How Bookstores Work

All new authors want to see their books in bookstores.  Although you do need to have books available for orders, setting your sights on attracting booksellers to your title may not be the best use of your time.  Here are some things you need to know about how bookstores work.

Book Distribution

If your book is available for wholesale purchases on Ingram or in your garage, you can sell to the trade (stores).  But did you know that IF a store wants to stock your book, they might only stock one or two copies at first?  You may be convinced that without bookstores you can’t succeed, but there has got to be a better way.  If you get fifty stores to buy one or two copies you have distributed 50 – 100 books.  For an indie author or press, that method is a ton of work for not so much of a return.

Author Events

Publishers worked around the small orders by setting up big author tours, where a store would normally purchase about 20 copies for a lesser known author’s appearance.  Getting the buyers in the store to purchase them, well that’s another story.  If only two people attend an event, then most of those copies go back to the warehouse.  Big publishers pay for shipping to and from the bookstores and they take returns.

Discounts and Other Protocols

Bookstores require a wholesale discount.  On Ingram, that means discounting your book by 55%.  Ingram gets 15% and the bookstore gets 40%.  Also, you will be asked if you accept returns.  If you do not, then you will not sell wholesale copies to traditional stores.  Amazon is a different story.


Five stores each order two copies of your book.  Where will the copies be?  On the shelf?  Spine out?  How will people see it?  This is where merchandising comes into play.  There are several different options for shelving books including spine out, front cover facing, tables, end-caps, and displays.  All, except for spine out, usually cost money that comes from a publisher’s marketing budget.  It depends on the size of the store and how they choose to merchandise.

Don’t get me wrong, I love bookstores and I’m a browser who might see your book on a shelf–spine out.  But, when you are starting out as an author, especially in the indie world, think of alternative ways to get your books to readers.  You will be dwarfed by the big publishers and authors if you try to start out in the traditional retail marketplace.

Highways and Car Trunks

Here are a couple of examples of authors doing it differently:

E. Lynn Harris was a maverick in many ways.  He wrote ten best-selling books and you know how he started?  He sold books out of the trunk of his car.  A couple of decades ago, Harris was building his army of readers on the ground.

Michael Connelly used to meet a guy on the highway in California.  Michael would sign a couple of hundred copies of his latest hardcover so they could be sold to collectors.  This was a way of marketing and selling to a niche audience that would not be able to find a pristine, cello-wrapped copy in a store.

For more information about bookselling check out our blogs:

“When Promoting a Book is Also About Selling a New Idea”

“How Many Books Should You Be Selling?”

Get Ready to Promote Your Fall 2021 Book

The glory of working in retail  is that you always need to think six months ahead of when your product is going to be ready.  Books are products and you want to have an opportunity to make noise leading up to the holiday shopping season.  Here is a list of things you should be doing right now to promote your Fall 2021 book.

Digital Platform

Is your social media strategy and online profile up to date?  To promote your Fall 2021 release,  you should have a plan to market yourself and your work on your social channels.   Create or polish a content calendar, and make sure you have a clear schedule of how you are going to market your content and when, leading up to the publication.

If you are not subscribed to a scheduling platform like Hootsuite, now would be a good time to set that up.  On Hootsuite you can schedule content in advance so you can make sure you are keeping to your calendar.

Review Copies for Publicity

Are you going to use digital galleys or print review copies, or both?  I recommend printing some review copies for people who still like to have a physical book.  Physical copies of the book are great for Instagram influencers.  They will often take a picture of your book when they receive it and tag you in the post.  Now you have a new, original image to use on your own digital platforms.

Lead-Time to Publicize your Fall 2021 Book

If you want reviewers and other media entities to cover your book, you need to allow four to six weeks for pitching and follow up.  When you are asked for a review copy, you need to prepare to be patient.  It can take up to three months for the book to be read and reviewed.  Sometimes you can get faster results, but in general the lead time for books is three to four months at minimum.

Interviews for online publications, radio, podcasts, and television can be pitched with a shorter amount of lead time.  But if you want to feel confident about the amount of coverage you are going to get, it is still a good idea to allow up to two months to get responses and schedule interviews.

