Getting into Bookstores

If you want to do bookstore signings in Barnes & Nobles, you must make your book RETURNABLE when you set up your title through Lightning Source. You can choose to have LSI either destroy the books or ship them to you. Either way, you’re paying for the returns. It comes out of your income/royalties from LSI.

Not only do you have to make it returnable through LSI, it has to also be at a 55% discount to the bookstores. Again, this sucks; but it’s necessary if you want bookstores to carry it.

Once it shows up in Ingrams database as returnable and at least a 55% discount, you’re ready to go. (Give it a few weeks to be sure.)

Then you (as the publisher) must send two finished books, a letter of intent, and a detailed marketing plan to:
Diane Simowski
Small Press Dept.
Barnes & Noble, Inc.
122 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10011

Then, cross your fingers. If you did your job by hiring a good editor, cover artist, layout designer, etc., and the quality of writing and visual presentation is up-to-par, then there is no reason Barnes & Noble won’t carry your book in their warehouse.

Reality Check: This still doesn’t mean it’s on the shelves in every bookstore, though. It means that B&N can get them faster, since they’re in their own warehouse, and that you can do book signings in their stores, the single best way as a micro/indie publisher to GET BOOKS ON THE SHELF. It is a lot of work. A lot of travel.

When you do a signing, they’ll over-buy because they know they can return what doesn’t sell. Yes. You pay for any returns. But returning them to their own warehouse rather than to LSI means that another Barnes & Noble can then carry them, so they’re not returned to LSI right away.

Shelf space is precious. Barnes & Noble carries millions of books in the database, but any given store only has room for about 100,000. Much of this shelf space is occupied by bestsellers, classics, and publisher-purchased space. That’s right, major publishers buy bookstore real estate.

How to the NYBBs get so many of their books on the bookstore shelves? Big Boys have two things you don’t:
Sales Representatives that negotiate huge purchases for a title or several titles from your catalog with B&N Corporate in NYC.

Deep pockets to pay for good bookstore placement.

Oh yeah. They pay for it. They pay BIG for it.

You know that table in every Barnes & Noble that says “New in Paperback”?

Publishers PAY BIG BUCKS to have their books on that table. Same goes for “New Releases,” certainly not every one of the 800 books published on a given day will be on that shelf. Nope. Only the ones that PAY to be there. And B&N Corporate won’t even talk to a small publisher about buying bookshelf space.

Same goes for end caps.

Publishers pay big because they know that 60% of book sales are from bookstore placement.


You simply cannot compete with that. This is part of the “cons” of being “self-published” or with an indie publisher.

The only prominent display in B&N that’s not paid for is the “Bookseller Recommends” section. If you can get in good with one of the booksellers, perhaps they’ll “recommend” your book. So be friendly and personable and use those networking skills when you do your book signings, perhaps an employee will put your book in that coveted section.

There is another way to get your book on their bookshelves and that is to have a book signing there. If the CRM (Community Relations Manager) is worth their salt, then they’ll have posters in the window leading up to your event, a display of your books before and after you’re there, and you’ll be mentioned in the calendar. Likely your books will be returned after about a month, but that is still a month of shelf space surrounding an event. If you’re really lucky, they’ll keep a copy or two on hand.

Ethan and I have done about 100 Barnes & Noble book signings from coast to coast. About 30% of the CRMs really, truly cared and did their job extremely well, which means a successful signing for you and for them. About 40% were just going through the motions, and the final 30% weren’t even there on the night of our signing. So obviously don’t care.

We kept a list.

As for Independent Bookstores, many many many of them will deal directly with the publisher (i.e. you) on consignment or wholesale. Get to know your local booksellers. Also check out IndieBound for a list of Independent Bookstores nationwide.

This is even more work because there isn’t a central office or uniform process.

Have I mentioned that a day job is much less stress, much less work, and a steady paycheck. I did mention that, right?


