local bookstores have been happy to carry my self-published book, publishing with Createspace has been a major obstacle to getting my book on shelves in major bookstores where people can see it. Many people still enjoy the experience of finding a book in a shop, and the major bookstores I asked don't carry print-on-demand books. Having one's book put on expanded catalogues by Createspace is no guarantee of having one's book on bookstore shelves. Distribution is so important, and will definitely be one of my top priorities next time I publish. 

  • Thanks for the comment, Jane. Publishing is a crazy world. I had no idea how much so until I became a publisher!

  • Jane Hanser

    How many of us reading your post, Brooke, have had this experience: We tell people we just published a book and everybody reads us off a menu of local bookstores. The only local bookstore that matters is the one that has a "local authors" shelf and offers a meet-and-greet - but even in our town they will read the book first to make sure that it "fits" their market.

    I think this post should be required reading for all indie writers. When we're asked to do up a marketing plan, it's kind of funny because first time indie writers have very little understanding of the market we're entering.

    We simply must learn the hard way and your blog basically slaps us sober!! And correct - even with a publisher we must still pound the pavement.

    Thank you.

  • @Cathi—I don't think things have changed very much. I get the impression that things are the same, that bookstores just don't want to deal. I can understand that to a certain degree. Everyone is swamped. It's easier to work with the distributors. But it's nice when local bookstores go out of their way to support local authors, like Book Passage here in the Bay Area that  supports indie authors (and yet, they won't carry CreateSpace books—because of their stance against Amazon).

  • @Lisa, this is ridiculous indeed. If anything I would say that having one of CS's ISBNs is a hindrance. Frustrating that they're doing that. Sounds a little like bullying to me. Which is not surprising.

  • @Catherine, I think the Kirkus reviews "look" good on your book and in your promotional materials, but that's about the extent of it. I really don't think book buyers are reading the self-pub review sections. Sorry. :(

  • Lisa J Lickel

    I recently had a client who chose the CS platform, though I encouraged her to use her own ISBN and imprint. CS threatened her with a warning that her book wouldn't be available to the distribution sources--libraries and bookstores--of their expanded program because she wasn't using one of their ISBNs. She was frazzled, but we still cleared it with Ingram. Just crazy.

  • Lisa Thomson

    Great article, Brooke. #5 worked for me. I'm self published so I did all the leg work. I got my book into dozens of stores but the catch was many took them on consignment. They didn't purchase the books outright. Then I had to continually check on sales and invoice each store for 60% of the sale amount. Each book was priced the same so it was simple but staying on top of each location was time consuming. I didn't mind that though as I was passionate about my book. Thanks for the further tips!

  • Catherine Hiller

    Really? Book buyers don't read the Kirkus Indie reviews? Many of those authors, such as myself, are published by  small, independent publishers, in my case Heliotrope. So you're telling these authors a Kirkus Indie review is not a good idea? Should I be sorry I got one?

  • Cathi Stevenson

    Excuse my typos and grammar, please. Shouldn't be working and commenting. LOL

  • Cathi Stevenson

    I wrote an article on this subject many years ago, so not sure if it's still relevant. I called all the major bookstores at the time (before CreateSpace). Those who responded said they simply didn't want to deal with a bunch of invoices from 100s of small publishers, many of which did not take returns and had poor accounting skills. Many (not all) are novice publishers and novice business owners. They often require a lot of hand holding as the bookstore accountants explained the contracts the authors had agreed to  and how payments were managed. It's not just the book. Publishing is a business and if the entire business isn't professional, there are plenty of books available form bigger companies with well-run business office.

    I tend to think this might still be the case if the number of enraged posts about Amazon payments and billing on forums is any indication. Almost daily I see some kind person take the time to explain the business end of things dealing with Amazon, and they are pretty user-friendly.

  • Fredrika Sprengle

    Great post with information I need.  I appreciate getting more and more pieces of the story of the ins and outs of publishing.  Thanks, Brooke.

  • Nina Gaby

    Thanks Brooke. Not encouraging but certainly honest. 

  • Marcia Mabee Bell

    Once again, Brooke, you are illuminating the path forward for fragile authors trying to get their unique stories read. Thank you!