Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Be (Shelved), Or Not

“Why can’t I get your books in (name your favorite chain bookstore)?”

It’s a complaint we hear from time to time. The public may not be aware of it, but not all publishers are linked with Ingram or Baker & Taylor, the distributors of choice for most of the chain bookstores. It’s not my purpose to get into the reasons here. Just stating the fact, ma’am.

My response to the complaint is usually to inform the person my books are available from the publisher, from Amazon and numerous other on line sources or directly from me.

They also have the option of going to a real (i.e., independent) bookseller who can, and will, order the book from the publisher (who offers discounts and other provisions on a par with most of the standard distributors). So why won’t the chains do this? Got me. Maybe they’re locked into contractual obligations. Maybe it’s just bad business judgment.

Until recently I sold my books in a local independent which, unfortunately, was forced to close its doors this year due to the economy and competition from the chains. Since there are no other independents in the vicinity, I made another stab at the local chain store.

Though the manager found mine in Books In Print (the essential bibliographical tool for libraries, booksellers and publishers), she said my publisher wasn’t available through her distributors. I suggested ordering through the publisher. She said they couldn’t do that.
What if I provided the books on a consignment basis with a return provision? She shook her head. “Have your publisher link with our distributor,” she urged, “then we’d be glad to carry your books.”

I find the situation frustrating. I’ve heard similar tales from others. Some say it depends on the manager and store, that some are more amenable.

I realize no store can carry every published book. But it seems to me good business sense to carry the books of a local writer with an established platform and whose books have had good reviews, a sales record and a retinue of repeat customers. But I’m only a writer. Maybe the chains think it is good business to have potential customers go elsewhere to buy.

Would I still like to be on their shelves. Sure. As long as readers can still find me, though, I don’t have to beg for it.


  1. John - I face precisely and exactly the same situation! If one lets it, it can be very, very frustrating. That's one reason I think it's so important to have a good online presence, so that readers can find one's books there. I, too, would love to have my books in our local stores, but as you say, it's not always up to the author. I don't understand bookstores' decisions, either, and I wish you well getting your work "out there."

  2. Thanks, Margot. As you know, it's a constant struggle.

  3. You'd think the track record of your publisher would come into play, too. I know they've been very efficient and around for a while.

    So where will you do an author signing on Being Someone Else?