Do you think bookstores are the best place for an indie author to market their books? Or should they focus their efforts toward online sales?

32 Comments Add yours

  1. One of my publishers had enough and now refuses to stock his books in a pretty well-known bookstore/coffeeshop chain. He’s had too many books returned that were pretty much destroyed by being on display there – spilled coffee, torn pages, etc. The books were better off being sold elsewhere.

  2. Christine says:

    Wow! I don’t blame them. It’s a ridiculous system. Truly. So very wasteful. I think things are changing…

  3. Hi, I am a first time published author of Lies in a Season of Tribulation, which is a POD. I emailed the B&N store that is the nearest to my home and asked them to stock my book. They did. I saw it with my own eyes and it was a treat. I don’t know how many in stock they had but the gentleman appreciated my taking the time to go in to the store and said he would read and promote my book. Sometimes just a good reason and a kind soul make the difference. My heart will always belong to B&N in Augusta, Maine. Launa McNeilly

  4. Christine says:

    Thanks for that story, Launa!

    Don’t Ask… Don’t Get!

    Always a good idea to establish a relationship with local book sellers. Indeed!

  5. wendyw says:

    When I was first published in an anthology, my boss (a librarian) looked up my title to see if the library carried it. Getting into the libraries is also huge! For me, if I don’t see the book in the library, I dismiss the title.

    Great info. here!!

    I was always just doing it the Andy Warhol way.. he took ‘Interview’ his magazine, around in person to various stores and probably printed them up himself.

  6. CMSmith says:

    Thanks, Christine. My memoir will be out in the next week or two from Createspace and I haven’t even started on any marketing plans. This was helpful.

    1. christinerose says:

      Start marketing TODAY! Start building your networks before your book comes out!

  7. dmlbooks says:

    I self-published a collection of poetry last year. It hasn’t been selling that much (I have POD copies that I sell, plus e-versions). However, it was a compilation that I did for ME and so sales are gravy. I only published it after being nagged by my better half!

    What it DID do, though, was shake me out of my comfortable 9-5 existence. I now have a website where I showcase my work, including some audio versions.

    This year I have been working on my marketing strategy BEFORE my next book. Here are the stages that I have planned…

    1) Write the book! (When I need a break from going over drafts, write something else!) That way I am now aiming at having a novel and a collection (short stories, poems, nano-fiction etc.) ready at roughly the same time. Currently the YA novel is perhaps 90% done, the collection 50% done.

    2) On the short story/poetry/nano-fiction front, use my work this year as an opportunity to network. Enter competitions, submit to magazines etc.

    3) Build up my presence on the internet using twitter, my website etc. (Currently, I have just passed 12,000 hits on my website in under a year.)

    4) Build up name recognition through becoming a regular podcast contributor and narrator.


    1) Prior to publishing, narrate the novel in 30-45 minute chunks (I cannot recommend Blue Snowball microphones highly enough). Once I have that finished, print enough hard copies to start selling locally and set up sales pages for Kindle and other e-versions.

    2) Put the audio version of the novel on a free site (probably Podiobooks) on a weekly basis. Each episode will provide a link to sales pages for the hard copies and e-reader versions, for those who cannot wait each week.

    3) I will then hit the indy bookstores. I am planning on having the audio version on personalised flash drives, this will be my “bribe” to booksellers. Hopefully it will make me stand out and will get a good reaction.

    I am still working on my marketing strategy, but that’s where I am for now…

  8. Christine, much of this my husband, a new author, and I, a new publisher, have learned the hard way – the way of exhaustive bunny trails and didn’t know what we didn’t know. Please let us know when you’re in Austin – I know a hauntingly fabulous mocha dive.
    Thank you, Christine, for clearing the cobwebs of the clutter of this new world.

  9. aidabrassington says:

    I’d be interested in seeing what kind of marketing plan B&N would want. My guess is that my own personal marketing plan is not going to be impressive to B&N!! Any chance you might consider covering that in the future?

