More than a Shelf

A recent study by Bowker on how people choose which books to buy revealed that browsing a bookstore’s shelves was among the top five ways that people discovered new books to read.

Many new authors and publishers I talk to have this idea that once they publish their book, all they have to do is get their book into a retail store and their books will fly off the shelves.

While some readers do discover new books by browsing bookstores, the sad reality is that in today’s current economy, not only is placing a book in a bookstore very difficult, books do not fly off the shelves without a whole lot of marketing effort by the author and publisher.

I recently watched a television program on the process Costco, the large discount warehouse chain, goes through to choose the toys it will sell during the Christmas season. The show revealed that Costco buyers are initially presented with thousands of toys. The buyers whittle this down to around 1,200 toys. Then from those 1,200 finalists, Costco buyers choose just 150 toys to sell in their stores during the Christmas season.

Watching this television show, I was struck by how similar Costco’s process is to that of bookstore buyers. Each year, bookstore buyers are presented thousands of books to sell in their stores. However, due to limited shelf space, these bookstore buyers must choose a few hundred titles to stock in their stores.

How do they choose? Retailers choose those books by the best-known authors, those books that have the largest marketing campaigns, and those books that fill a special need their customers might have.

What that boils down to is that, for most unknown authors, getting your books into a bookstore is extremely difficult. Unless you can show that your book is selling well, most stores won’t stock it.

While bookstores may not physically carry your book, this does not mean that someone can’t order it from the store. As long as your book is in the right distribution channels, customers can still request your book and the bookstore can order it for the customer.

The truth is that selling books is all about marketing. Knowing your target audience and promoting, promoting, promoting, is the most important thing you can do to sell your books.

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