In addition to bookstores, potential retail markets for books include small independently owned gift and specialty shops, national and regional chain stores, and specialty online stores.
One advantage of selling books through gift and specialty stores is that there is usually little competition from other books. And another is that specialty retailers can cross-promote your book with related items.
Think hard about places that might be a good fit for your book or books. For example, you could sell:
- cookbooks in kitchen shops, gift shops, specialty food stores, and upscale grocery stores
- children’s books in toy stores and the gift shops in children’s and science museums
- gardening books at gardening centers, gift shops, and botanical gardens
- chick lit and gift books in clothing boutiques
- travel guides and regional titles in hotel gift shops, tourist attractions, RV parks, gift shops, chambers of commerce, and visitor centers
- health, diet, and exercise books in fitness centers, pharmacies, beauty salons, and health food stores
- inspirational and gift books in gift shops, including hospital gift shops
- golfing books in golf pro shops and sporting goods stores
- home decorating books in gift shops, home décor stores, and furniture stores
Enticing Buyers, Even with Fiction
“First of all, you have to have a quality product that is suitable for the gift and specialty market,” advises Max Davis, the author of 15 books and a collaborator and ghost on several others. “The book I had the most success with was my Never Stick Your Tongue Out at Mama and Other Life Transforming Revelations. I sold about 100,000 copies to gift shops,” he says.
“I can’t stress enough that you must have a good-looking product with a title that catches people. A lot of self-publishers produce material that is not well done and then wonder why it won’t sell,” he observes, pointing out that while you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, the cover can certainly sell—or not sell—a bunch of books. “The cover and title are critical,” Davis adds.
While nonfiction books are usually easier to place in gift and specialty shops, fiction can also be sold successfully. For example, Tony Eldridge has sold The Samson Effect, his action/adventure novel, to a variety of retailers, including a gas station. (Eldridge, who is also the author of Conducting Effective Twitter Contests, blogs at blog.marketingtipsforauthors.com.)
“Authors think fiction is hard to sell to alternative venues. That’s because they don’t have their marketing bonnets on,” says Carolyn Howard-Johnson, who has decades of experience as a gift shop owner and is also an award-winning novelist and poet and the author of the How to Do It Frugally series of books for writers (howtodoitfrugally.com/).
“The trick is to consider the angles in the story,” she explains. “My first novel, This Is the Place, sold well in airport gift shops throughout the United States just before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, because the story is set in Salt Lake City.”
“The setting of the novel is important, but there may be other elements that will appeal to certain kinds of shops. A story about a woman who makes it in fashion might sell in clothing boutiques. A story about a woman who develops a miracle face-cream might do well at Body Works kinds of shops,” she adds.
Locating Gift and Specialty Retailers
Several national and regional chains sell gift items and books, but most gift shops and other small retailers are independently owned, so it can be a challenge to locate them.
Davis has sold his books to approximately 3,500 gift and specialty shops, he reports. How did he find all those shops?
“I get an atlas and pick a state,” he says. “Then, I go to Yahoo Yellow Pages (https://local.yahoo.com) and search every city and small town. After I enter the city, I type Gift Shops into the search box. This brings up all the gift shops within a certain radius.” He adds: “Keep in mind that tourist areas like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, are booming with gift shops.”
You can use the same method to search for other categories of retailers. And you may be able to find mailing lists for specific types of retailers through online searches. Also search for online retailers that are a good fit for your book.
Eldridge recommends also considering sales to local builders or real estate agents. “A signed book by a local author is a wonderful housewarming gift for a new homeowner. A basket of fruit rots. Your signed book will have a cherished place on the owner’s bookshelf for years to come,” he says.
Howard-Johnson suggests contacting gift shops by telephone, then following up with a sales kit, even if the initial answer was no.
“I literally call every shop in the state,” says Davis. “Hallmark shops are good because they are typically individually owned, and some owners have multiple stores. When I call the shops, I ask for the manager or owner. Usually the manager has the authority for small purchases. And I talk fast. A whole presentation takes about 45 seconds.”
“During the pre-Christmas season I drove to gift shops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Texas. If you want to spend a little more money, you can get a booth at gift shop markets and take orders. I never did that because I was having such good success,” he adds.
As Davis observes, selling books is hard work. “Make sure you have a beautiful product that you are excited about. Enthusiasm and confidence in your product sell. Pick up the phone (or go in person) and start asking retailers to try your book. Don’t ask them to buy. Ask them to try a few. Don’t be afraid of rejection. If you sell just three out of ten shops, you’ll sell a ton of books. Be persistent, and be ready to call back. A lot of times the manager or owner will be out. Keep calling. Be very polite. Be grateful. They are helping you out,” he says.
To sell more books, Howard-Johnson advises using facts and figures as well as sizzle. For example, you might say, “I can put on an event for you, and I’ll invite 300 locals from my own personal list,” or “I can conduct a workshop for you. In the past my workshops have drawn an average of 130 people and sold 65 books with a net profit of XX for the stores.”
The way your book ties in with specific products in your target stores should be included in your sales pitch. For example, in a kitchen shop your book about baking cakes can be displayed with the cake pans. “Look at your product not as a book, but as an accessory to a particular industry,” says Brian Jud, whose How to Make Real Money Selling Books is a great source of information about selling to gift shops and other nonbook-store venues.
In other words, show store owners and managers how your book is a good fit for their stores, how it ties to current trends and their other merchandise, and why it will appeal to their customers. For larger stores and chains, be prepared to provide a sample copy of the book along with good-quality sales literature.
