Published Podcast Ep. 26 | Distribution to Independent Bookstores with Meg Moster

In this episode Tanya speaks with Independent Sales Representative Meg Moster about the process of selling books to independent bookstores.

1:50 – Tell us a little bit about your role as an Independent Sales Rep.

  • I’m an independent contractor working for more than one publisher. I meet with buyers at large independent stores, museums shops, national chain retailers, and wholesale accounts within my territory, which is the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • I work with publishers to represent and sell new titles, discuss author platforms, look at trends, and help out with any troubleshooting.
  • When I meet with the buyers, I present new titles for each of the publishers I represent. These days it’s about thirty, in a wide variety of categories.

3:00 - How are independent retailers different from national retailers?

  • If I have an author that's from Maryland, for example, we’ll focus on indie stores in their area. If it’s a national store, we’ll focus on authors from different parts of the country and the world. We have to make sure buyers at regional chains know about local authors.
  • Another difference is the buying schedule. Indie stores are visited once or twice a season, maybe three times for large independent stores.
  • In publishing there are typically two seasons, spring from February to May, and fall from June through January. Quite a few publishers have created a winter season November through January as well.
  • National retailers buy about once a month and are on a strict purchasing schedule. All data for new titles need to be in their systems seven months prior to the pub date, and titles are present six months ahead of time. This long timeline helps with budgeting trends and nominating titles for promotions.
  • National stores have lots of buyers while indies have only the owner or one, two, maybe up to seven buyers. A national chain could have twenty adult buyers plus six or seven children’s buyers.

6: 30 – Would self-published authors have more luck pitching to independent retailers?

  • Yes and no. Independent stores in authors' home towns will serve their local following, and word of mouth helps. Authors know local shop owners, retail owners, local librarians, so it can give them a leg up.
  • When we present to a chain store, we also let them know where the author’s hometown is so that they’ll try to bring those books into the nearest location.

7:40 – What should authors be prepared to deal with in terms of the terms an indie bookstore will offer for discounts and returns?

  • Publishing is different than a lot of other types of retail in that returnability is a key factor.
  • General discount terms for an indie stores will be 45% for returnable books and 47% for non-returnable books, though a lot of stores don’t generally do non-returnable. Not having the ability to return books doesn’t work for indies because they have less shelf space.

10:15 – What sort of timeline can an author expect if they decide to pitch their hometown store?

  • While we still work on specific seasons (the buyers expect to see us January through May and late June through October), indies don’t need nearly as much lead time as national chains unless the titles are holiday, summer, or back to school. Holiday titles are typically sold months in advance, at least two to three months.

11:57 – How important is platform is an indie buyer’s decision?

  • Book content is always important and essential information to convey to a buyer. If a buyer knows their customers well, they’ll know how a title will sell to their customers.
  • That said, author platform is front of mind as well. The size of an author's social media following, events in the area, how well previous titles have sold are all taken into consideration, but indies are still well known for giving first time authors great chances.

13:25 – How much of an impact does cover design have on the book buyer?

  • Cover design is important. If it doesn’t convey what the content is, a buyer will question it.
  • A buyer wants the book cover to draw people in so that they pick the book up, touch it, turn it over in their hands. When customers hold the book and look at the cover, you know they’re giving it thought.
  • Sales reps like me are fairly well known for giving advice on cover design because of our histories with book buyers. They always judge a book by its cover, and feedback isn't an insult. It's constructive, in the best interest of the author.

16:23 – Any parting advice you’d give to authors trying to distribute into indie stores?

  • Have patience. Have patience with the process of creating a book. If you’re finding a publisher, an editor, an independent store. Have patience with yourself and give yourself time to create a book that’s well-researched, creative, well-edited, publicized, sold, and enjoyed. Write a book if you enjoy the art of the process. It can be an incredible experience.

About Meg

I have been an independent sales representative for 27 years, working in the Mid-Atlantic. I love working with publishers, sales managers, and editors to help put together wonderful books. Working with buyers and store owners is such a fantastic way to spend a work day. Every time I meet with them, I learn something new. What a treat it is to work with such creative, intelligent and caring people within the publishing and book industry.