    1. christinerose says:

      I think that’s a great idea. I’ll put it on the schedule. Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. As a first time author trying to get the word out, I have chosen to spend my summer marketing locally and getting involved in every small event in my community I can. I want a strong local backing. We only have one bookstore in my home town and that is Barnes & Noble. They had a book signing there a few weeks back and I must say the marketing was crappy: A xeroxed picture of the author on a small sign by the front door only. It was a standard sheet of paper with a faded xerox. My letter of intent to them includes the fact that I have my own small banner and banner holder, glossy posters, and hundreds of rack card sized flyers. Sad to say, but I think I can market it better than they can, but since they are the only bookstore for 40 miles I have to use my resources…and make some lemonade.

    1. christinerose says:

      Wise decision. Start locally and build a strong base. Great plan!

  11. “Getting into Bookstores Christine Rose” was a terrific read and therefore I really ended up being quite satisfied to read the blog post.
    Many thanks,Cornelius

    1. christinerose says:

      I’m so pleased you found it helpful.

  12. says:

    This is exactly the third blog, of your website I
    really browsed. Yet I actually love this one, “Getting into Bookstores |
    Christine Rose” filmania the most. Regards ,Katlyn

  13. Lee Davis says:

    I was curious what goes into a Letter of Intent for getting into Barnes and Noble Bookstores. I can put together a Marketing Plan but was not sure about the LI.

    Anyone had success with either one and is willing to share. If so, please contact me at

    Thanks in advance

    1. I’ve had our books excepted into Barnes & Noble via letter of intent, but it was five years ago. If you call the number or write to the woman whose name I put in my book Publishing and Marketing Realities for the Emerging Author, or just call Barnes & Noble and find out her name and contact information, she will tell you exactly what the LI needs.

      If memory serves, it’s a marketing plan with your intentions of how you’re going to market your book.

      1. Lee Davis says:


        I actually talked with Diane Simowski and she was the one who said to send the Letter of Intent and the Marketing Plan. I guess she thought I know what a Letter of Intent was, so she did not elaborate and she seemed in a hurry so I thought i could research that elsewhere. Unfortunately Googling it so far hasn’t yielded very much. But I am still looking. I may have to call her back.

        I will find the details somewhere!



  14. Yes! That’s her name. She wasn’t terribly friendly with me either. I got the distinct impression she didn’t like dealing with independent authors.

    I just looked up my letter of intent for my first two books, and they contained general sales information, an overview of a marketing plan, and a direct request to carry them in the warehouse. Both books were accepted.

    1. Lee Davis says:


      I agree, she wasn’t warm and fuzzy 🙂

      I’m not worried, I’ll get there. The only concern is this is my first time at this and the returnable part might be a problem if it doesn’t sell. I think it will as I believe it is really good (I suppose all authors think that) but I hope they start small and see how it goes. I don’t really know what they do in getting new books on the shelves.

      But…. I’ve read a lot of sales oriented business book over my career, and this one should fit in very well.

      1. The returns will be staggering. Have you read my article on returns?

        Why do you want to sell through B&N? If you’re an independent author, the best way I’ve found is to build a strong reader base first. When you’re making $200+ per month in royalties–consistently for at least three months–then consider B&N.

        They won’t be on the shelves; they’ll be in the warehouse, meaning they’ll be *available* through B&N. They’re *available* through B&N if you’re selling through LSI or CreateSpace with their expanded distribution, too.

        Even if you do like we did and do lots of signings at B&N, forcing your books in the store, they will send them back *immediately* after your signing. If you’re really, really lucky, they’ll keep them around for two-three weeks after.

        I’m serious. Please rethink this choice.

      2. Lee Davis says:

        I have not read your article on returns. Would you mind sending me the link to that.

        Staggering returns are not something I need.


      3. Here’s one on the blog. I think the breakdown of costs and such is in the book.

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