In the grand scheme of the Publishing world, there are two groups of people who truly make the industry run: the consumers and the booksellers. It may seem obvious, but establishing and maintaining good relationships with booksellers is an important factor in the success of a book, especially for authors who are still finding their footing. A good librarian or bookseller who knows you and believes in you might take the time to put your book on a recommended list, or point it out to a customer who doesn’t have a title in mind.
So, first things first. You need to create relationships with booksellers in your area—and you should treat these relationships seriously. Start out by visiting bookshops in your area and having conversations with the employees. Independent bookstores are usually a bit more open to having relationships with authors, but if you happen to hit if off with employees at bigger box stores, that works too!
When forming relationships with stores, you also need to take into account the store’s clientele. If you are selling a children’s book and you visit a store with a very small selection of children’s books, this may not be the place you should concentrate all your efforts on. It doesn’t mean you need to jump ship immediately, however, because the bookseller may be willing to sell your book, or they may know someone who would be interested in working with you. Even bigger box stores adhere to this method—as found on Barnes & Noble’s website: “because no two Barnes & Noble stores are alike, we also tailor our selection to each store.” So even if you do not have many or any indies near you, you can definitely find a home somewhere!
Next, like in any relationship, you need to stay consistent. Become a local, recognizable face in the crowd. You don’t need to buy a book every time you are there (although we all know how hard that can be to resist!) but always be sure to say hello, and maybe share a cup of coffee here and there. Also majorly important: follow stores on all social media outlets that you are active on. This way you can stay informed about events if you’ve not been able to visit, and you can still be involved from afar. Social media can also be a good way to connect with stores in other areas besides your own, though you should not expect the relationship to carry the same amount of weight or be as beneficial to you as the ones you are putting in-person work into.
Some other things to think about: your book should be well designed. Some booksellers may have specific requirements regarding what self-published books they will carry, and a book that has no text on the spine, or looks like it was just thrown together will not do. Your book should not only look appealing to customers, but it should fit squarely into a metadata category so that it is easy to look up online and easy to shelve.
Here’s one other tricky thing to consider: you should not mention Amazon under pretty much any circumstance to a bookseller, especially an independent bookseller. You may feel the temptation to do so if you have previously sold well there, but the two markets actually perform differently and all it will do is leave a bad taste in the mouth of the bookseller you are trying to befriend. A better way to market yourself would be by mentioning your social media accounts or similar platforms where you have a decent following. You should also have links to your favorite independent booksellers on your website where you suggest people buy books, at least in addition to Amazon if you are already selling there, and I would suggest making the links to independent bookstores very obvious.
Last but not least, be as patient as possible. Booksellers are juggling lots of things, and you will not be a priority. If a bookseller does not have room for your book, or your book is not the right fit for their store, do not take it personally. You should still form relationships, be friendly, and wait it out. You will find a home for you book eventually!