Shelf to Table: Supporting Local Bookstores

One of my favorite things to do is to attend book readings. This includes our agency authors as well as authors who present interesting idea. Sometimes I will attend a reading without any expectations, and walk away with a new book and new author on my recommended reading list.

Many people  don’t think about how the book arrived at the venue—be it the bookstore or a non-traditional setting. But it’s important to know where those books came from, and why it matters in the larger picture.

I remember, in my early days of agenting, hearing about traditionally published authors selling their books out of their figurative cars at events—only to learn later on that these sales would not apply against their book advances. Any profit earned from the sale of each book didn’t help them earn out their original book advance.

In the publishing world, there’s a strict practice that if an author is provided a book advance, the publisher must recoup it before they receive any more money. Through the book contract, there is an agreed-upon set of royalties for every format of the book sold (individually). Statements will be provided, usually biannually, so that authors can gauge if they’ll be receiving more monies from their book sales.

Additionally, in every publishing contract there is a clause that states an author can buy personal copies at a deep discount. This may sound very appealing (hence selling the books out of one’s figurative car), but those sales will not be applied against the original book advance. The only way to earn down an advance is for those books to be sold through traditional outlets. While it may be easier to sell the book out of one’s car at a reading, it’s important to find the best source that will support the overall sales numbers.

One of the more popular outlets, that doesn’t necessarily support a local community or a book reading, is Amazon. But if you’re an author looking to sell books at an upcoming reading, Amazon isn’t necessarily going to be a good provider. The books will have to be paid for in advance, of which any extra copies will need to be returned or kept post-event.

This is why it’s important to know your local bookstore (including large brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble), where the event is happening. Most bookstores will have an onsite contact person whose job is to arrange events, and they’ll also take the lead on ordering the books for your reading in advance (which means no out-of-pocket expenses for the author). The books purchased through the bookstore will apply against the original book advance.  (Side note: If an author receives any sort of book advance, the author will need to earn out the full advance before getting paid again. This happens through the sales royalties.)

For instances where the reading is happening in a non-bookstore setting, reach out to the nearest local bookstore and ask if they can be present to sell copies of the book. As the organizer, you’ll want to provide an estimated number of attendees, and confirm the date and time of the reading. Not only will this take a literal load off your back (there’s no need to haul books from your car), but you’ll be supporting a local bookstore through the sales of your book.

If you have the honor of speaking at a conference, connect with the organizers and ask them to have your book on hand for sale. Most conferences will work with a local bookstore to have speakers’ books available for purchase. Plus: the larger the conference, the more books are sold, and the quicker you’ll earn out your book advance.

It should also go without saying that including a local bookstore in the distribution and sale of your book can be a sustaining action in buying local. It helps build a thriving literary community, bringing traffic into the bookstores and building a larger sense of community for both writers and readers. "Locally sourced" book sales will bring people together in the practice of "shelf to table."