Microcosm, an independent publishing house in Portland, announced in July 2018 in Publishers Weekly that it will be taking back control over its distribution for the press. The book and zine publisher, which was previously distributed by PGW/Ingram, decided to keep distribution efforts in-house and off the shelves of the large chains, starting in 2019. After building extra storage space near their headquarters and offering up bulk sales (such as the superpack: thirteen random books for twenty dollars) to reduce inventory quickly, Microcosm readies their thirteen-person team to tap into what they refer to as the “underground” market. Noting that their current biggest account is a taco stand in Tokyo, the publishing house plans to forgo the highly-competitive bookstores and find a home for their zines and books at comic and music stores instead.
In the spirit of self-distribution, as inspired by Microcosm, here are some tips for hand-to-hand sales in publishing.
- Carry a few copies of your book with you everywhere.You never know when you will run into your next customer. Whether they purchase one copy or one thousand, a sale is a sale is a sale. If you happen to be caught without a copy, write the name of your book and where to purchase it on the back of your business card or a scrap piece of paper (be sure to include your own contact information as well in case they want more copies in the future).
- Get a booth at a street fair or farmers market.Setting up a booth at your local street fair or farmers market is a great way to get the word of your book/press into the hands of those in your community. Be open and friendly to all potential customers that walk by and be ready with a quick, catchy synopsis that clearly communicates the audience and draws customers in.
- Partner with a local company relevant to your book.Partnering with local shops can help curb some of your sales costs, such as renting a booth at a street fair. The partnership can be mutually beneficial, sharing old and potential customers in cross-market sales. If your book is a children’s book about a mouse who ate a cookie, partner with a local bakery and sell your book alongside some freshly baked cookies to smiling children and moms at the local farmers market.
- Tap into those specialty markets.Think of your customer and where they shop other than the bookstore. Do they frequent record stores or gift shops? Are they a history buff and love visiting museums? Do they love plants and flowers and can’t seem to stay away from their local nursery? Reach out to any and all stores that may be interested in selling your book.
- Use social media.When it comes to reaching customers outside of your local community, the (mostly) free social media platforms can get your book a more national reach. Find your audience through groups, influencers, and pages that your potential customers frequent. Knowing your audience and customer is key to both social media and specialty sales. Be sure to include a direct link to purchase your book with any post on social media. You can do this on your website with the help of PayPal or another third party payer.