Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cold Calling with your Book in Hand. Do you have the Stomach for it?

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

In the world of indie publishing, digital is king, thanks in no small part to the publishing revolution spurred by Amazon. But for many of us writers, the notion of selling a physical book still carries a romantic, even irrational sense of accomplishment. Consider this: Although I make more money selling eBooks, I get more excited when I sell paperbacks. Perhaps the knowledge that someone out there preferred to hold, smell, feel and touch a copy of my book—even though a much cheaper and more convenient medium was available to them—is somehow comforting.

Getting your printed book in brick-and-mortar bookstores however is one of the most uphill challenges of publishing. The large chains are pretty much in intensive care with a bleak prognosis, and independent or small-published writers are at the bottom of their list of priorities. Even Barnes and Noble which has so far managed to hold on to dear life, only pays lip service to supporting indie writers. They have an opaque program that allegedly will stock the works of “local” authors in the relevant chains. But if you've ever tried to communicate with your local Barnes and Nobel to pursue that, you will have likely discovered that it’s a hit or miss and depends entirely on the mood and temperament of the Community Relations Manager you end up speaking to. Not to mention that the reigning Barnes and Noble culture looks down on print on demand books.

Which leaves small and independently owned book stores and mini chains as the most viable option. I am happy to report that I have had remarkable success getting my debut novel Terminal Rage stocked in a select number of bookstores in North American and Europe. In London for instance, I am proud to be stocked in all branches, save one, of the beautiful Edwardian mini chain, Daunt

The Chelsea branch of the mini-chain Daunt, London, UK

Figuring out the best way to get stocked in indie bookstores came after a bit of trial and error.

Because most of us in this business spend more time behind screens managing our digital empires and building and nurturing our tribes, we tend to also communicate primarily through electronic means. It's faster and more convenient.

When I first started querying indie bookstores electronically, I was overwhelmingly getting ignored or rejected, which was demoralizing. Then it dawned on me that on any given day, most indie bookstores probably field hundreds if not thousands of emails from new writers like me with the same idea. Each professing to be the next best thing.

So I tried something different. I started calling the bookstores to set my self slightly apart, and sure enough my success rate instantly shot up to about thirty percent acceptance.

You probably know where I am going with this: Ultimately, the most effective way to get your book picked up by indie bookstores is to go there in person, with your book in hand for a good, old fashioned face-to-face pitch. As a writer, if you are not willing to look a book buyer in the eye and get passionate about your writing, how do you expect them to do the same over email or a phone call?

Indie book stores are typically unique establishments owned and staffed by folks who are extremely passionate about books. Like Linda Nurick of Cellar Door Bookstore who plays an integral role in promoting reading and supporting local writers in her local community of Riverside, California. I have found that the best way to connect with them is in person, because they need to get excited about you as a writer as much as they need to appreciate your book. Assuming you have an excellent and professionally-produced book, my own results suggest that walking in an indie bookstore to cold call will net you extremely positive results.

However, there are a few things to take into consideration if you decide to give cold calling at indie bookstores a shot. First and foremost, research each and every store in advance. Some of them specifically request that you don’t show up unannounced, so respect their guidelines. Some small bookstores are often highly specialized in a limited number of genres which may not coincide with your masterpiece. And remember that for all brick-and-mortar stores, space is the number one premium. If a book store describes itself as "tiny", "cozy" or "small but mighty", it's most likely they have a minuscule and highly curated inventory with a limited appetite for risk. So it would probably be a waste of your time and theirs to try. 

Ultimately, I've found that the most receptive are the small- to medium-sized general bookstore that sell new books, with no outright guidelines against cold calling. With that said, even if you target your bookstores intelligently, there is still a chance they just may not be that into you. Don’t take it personally and move on.

Writers, what have your experiences been trying to get your books stocked in brick-and-mortar bookstores? And readers, do you proactively make recommendations to your local bookstores when you don’t find your favorite authors stocked?

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A.M. Khalifa's debut novel, Terminal Rage, was recently described by Publishers Weekly as "dizzying, intricate, and entertaining." 

The ebook version of Terminal Rage is now on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.


  1. Thanks for this excellent, informative post, A.M.! Most or a lot of us writers are introverts, as am I, and I get nervous just thinking about approaching a bookstore with my books in hand! Even calling them on the phone would be very stressful for me, and would no doubt be apparent in my voice. You've obviously got the confidence, personality and charm to take this important step. Kudos to you for getting out there and succeeding in having these bookstores stock your debut novel! And it's so kind of you to share your experiences and advice with other indie authors!

    And by the way, indie authors, if you'd like a detailed list of book contests for self-published books, check out my post on this yesterday at The Kill Zone blog. That's a way to gain recognition and respect, and often valuable feedback for your "baby" without leaving your home! (Okay, just a trip to the post office to mail off your book.)

  2. What have I tried? Everything! I made calls, I sent promotional material to hundreds of bookstores across the country, I drove around Oregon and walked into bookstores. It was a complete waste of time.

    But I'm glad you're having success! I hope they continue to stock your book.

    I'm happy making money with ebooks. Although, I admit that seeing someone on a plane reading my book was the ultimate thrill.

  3. Congratulations on your success, A.M. I've thought about going to the main indie bookstore in my area but have managed, thus far, to avoid that bold move.

    Last Saturday I presented some information on writing to a small group at a VERY SMALL bookstore in Denver. Although I appreciated the opportunity, I don't see them stocking my books on their shelves any time soon. But I'll keep working on them.

    Continued success to you!

  4. Congratulations, dear friend! I am beyond happy to hear of your success in this endeavor! :) I always feel that both showing the interest/effort, as well as adding that personal touch pay off in the long run regarding most anything. So, yes, stopping by local stores definitely seems to be the wisest option. Such is one of my 2014 goals--to hit mine like Thor's hammer! Haha! I also plan to visit my local libraries. Libraries are allotted a certain amount of funding each month that they must spend. What better way than on a local author? It may not be a sale, per se, but the ultimate goal is to place our works in readers' hands. The sky is the limit after that!


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