By John Prince
When Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt announced the “local store policy” last year it started a bit of a stampede by Indie/self-published authors attempting to get their latest work stacked on a table at the front of the stores. It can be done, but there are some hoops to jump through.
I was reminded of perhaps one of the most famous Indie success stories recently by Ezibsa Lugo, manager of the B&N at Sumter Landing in The Villages. 50 Shades of Grey, originally self-published by E.L. James in 2011, began with online sales by the author. Demand skyrocketed and bookstores, including B&N were overwhelmed by a tidal wave of demand and began stocking it. The rest is history and Ms. James became wealthy from book sales and the hit movies.
Any bookstore will tell you that the main criteria for getting your Indie book into their store is potential sales. If there is demand (and ongoing sales) they will carry it—and even put it it in inventory. If there is moderate demand, they will order it, usually from IngramSpark, who will ship it directly to the customer.
So, there are two keys: Demand and availability, if the author wants to get into the system. Most book retailers, including B&N, will buy through IngramSpark, but not from Amazon. (Amazon is viewed as a competitor.)
Also, having your own ISBN (not a free one from KDP/Amazon) is critical to getting into the B&N system.
(As a side note, Hallard Press has a dual platform policy. We publish our authors on both IngramSpark and KDP/Amazon platforms so that they are then available on a number of bookstore and online outlets.)
Another possibility: Call the buyer for your book’s genre at the B&N head office in New York. (212-633-3300) Explain to whomever answers that you’re looking for the buyer of the ____ genre books. Covie-19 has most staff working from home, so don’t expect an immediate response. A positive response would be an invitation to send a copy of your book to the buyer to read and evaluate. If the buyer determines that your book has sales potential, they may place it in the system. Then it can be purchased at the store.
That’s not to say that it will be stocked and/or on display at the local store. A buyer still may have to order it, but at least it’s in the database.
Yet another possibility: You may (no guarantees here!) be able to make a one-off local deal with a local bookstore manager.
Getting Indie (Print on Demand) books into the retailer usually requires that the store buy the books in advance with no guarantee of sales and no possibility of returning them if they don’t sell. Thus, their reluctance because usually they pay publishers six months after the order and return the covers of unsold books for credit. Retailers like B&N also want a margin of 55% on the cover price.
Here are the “ifs:” If an author was to buy copies of their book at the author price, place them in the store, and if the 55% margin is available in the cover price, and if the author is happy to accept whatever is left over as full payment, and if the store has no further responsibility—they MAY be able to work a deal. If successful, the author might want to push their luck and also ask for a book signing event (after Covid-19, of course).
Another “if:” If the book sells well, the manager may request that the book be placed in the B&N system, inventoried, or even stocked in the store. Again, no guarantees. And a lot depends on the author’s power of negotiation and relationship with the manager.
Even though there’s a “local” policy to help individual B&N stores sell more books by local authors, the store managers are probably going to closely follow the lead of the corporate buyers in New York.
In my investigation of what Indie books are available at B&N instore and catalogued in their system I found inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and mysteries. One book, a romance, is listed under “self-improvement.” Sometimes, it appears, good things happen.
Additional updates: We know that many Indie authors are concerned about Barnes & Noble sales policies and Hallard Press Gazette will keep you up-to-date. We’ll also be attending the Independent Book Publishers Association University in mid-April where B&N CEO James Daunt is scheduled to speak, no doubt giving us more information on their ongoing “local” policies for Indie authors. Stay tuned!