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Selling Books Outside the Bookstore

Selling Books Outside the Bookstore
by Fern Reiss, CEO,

Bookstores are terrible places to sell books.

The margins are low--you gross less than $4.50 on every $10 book. You get crummy display space—just the spine of your book shows. And let’s face it—the competition is awful.

But you can sell thousands of books each year to non-bookstore outlets. Here’s how:

First of all, think audience and think niche. Whatever the topic of your book, the audience hangs out in places other than bookstores. So think about that audience, and think about where they’re hanging out. If you have a golf book, think golf courses and golf pro shops. If you have a golden retriever book, think pet stores and dog shows. Any venue that isn’t a bookstore is a great place to sell books—because you can display your books as you like, get a larger cut of the retail price, and best of all, you’re often the only book!

So take your book to the sci fi convention…the firemen’s ball…the ski shop…the writing convention. Bring it anywhere there might be an audience for it. And see how well it will sell in markets that aren’t bookstores.

Second, expand this idea to consider online sales. Your audience probably hangs out somewhere in cyberspace as well. Think about where those places are. Think about what listserves they are reading, in what online discussion groups they are participating, which websites they peruse.

And then make contact. Participate in the lists and discussion groups yourself. Add meaningful content. Don’t be blatant about selling your book—people are turned off by blatant sales on lists. But always include your book title under your signature, as well as your website or contact information. And when you find a website that appeals to your audience, go after it actively. Write to the webmaster, and ask that they link to your website. Ask if they would be interested in selling your book, or linking to it through Amazon if they have an affiliate program. Find out if you can contribute content to their site (along with a mention of your book, of course!) It’s amazing how effective this can be.

Third, think about building reality into your book. (This is especially successful for novels, which can be particularly difficult to market.) Put in real place names, real restaurants, real hotels, real associations, real websites and organizations. And then market your book to those venues. If your book mentions the local neighborhood Italian restaurant, try asking the owner if she’d like to sell copies at the register. If it mentions a real association, find out if they’d want to consider a quantity purchase for their members. If it mentions a corporation, find out if they’d like you to give a talk—and then sell your books at the back of the room. These are all possibilities, and they all pay better than bookstore sales.

My latest books, The Publishing Game series, were all written at my local Seattle’s Best Coffee. (None of my children live there, so it’s my favorite place to get real work done.) Because they were so nice to me while I was writing the books, I mentioned the Seattle’s Best Coffee staff in my dedication. When the books were published, I brought them in as a thank you, and to show the staff (who had watched me chugging mochas for months, in a booth that I probably should have been paying rent on.) The books were left sitting behind the counter for a few days, and the next time I came in the manager asked me if they could sell the books in Seattle’s. “So many people have come in asking to buy them,” she noted.

At the local bookstore, they only stock one or two of each of my books. They shelve them spine out. They pay me 45%.

At Seattle’s Best Coffee, they stock ten copies of each of the three books. They shelve them attractively on book stands and in carefully arranged stacks—they’re the only books in the store, so they stand out next to the coffee paraphernalia. And they pay me 75%.

Guess where I’d rather be selling my books?

So think about audience, think about niche, think about including reality in your books. And if you want to chat more, you know where to find me. I’m in the corner booth at Seattle’s Best Coffee.


Fern Reiss is CEO of ( and ( and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books.  She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers ( providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at  Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at

Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss


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