For more information on when to publish check out our blog including this infographic on when to publish your book:

When should you publish your book? An Infographic



Book Covers: Hiring a Designer

You have your book written, edited, and you’re now prepping to publish it. Previously, we spent some time discussing how to design an appropriate book cover that will keep your self-published masterpiece from going unnoticed. If you read over our summary on how to design a book cover yourself, you likely have a better idea of whether this is a task you can take the time to handle yourself or not.

If it doesn’t seem like the DIY option is the right fit for you, don’t fret! There is another way. There are thousands of trained professionals out there who would love to help you design an eye-catching and unique book cover – for a price, of course.

Where to Look to Hire a Graphic Designer

The biggest question when it comes to hiring a professional designer is where to start looking. You could start by searching social media using terms such as cover design, book jacket design, or a specific hashtags like #bookdesign. These terms may lead you to some smaller artists whose work you enjoy. You can usually either find a link to an artist’s portfolio through their social media accounts or get a quick snapshot of their work through their posts, which makes for an easy vetting process. Social media allows for direct, quick, and open-ended contact as well when you approach someone about their commission prices.

Other options that might help you quickly sort through many artists and designers who can provide the exact services you’re looking for are platforms like Fiverr, which exist solely for artists to advertise their skill sets and prices in one place. Freelance marketplaces like this cut through a lot of clutter that exists on social media. You can filter your results by whether you need only a book cover or whether you need help with the typesetting process as well.

Beware of Prices that Look Too Good to Be True

With these kinds of services it’s important to note there are people who advertise cheap prices and make use of premade templates, free stock photos, or, at worst, steal and recycle designs completely.  It is my firm belief that when it comes to commissioning a book cover you ultimately get what you pay for. Expect to pay upwards of $300+ depending on whether you want spine and back jacket designs included in your design. Adding in the cost of typesetting will also make the process more expensive. A unique, custom designed cover will cost you more out of pocket, but it will make your book stand out amongst the millions of self-published titles that are released every year. While browsing through artists’ portfolios, make sure to keep in mind the current trends and aesthetics of your chosen genre. Choose a designer whose aesthetics match these trends. You still want the outside of the book to reflect the tone of what you’ve written on the inside.

Basic Etiquette for Hiring a Designer

I’d also like to speak on some basic etiquette for how to approach an artist and inquire about their rates. Most artists are friendly people who want to work with you to see your vision come to life. Start the conversation with a polite greeting and ask them if they are currently open to taking commissions. This is especially important if you have found them through social media instead of a freelance marketplace. If they respond positively, feel free to explain your project and what you’re looking for in a cover and to ask them how much they would charge for it. If their rates are too steep for your budget, it is not impolite to thank them and say it is out of your range. It is impolite, however, to try and haggle with a designer or to criticize them for charging too much.

If you find an artist you like and who you can afford, make sure you read and understand their terms of service before agreeing to payment. Freelance designers often require payment upfront. There may be a no-refund clause in your contract once they have started to work on your design. Always bring something up with the artist if you find there is an issue with their work and make sure you mention any kind of deadline you may have upfront.

Working with artists to bring your concept to life can be an exciting and fun experience. Designers love to hear input about their work when it is a paid commission, and they want you to be as satisfied as possible with the result. So, if the DIY option is just a bit too daunting and you’re ready to start searching for a designer to hire- happy hunting!

Book Cover Design: DIY

Previously we discussed two possible options when it comes to book cover design for your self-published book. The first option proposed was the DIY option, where you design the cover yourself. This option is more complicated and time consuming than hiring a designer to create a book cover for you. While it certainly isn’t impossible to create a great cover yourself, it is probably best to steer clear of this option if you have never dabbled in any kind of design at all or if you’re unwilling to spend time doing research. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive into the DIY option. 

Step One: Brainstorm Ideas for Your Book Cover Design

The first step is brainstorming ideas for what your cover should look like. You may have a strong idea already or you may be entirely clueless. Either way, I urge you to take time and study other book cover designs of best-sellers that specifically match the genre or tone of your book. If you wrote a murder-mystery thriller, look at other books that are traditionally published within that genre.

Angel Wings Book Cover DesignPay attention to the general style of fonts used, the color palette, and the overall feel. These will vary widely between book subjects. A self-help book cover will be different from those of romance novels. Even if you do have a strong idea of what you’d like to present on the cover, take into consideration what other novels are doing. Remember, the main point of the cover is to bring in an audience that wants to read what’s inside. Your cover needs to quickly convey what kind of book it is through its visual language.

