How do you choose the books you carry?
We choose the inventory at the store very carefully. We want to make sure that we are providing our customers with a full range of books that will fit their interest and needs. At the same time we are not a large big-box store so we don’t have room for every title. When choosing our inventory we rely on our publisher sales reps to recommend the new titles that they think will be big in the coming season. We also read up on book reviews and judge whether a new title from an established author will sell well based on their previous sales history in our store. When ordering back list (books published in previous years) we used our sales history data to help in making reordering decisions. This data is very important in helping us see what our customers are purchasing.
Do you carry any indie or self-published books?
Yes we do carry a limited number of self-published books. We have standards for self-published books that we strictly adhere to. The book must be properly bound and have an isbn number. And the author must be local to our area for two reasons. One, we want to make sure that if we have to return any unsold books, we are not paying for shipping. And, two, that the author will be able to do their own self promotion. With so many books on our shelves already we are not able to hand sell every book. People must have a reason to buy a self-published book and so an article in a local paper will help build that. If an author in Vancouver sends us their self-published title we know it will just sit on the shelves as they won’t get the media attention in Waterloo.
What advice would you give self-published authors trying to get their books into bookstores?
We have advice for self-published authors for almost every part of the publishing process. Once you are finished writing your book, invest the time and money in an editor. The number of self-published books that have spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, or are just too long gives self-publishing a bad name. By investing in a good editor, you are helping to ensure your book is polished and professional. Before you get your book printed, devote time and thought to the design of your book. Spend time in a bookstore looking at other books in your work’s genre. Make sure your book design is similar to what you are seeing. The most obvious example of this is cookbooks. The most successful books have at least a few photographs of their delicious recipes. Good book design will make your work look professional and fit in on the shelf. The final aspect to consider before printing is the price of your book. Industry standard is that the retailer of your book gets 40% of the cover price. Make sure to build that buffer in as you figure out your pricing. Also make sure your book price is in line with other books of its genre.
After your book is printed, it is now time to get into marketing gear. Hosting your book launch is one way to sell it well at first to friends and family. After (or before) send out a press release to all local media. If your local paper has a book review page, send a complimentary copy of the book with a press release to the page’s editor.
Once you have a review or local media coverage, then approach stores to see if they will carry your book. Be prepared by finding out the names of the employees or owner who takes care of the book orders. Perhaps even spend sometime in the store to get a feel for it to see if the store is the right fit for your work. Then come into the store with a copy or more of your book, a copy of your press release, and any articles or reviews that have been in local media. This will help to convince the store owner to carry your book. Another tip is to have an invoice book ready if they want to take some copies, you can write up an invoice. Make sure to come to the store mid-morning or mid-afternoon. The other times are too busy with customers and not as many staff present.
Once the store is stocking your title, call them every two months (more than that is irritating for the store) to check on your book sales. If the store is calling you to reorder that is a good sign. If you require payment, ask when you can pick it up – give the store some time to get it ready for you. Retail is very busy and staff can’t always drop what they are doing to get payment ready for you.
How do you think the growing popularity of ebooks will affect brick and mortar bookstores?
This is a pretty big question and one that can be explored in a separate post. However to suffice to say, we believe that bookstores contribute to the cultural atmosphere of their society, are community builders and are a valuable resource. Our sales have not been affected by e-books and in fact we will be selling them at some point.
You host quite a few author appearances. What advice would you give to authors to help ensure these events are successful?
The most successful author events are when the author (and/or publisher) helps promote it. When authors invite all their Facebook friends, or sets up an Facebook event page, puts up flyers or posters around town – these combined efforts between the store and the author help to bring more people in and the more people the more successful the event.
While at the event we recommend that you keep your reading very short, leave off at a cliff-hanger and then spend more time discussing why you wrote the book (your inspirations and so on) to give people a taste and a reason to buy it.
Again we believe that bookstores are cultural centers for the fabric of their community We are all passionate about books and the written word and the only thing that we love more than the pleasure of getting carried away in a wonderful book is the opportunity to share it with others. This program allows that sharing to happen on a large scale within a community.
Any thing else you would like to add?
Don’t be in a hurry to get the book out – make sure you have a good book first and contacts to promote it before trying to put it out there – this way you can avoid disappointment. Self-publishing is an opportunity to not just be a writer, you also become a book designer, accountant, marketer and so on. Take the time to develop those skills to ensure great sales and a successful book. And finally, expect that the book may not sell out and you may have many unsold copies returned to you by bookstores. Hopefully by following our suggestions you will be able to sell many copies of your work.
Thanks so much for answering my questions.
About Words Worth Books:
Worth Books, is a full service general bookstore that has been a community fixture in Waterloo, Ontario, since 1984. Unlike the chain stores, an independent store such as Words Worth Books strives to provide a broad range of interesting books and magazines backed by a knowledgeable staff prepared to special order any in-print title not currently in stock.
Words Worth Books was named one of the Top 10 Independent Bookstores in Canada by CBC in August 2011.