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Placement Tips for Small Publishers

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by IBPA Independent magazine

In this monthly IBPA Independent Roundtable, we answer the following question posed by IBPA member, Robin Bartlett:

“What are some practical and economic steps that small independent publishers (with less than five to 10 titles and who are operating on a shoestring budget) can take to get local and regional placement in independent and chain stores?”

Rob Eckman, Marketing Manager, The King’s English Bookshop

Maintain a close relationship with the indies in your area; know which of your titles may interest them, deliver advance reader copies to them. Follow up about possible book signing events. Make sure that book distribution, wholesale discount, and return terms are in line with their businesses.

Kitty Morse Author, Mint Tea and Minarets: a Banquet of Moroccan Memories (La Caravane, 2012) and Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion (Chef’s Press, 2015)

As a (so-called) independent publisher, I have published nine books with mainstream publishers, and three books on my own as La Caravane Publishing. Marketing my own books has proven the ultimate challenge, one which I enjoy because I get to talk to so many wonderful indie bookstore owners and buyers. I love to know that my books find good “homes.”

I occupy a specific niche in the world of food with a focus on the cuisine and culture of my native Morocco and North Africa. I market my books in a variety of different ways.

I printed small runs for Mint Tea and Minarets: a Banquet of Moroccan Memories (2012), and Come with me to the Kasbah: a Cook’s Tour of Morocco (1989). All my books are listed on Amazon.com. Yes, they take a big cut, but it is my window on the world.

For a Biblical Feast: Ancient Mediterranean Flavors for Today’s Table, I chose to go with IBPA member Small Press United, a distributor specializing in small presses. They produced the e-book version.

For Mint Tea and Minarets, I mailed a press release with the book cover, some content, blurbs, and reviews to the media, and promoted the book through my monthly e-newsletter, The Kasbah Chronicles. I also maintain an up-to-date emailing list and website for Mint Tea and Minarets (mintteaandminarets.com) where I display a 57-page flip-book for buyers to peruse.

Thinking mainly “out-of-the-box,” I search the internet for stores, cooking schools, museums, and other venues that might be interested in carrying my books or featuring me as a speaker, around the United States and Canada (although high postage fees now prevent me from marketing hard copies internationally). I search Google for indie bookstores, follow links, and contact buyers by phone or email. Most are very friendly and helpful. Some will feature a title and charge a fee to put it on the shelf.

Otherwise, use a distributor that specializes in small presses, such as Small Press United. Forget the chain stores. They don’t even want to talk to you. Also, I follow up each call, sometimes three or four times. I offer the same discount as the big boys and I take returns. I give talks and presentations on Morocco’s food and culture at libraries, cooking schools, private groups, and anywhere else I think of. And yes, I have a box of books in the trunk of my car. I make many cold calls.

I am sure to always arm myself with a thick skin to face rejections. And I thank buyers or store owners who take the time to talk to me in person or answer the phone.

My next challenge: I have translated Mint Tea and Minarets into French (my native tongue) and am planning to create an e-book. I will hire a professional to format and upload it.

Matty Goldberg, Client Acquisition, Ingram Content Group

The first thing is to be on top of metadata. It costs nothing and can be vitally important in helping consumers find your books and to showing indies and chains that you are taking care of one of the really important basics that will help them sell your book.

You can create a local publicity/marketing campaign. These are the things we’re doing, for example, in and around Denver and Boulder for Best Hikes of the Front Range: reaching out to local media, doing events in bookstores, libraries, sporting goods stores, etc.

Speaking of which, as the publisher, you should get out and meet the folks you want to sell your books. If you have a book that ties into a region near you, introduce yourself to booksellers—and not just the bookstore owner or buyer, but the front-line booksellers, the folks working on the floor, and putting books into shoppers’ hands. Same with librarians and any specialty stores that might apply.

If you’re not local, do this via mail. Send a stack of books to key indies in the area that is key to your book’s success. Include a personal note. Ditto for libraries and specialty stores. Those locales can probably just get a single copy with your note. The note should explain why the book is going to sell in their area, and how they can help make the book a success.

Be meticulously regional and know exactly the region it will and should sell in. Start there, work your way out.

Also, have a presence/display at the appropriate regional ABA (American Booksellers Association) show(s). Even if you can’t afford to attend, drop off a free stack at the host hotel.

Rudy Shur, Founder and Publisher, Square One Publishers

For small indie publishers looking for more outlets to sell their titles, they essentially have two choices. First, there are a number of distributors that work with smaller houses that have sales reps who go to the stores and sell books. It is important to understand that these distribution companies normally require an exclusive agreement making them the only source to buy books from, unlike wholesalers such as Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who do not require exclusivity.

Then there is the old shoe-leather approach. You go to the stores and book buyers directly to act as your own rep. Most chains and wholesalers have small press buyers and/or small press programs that are designed to work with smaller indie houses. With the chains, they will most likely require that you have “vendor status” with one of their wholesalers. Each buyer will provide you with the necessary information to set up the appropriate means of selling books to them.

And furthering the same approach, you can go directly to independent bookstores and speak to their book buyer. However, in most cases, you’ll find that they may only order books through a wholesaler. If you have done your homework, you would have already made the connections with these wholesalers—so you can tell them that your company has vendor status with these companies.

As far as our experience selling our titles, a while back we had hired a group of independent sales reps and as it turned out, as a smaller house, it cost us a lot more than it did when we were doing it ourselves. What we essentially discovered was that we pretty much sold the same amount of titles to all the places we had normally sold to prior.

As an active publisher with a limited amount of titles, you have many doors open to you in the trade. As long as you knock on the right ones, you can create your own system of distribution. The buyers at the wholesale companies have a number of selling programs you can get involved in as long as the cost equals the resulting sales.

Robin Bartlett works for Springer Nature Publishing in New York City as the licensing manager for health and hospitals. He calls on medical libraries in the United States and Canada.

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