Thursday, March 4, 2010

Getting Bookstores to Carry Your Indie-Published Book

By the grace of God, and with lots of hard work I was able to get my book into Barnes & Nobles stores across the country (see for a list). I'm often asked how I did it. First, understand that this starts with a good book. You need to have a marketable cover that doesn't look "self-published," you need a well-edited book with a professional-looking book interior.

The Hard Way...

(Note: This is a repost from another forum. I figured there was no need to reinvent the wheel. This is the method that I used BEFORE I did it the "Easy" way which can be found below. If a bookstore tells you they don't stock "POD" please see my post on PODs for further explanation and don't give up.)

So, I promised to come back and let you know how my experience was getting into bookstores this morning. Keep in mind, everyone's experience may be different but I will just tell you how things went for me.

I woke up Saturday morning, loaded my truck with press kits and copies of my novel, and headed to Borders. When I arrived at Borders I asked to speak to the manager and told them I was inquiring about the process to get my books on the shelves in Borders. I told them my book was available in Ingram, told them the wholesale discount, and told them that it’s returnable. So, the manager turned to me and asked me if my book had a BINC? “What the heck is a BINC?” I asked. She said this is the sticker placed on all books sold in borders stores. Once your book is approved by Borders HQ (yes, it has to be approved), books are purchased from one of the distributors (Ingram or Baker and Taylor), the books are shipped to Borders warehouses where they are stickered, then the books are sent to Borders stores and shelved.

Long story short, your book must go through the corporate to get approved to be shelved. No way around it.

Deflated, I left the store with their standard author-book signing brochure in hand. I got in my truck and read the brochure. Funny enough, the brochure didn’t say anything about needing a BINC to do book signing, so I called another store and spoke with a different manager. Turns out, you don’t need a BINC just to do a book signing, but your book MUST be available through Ingram or Baker and Taylor. What they do is order enough books for your signing, and depending on how your signing goes, they can request to get a BINC and shelve it or they ship your books back to the distributor, which is why your books MUST be returnable. So, then I said, “Ohhhh, well can I set up a book signing? My book is available through Ingram and it’s returnable.” And they said, “Sure!”

This is where I learned the second lesson to apply when querying Borders stores. There are managers and then there are managers. Not all managers can set up your book signing. Moreover, if the manager on duty is not the right manager, they will be completely disinterested in your little press kit and looking at your book. Lesson learned: Save your gas, call first, tell them you’re a local author that wants to set up a book signing, they will either connect you with that manager OR give you an email address to send your information. Ensure that you have a link to your press kit on your website, save some trees.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Nobles stores operate in this century. You’re not required to have any special stickers. Once again, the process is the same to conduct book signings and to get your book into stores nationally. Call for the correct manager, ask to set up a book signing, they will ask you whether your book is in Ingram or Baker and Taylor (it must be), then they will fit you into the schedule. Once again, they took no interest in me handing them my press kit or looking at my book at the time. Maybe later they will, but they didn’t initially.

Indie Bookstores

Indie bookstore not only want to your press kit and a copy of your book, but they want to read through your book before they agree to order it. That was my experience when I went to the two Indie stores. They wouldn’t even discuss carrying up my book or scheduling a book signing withou\t reading it. The great thing is, Indie bookstore owners know their inventory and seem to be the best proponent for selling your book. If they like it, they will push it to everyone who walks in the door. I lingered for a while and bought a couple of books and the owner could tell you the plot of just about any book you picked up. That doesn’t happen in the big stores. One author sold 3,000 copies between one of the stores and Amazon alone. You want to be nice, make a purchase, and make them a fan of you and your work.

So, to sum up my advice:

For Borders and BN: · Call first · If your book isn’t in Ingram or Baker & Taylor – Fuhgedabouditt! · Just ask to do a book signing, don’t even bother asking to get shelved initially · Make sure you’re speaking to the right manager. · Make your press kit available on your website!! · Make your signing as successful as possible so they’ll push to carry it on the shelves.

The process is much easier in Barnes and Noble than it is in Borders from an inventory perspective.

Indie stores: · It’s okay to drop by, most of the owners also run the store. · Bring a pretty press kit · Be prepared to leave a (free) copy of your book. · Linger, shop, and make nice with the owner.