Step Two: Find a Graphics Program

The second step is finding and familiarizing yourself with a graphics program that suits your skill-level and needs. If you have access to Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, then those are the preferred industry standard for designing graphics and you should be all set. However, these can be expensive options for a single project. It is worth considering other options, since there are many programs out there that are cheaper or, better yet, completely free! 

If you have experience with design and using image editing software, try programs like Clip Studio Paint, GIMP, Procreate, or Krita. You may need to supplement these programs with things like stock photos or fonts. However, you need to keep an eye on their usage rights.  

If you’re less experienced with design, it might be preferable to choose a program that comes pre-loaded with tons of templates, fonts, and stock images that make designing a cover less of a headache. Try programs like Canva, Adobe Spark, BookBrush, or Placeit. These are only a few of the available options and a quick search will lead you down the path to finding the best fit for you.  

However, most of these programs, aside from InDesign, are not suited for typesetting. If you’re planning on working with the interior of your book yourself as well, InDesign may be worth the investment.

Step Three: Consult with Your Publishing Platform

Doug Wood Book Cover DesignOnce you’ve come up with the idea for a design that is both aesthetically appealing and tells people about your book at a glance and you have a program of choice that you plan to use to bring it to life, it is important to consult with your publishing platform. Wherever you choose to publish and sell your book from, whether it’s solely digital or from a print-on-demand publisher, these platforms usually have specifications that you will need to follow concerning image dimensions, file size and type, and color profile. Keep these in mind when creating your design. 

Best of luck on your journey designing a brilliant book cover if this seems like the right path for you! However, if all of that was entirely overwhelming and you’re considering exploring the second option of hiring a designer instead, we will be talking about that in-depth soon as well!   

Designing a Book Cover: DIY vs Hiring for Self-publishing Authors

If you’re familiar with the concept of self-publishing, you’re also probably familiar with some of its criticisms. It’s not uncommon for someone to scoff at a self-published book on sight and label it as unprofessional, or a work in progress- even if that isn’t true at all. If you’re planning to self-publish a book, those kinds of reactions might make you nervous. You most likely don’t want to invoke that kind of disdain from potential readers. So, how do you keep an audience open-minded when they can be predisposed to making assumptions about self-published books? Design a professional book cover.

Designing a Book Cover

The key is to make your self-published book look professional at first glance. The old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” is great advice when it comes to the metaphor for how we should treat other people, but when it comes to actual books, people do judge them by their covers. That is why it’s so important to get your cover right. In a world where tens of thousands of new books are self-published annually, there’s no faster way for people to make the snap decision to swipe left or right. Your book cover’s quality needs to reflect the quality of its contents, so you can attract the audience who will enjoy all of your hard work.

When you begin thinking about your cover, there are essentially two options: you can give yourself a DIY project or you can hire a designer to make the cover for you.

You may know yourself well enough to already have an idea of which one will suit you better, but there are pros and cons to both when you’re considering your options for designing a book cover. This is just a quick and dirty guide to helping you make the initial choice.

The DIY Option

This option is more complex. You will need to find a graphics program that suits you- there are plenty out there that are low-cost or free. Some web-based services even provide premade templates to follow that can make the process simpler. Making your own cover will involve a lot more of your time. You will need to handle all of the steps from doing the initial design thumbnails to formatting the image properly for print. On top of that, these things will require research, especially if you’re a total newcomer to digital design. However, there is a positive side- the result will be a lot more cost-effective and it is completely customizable. If you have a strong vision for what you want your cover to be and are willing to do the legwork, this could be a very rewarding option.

Hiring a Designer

The initial step for this option might take a little time, but once you’ve found a designer that fits your budget and style, the rest of the work will fall on them and you can focus on other things. All you need to do is message them, discussing the project and their rates, until you find someone who meets your needs for designing a book cover. Expect to pay a minimum of $750 for an original design that doesn’t follow a template or use stock photos. Despite the downside of being more expensive, this option can save time and stress, leaving you with a more professional, eye-catching book. 

If one of these options interests, you- great! We’ll be going more in-depth into both of them in future blog posts, so keep an eye on this space! Until then, please check out our Not-so-Sexy Side of Book Publishing blog to learn about the technical parts of publishing that will help prevent you from missing out on opportunities.