“Gift stores are seasonal in nature, and if your title is appropriate to one of the major holiday periods, you stand a better chance of acceptance,” Jud says. Gift shop sales spike around Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the June graduation period. Chain buyers look at seasonal items about six months before a holiday period, but individual stores may purchase up to one month in advance.
Eldridge points out that nonbook stores won’t act like bookstores when it comes to taking on your book: “Many times, your book may be the first book that a business owner tries to sell.” When they don’t have a lot of experience in selling books, “how well you work with the business owner can make the difference between them carrying your book or not,” he says.
Displays and Promotions
Howard-Johnson recommends providing a point-of-purchase display unit to retailers. “The more you do for the retailer, the more successful you will be,” she says.
Sources for displays include:
Davis gives his retail buyers a free clear acrylic U-shaped bookstand that holds about six books, face out. The bookstand can easily be placed on the checkout counter or in other high-traffic locations in the store.
“Gift shops love to do book signings,” Davis adds. “Any time you can do a book signing, especially during the holiday season, it’s a real plus. I’ve probably done close to 100 signings. Some shops have me back every year. I might sell 100 copies during a signing (all day, from opening until closing, if they allow it). Then, they always keep books after the signing.”
“Store owners tend to talk up books to their clients if they had the exciting privilege of meeting the author in person,” says Eldridge. “And if the business advertises, you may be able to talk the manager into featuring your book in its ad, especially if you agree to promote it with an in-store event,” he adds.
It’s a given that retailers need to purchase books at discount for resale. A 50 percent discount is usually sufficient for smaller stores, but some chains may require more. When distributors are involved, your total discount will be higher. And Howard-Johnson suggests offering at least 30-day payment terms.
Be ready to offer a higher discount if necessary to close a big deal, Eldridge advises, adding: “Know what discount you can afford, to make sure you don’t cut so deep that it’s a losing proposition for you.”
“I always send the books with an invoice and have about a 95 percent pay through,” Davis says. “Most people pay unless the shop goes out of business.
Unlike bookstores, most nonbook stores don’t expect return privileges. However, you may be able to encourage a small-store owner to buy your books or buy more of your books by allowing returns. You will need to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, and remember that you may to receive returns in unsalable condition.
Howard-Johnson likes to offer return privileges to encourage retailers to order in larger quantity. “Books sell better when displayed in quantity, preferably in a display with a header,” she explains “So, if you have 12 books displayed that way at the checkout counter, you’ll have better luck.”
“I require a minimum order of six copies, but I often sell 12 to 24 copies,” says Davis, who reports he has sold as many as 300 books through one gift shop. A typical invoice is about $45, he says, noting, “I can sell between 10 and 20 stores a day, which is about two to five per hour.” Davis also offers free shipping to his customers.
“I have so much confidence in the product that I give retailers the option to send books back if they are not satisfied with them when they first arrive,” Davis says. “I get very few returns, probably less than 2 percent. But remember, it is a great book with a catchy title.”
Followup is important in marketing a book to retailers, as Davis emphasizes. He calls his retail customers every couple of months to see how his book is doing and to ask if they need more copies. “I found that many stores would buy six and the employees would buy them or take them home. If they really liked it then they would be a walking advertisement for the book. Some stores sell great and some stores do not. It all depends on the location and traffic of the store,” he observes.
If a retailer is unwilling to take a chance on your book, you can consider selling on consignment, particularly for a first-time order, agreeing that the retailer will pay you only for the copies that sell and return the others. If you do offer consignment sales, provide a written agreement of the payment terms and keep careful records.
“If your book does well on consignment, then the retailer may be willing to make subsequent purchases of your books upfront with a bit of a deeper discount,” Eldridge says.
On the other hand, Davis says he never sells on consignment because it’s not worth it. “The minute you tell them consignment, then the store doesn’t have any motive to sell. If they buy the books, then they are going to push them,” he says.
Most gift and specialty shops are accustomed to ordering merchandise through distributors and wholesalers. Some shops order books through major book wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor, but Howard-Johnson notes that many are happy to order from individuals. Davis says he asks retailers to order directly from him, and most of the time they are happy to do so.
As these experiences demonstrate, there’s no need to limit your retail buyers to bookstores. Think about how your books fit into other retail markets, and expand your sales.
Hospital Gift Shop Opportunities
Hospital gift shops can be a good place to sell both fiction and nonfiction, with gift books, humor, inspirational books, and regional topics an especially good fit. People visiting friends or relatives in the hospital are looking for something to read in the waiting room and/or for a gift to cheer their loved one. Also, hospital employees shop in these stores for themselves.
Many hospital gift shops are run by the hospital auxiliary and staffed by volunteers, but the larger ones usually have a paid manager and sometimes paid staff. Some gift shops are managed by an outside management firm. Get a feel for the market by visiting the gift shops in several area hospitals and talking to the managers about your book’s appeal and their ordering process.
Cindy Jones Associates (https://www.cindyjonesassociates.com/advertise/#mailing-labels), which offers mailing labels and lists of telephone numbers for 3,700 hospital gift shops across the United States.
Lori’s Gifts(lorisgifts.com), which manages 200 hospital gift shops. According to its vendor page, it works through “national book distributors” and does not buy books from individuals, but if you have a book that’s an excellent fit for hospital gift shops and is available through a distributor or wholesaler, you may want to submit it along with sales materials prominently explaining its availability. The hospital gift shop photos on the Lori’s Gifts Web site will give you an idea of the type of merchandise it stocks.