The "Easy" Way...

An easier way to get your books into the major bookstores is to send your book to the book buyers at the corporate level. If they approve it, your book will be made a part of the chain's official stock and this makes getting your book stocked in individual stores and doing booksignings MUCH easier.

To get your book approved you need to do several things.

First, for Createspace users, you must own your own ISBN, and you must have the price barcode on your books. You must use an approved distributor. B&N uses Ingram which means you have to use Lulu, Lightning Source, or some other printer that offers Ingram distribution. Borders uses Baker & Taylor. BooksAMillion uses both.

You must send a cover letter, 1 copy of your book to BN or BAM/2 books to Borders, and a press kit (including a marketing plan) to their Vendor/Small Press Department. You should emphasize in your letter what makes your book special, why it will sell, and an information sheet with all the details about your book. The information sheet should contain: a picture of you cover, your book's bio (ISBN, size, type, suggested retail price, etc.).

Most importantly, you need a marketing plan that discusses who you've submitted your book to for review, online marketing strategy, off-line marketing strategy, radio interviews, newspaper articles, tv appearances, etc. etc.

Barnes and Noble: Small Press Department, 122 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, 10011.
Borders: New Vendor Acquisitions Borders Group, Inc. 100 Phoenix Drive Ann Arbor, MI 48108
BooksAMillion: Director of Merchandising,, P.O. Box 19728, Birmingham, AL 35219

I am now working on getting into Borders, which I'm finding is a little bit different. You MUST work with Baker and Taylor to get into Borders. Even though Lightning Source has an established relationship with Baker & Taylor, I can tell you that I have jumped through a gahzillion hoops and still have not been able to figure out an easy way to get listed with B&T, until yesterday. The reason I keep getting the run around at LS is because B&T now has its own POD service-TextStream. If you set up your title through TextStream, you're automatically listed with B&T retailers and libraries, which means that you're taking away some of LS's business (certainly a reason why they keep giving me the run around).

To list your book with TextStream POD, you need to have your print-ready files ready (which should have already done through LS or CS (although their specifications require a .25 bleed which is a bit more than LS or CS). You can find out more info here:

This process can take 6 to 8 weeks, so be patient. The faster you get a response, the more likely it is that your book wasn't approved. Also, from my understanding, if they return your book, they probably did not accept it.

So that's it! Get out there and get your books shelved!

Until next time...

Keep it real...and keep it real cheap!


  1. Thanks Karla. Borders has been easier for me in the Atlanta area. Once I set up through LS, I will be good to go since I have my successful signings. And the ones here use Ingram not Baker & Taylor! Barnes & Noble here however only set up their signings through corporate which means you need a big publisher. No luck there. They used to have 2 events a year for local authors which they have scrapped. I guess you just need to do your homework in your region of the country to figure out which way to go. Will keep you posted on my success especially with Borders.

  2. Great analysis. Note that TextStream has an updated website:

  3. Wow!
    All this info is so useful and soooo overwhelming as I'm very new to this field. Many thanks to Ms Folake Taylor who put me in tune to this blog. I have (probably a silly) question: what would be the best alternative to working with Ingram or Baker & Taylor as I'm based in the UK (All our Borders stores have shut down)and I think those above are American based. I'm considering publishing my children's play but I guess I'm still at very early research stages. Any advice will be invaluable I'm sure.



  4. Hi Tayo!

    Actually, Lightning Source/Ingram has a UK division and they provide distribution for a number of major retailers in the UK, not just Borders and B&N. My book can be purchased through a number of UK Booksellers because of my Lightning Source listing and I don't even have an audience there (yet). :) I also know a few UK-based authors who use Lulu's global distribution package. What most authors don't know is that Lulu's global distribution package is managed by Lightning Source. So, they essentially are paying some ridiculous fee for Lulu's service, when they could work directly with Lightning Source, put in a little more hard work (format your own files), and get the same service for probably a few hundred dollars less.

    That's my suggestion to you.

    Keep in mind that Lightning Source does not post their information online. You must first fill out their application and once that initial application is approved (yes, you can get approved even as an indie-published author) then you will get access to all of their programs, printing costs, distribution plans, etc.

