It may come as a surprise, but books don’t magically appear in coffee shops, charming oceanside stores, or locally-owned bookshops. It takes research, phone calls, and actual human interaction to place books in smaller or non-traditional bookstores. I’ve been investigating this phenomenon in the past few weeks (in order to place an upcoming novel), and I’ve learned that oftentimes, the best way to place your book in a special or niche store is to simply return to a few foundations of marketing: audience, genre, and communication.
My first step was figuring out which places to contact. In finding those out-of-the-way markets, I ran a gamut of internet searches for bookstores in coastal or small towns (specific to the region I was hoping to reach) that were unlikely to be contacted alongside major bookstores. After coming up with a handful of names, I had to start taking factors such as genre and audience into consideration, and decide whether a literary fiction title would fit in with the bookstore’s existing selection. For example, placing a more traditional, literary fiction book in a store that prides itself on more eclectic titles wouldn’t mesh because the store and the book are attempting to draw in different audiences. There may be a case for cross-over audiences, but a book is still unlikely to sell well in a store designated for a specific genre. Another way to think about this is through the less concrete elements of the book such as its vibe or style. In some cases, it’s obvious that a book doesn’t belong with a specific bookstore, while in others, a quick perusal of the displayed books or the store’s best sellers is necessary to give a better idea of that store’s feel. If you can picture the book sitting harmoniously alongside complementary book covers, then it’s likely a great business to approach.
After identifying good options for the book, the next step is contacting the stores. With a fast approaching publication date, phone calls were my best option, because they allowed me to immediately talk to, and attempt to establish a personal connection with, the stores I felt would make a good home for our book. This, however, sounds a lot easier than it was. After hyping myself up with ten minutes of conversation rehearsal, I called my first special market. My carefully agonized-over introduction was met with a prompt, “Sounds great! Send us an email.” This wasn’t the perfect outcome, but some interest was better than none. Luckily, I was later met with a few enthusiastic store owners who were open to discussing the book in more detail. I knew why I wanted the store to carry the book—to get it in the hands of customers who would love it—however, the owners wouldn’t necessarily have interest in accepting unless I could effectively convey my excitement and make a case for the book. Communicating why I thought this book would be a good investment for them wasn’t difficult because of how much I like it, but I also needed to bring in other marketing aspects. Touching on the details that appeared in my research, such as the similarities in genre, overarching theme, or audience, gave me concrete topics to pull from and ground in the realities of customer interest and sales, which benefit the business. Engaging with these topics and the particular “fit” of their store gained a favorable response, because it illustrates that interest in the bookstore isn’t just because of available shelf space, but because you’ve taken time to understand their mission and want your book to be a part of it.
Identifying components of audience, genre, and appropriate store backgrounds is key in researching special markets, but it’s also important to prioritize connection with independent or small bookstores that often strive to create their own vision of literary comfort. Finding the right stores for your book takes time, but showing genuine interest in getting to know and forming partnerships with these places makes that cold-call much more likely to result in a positive order.