  5. Great! Thanks so much for that.

  6. Karla answered it! I will have ditribution in the UK and Europe in the next few weeks for my book "The Only Way is Up" through Lightning Source. So I can stop spending just under $10 to mail 1 book to the UK and getting my profit margin

  7. A lot of other companies use LSI. Even Bookmasters/Atlas Books Publishing division uses LSI for their Ebook productions like lulu does for global distribution.
    And yes, they do guard their information probably becuase it is an Ingram company and they need you to know what you are doing! It's probably a way of weeding out the unserious or not so involved or knowledgable self publishers I presume.

  8. Karla, the method of getting a Lightning Source book listed at Baker & Taylor is detailed in my new book on working with Lightning, "POD for Profit." It should be on sale on Amazon by next week. The procedure is a bit too complex to describe in a blog comment, but you really shouldn't have any trouble with it once you know how it's done.

  9. Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for letting me know. One reason I am doing this blog is so that already broke indie authors don't have to go out and buy YET ANOTHER book on publishing to get answers. I have a number of them and none of them told me the process related stuff that I share with people here. So, if there's a way to do it, I'll figure it out and share it here. I'm glad to know there's a way to do it though.


  10. Hi Karla, Thanks for turning me on to your blog. You stated that CreateSpace users need thier own ISBN. Does that still hold true in light of the new expanded distibution program implemented in December? Ingram is the distibutor. If you're not sure maybe this is something I can find out for you through my CreateSpace Member Support.

  11. Hi Jackson, even though CS books will come up when searched through Ingram because Ingram powers the system and is now in partnership with CS, nothing has changed on the bookstore end. The ISBN prefix 978144... is for POD and it will still say POD which is all the bookstores need to see to decide they don't want to go that route. With your own ISBN, you can also get LS to print your book and have access to Ingram and the bookstores that way while CS can still supply amazon and you can buy your copies cheaper from CS for direct sales, promotions, Book Signings and all that. I just went through this process of trying to find out what they mean by the new EDP but it hasn't changed much. I had to get a new ISBN and publish a revised edition. Some bookstores may use the CS EDP but it's not major like Ingram by a long shot. Now I can pitch it to Borders and co even though they had me in their system from my successfull Signings months ago. Sad!

  12. This is great information, but I'm still so confused. :(

    How can we log into Lightning Source if we've signed our book up for the CreatSpace EDP? CreateSpace requires you have a CreateSpace ISBN to sign up.

    My 10 year old son wrote a children's book for charity. A publishing company took his book and promised his royalties to Habitat for Humanity. We were told the book would be part of the Ingram Catalog and could be picked up by bookstores. His book has been for sale since June 30 (actually before that). I called Barnes & Noble today (because they have his paperback on their website) and they said he can't have a book signing or have his book sold in the stores because they're non-returnable. The publisher didn't disclose that to us and keeps repeating the book is part of the Ingram catalog's advanced distribution catalog. Do we have to wait 6 weeks for it to be returnable? We're so confused and so disappointed because we have a lot of family and friends who wanted to purchase it at a signing (to boost his confidence). Thanks for your advice.

  13. Julie,

    This is why I advise against using Createspace's expanded distribution program. If you read my entire blog before making a decision, you would understand my reasoning. Please take a moment and find the post on the expanded distribution program.

    If you own your own ISBN, you can sign up for as many or as few printers as yu want. Createspace is a printer. Lightning Source is a printer. All you need to do is set your files up with Lightning Source, list your book as returnable, make your discount at least 50% and then once your lightning source listing is active, schedule your booksigning.

    Please take the time to read the entire blog. Many questions you may have are already answered here.

  14. Hi Karla,

    What exactly is in a press kit? How do I make one?

  15. Excellent information Karla, Thank you very much. I am currently marketing and promoting 5 spiritual/religious books in the Atlanta area. We are signed up with Create Space, however we would definitely like to expand our distribution. We are signed up with their expanded distribution channel, however I am starting to rethink that based on your previous response. My question is in addition to Barnes & Nobles and Borders bookstores could you suggest other bookstore options? Would you happen to know the easiest way to do a book signing at Lifeway Christian bookstore? Thanks.