Congratulations, you’re published! But how can you get your books on shelves where people can see them?

Maybe you lucked out and got published with a house that has a distributor agreement; but that’s not going to get you in all stores or libraries, especially if the person in charge of ordering doesn’t know you exist. They don’t order three copies of everything, after all — or even just one. So is it worth it to talk to stores and libraries?

The short version is, yes, it is. The worst they can do is say no.

Sure, rejection is never fun. I once inquired at a store on a small publisher’s behalf and the manager all but laughed in my face. I use that story to motivate people, though, because getting discouraged means you never sell anything. Those rejections can’t harm you if you don’t let them, so don’t give them that power. If they say no, then nothing’s changed; your books weren’t on those shelves before, so you’ve lost nothing.

Location, Location, Location

It’s important to keep a few things in mind, though. First, even independent facilities may have a distributor agreement. They may not be able to order from an individual author. Libraries are the same way, and in fact often use the same distributors as booksellers. Some libraries will accept donations from anyone, others from no one; some will only accept it if there’s something they’re lacking, so it’s also worth asking if they need more of your genre.

If they do accept non-distributed books, it’s also worth checking if they have a Local Author and/or Local Fiction section. Sometimes people will check out local authors for their own sake, especially if they write about topics important to the area. Alternatively, if you set something in an area or mention a local hero, then it may be of interest to locals even if you’re not one yourself. It’s more likely for romance, mystery, historical, and contemporary books, but some genres may be of more interest than others; an urban fantasy set in a city with the right kind of details can sell pretty decently in that city. And of course, westerns are a bit more popular in Old West states and/or regions with a similar culture.

For example, in Texas, “Texas Author” can be a good selling point anywhere in the state, and anything that narrows it down tends to have a slight bump in that region. In my little corner, there was a historical novel about WWII that had a brief bout of success because of a cameo from a real-life local boy (then 102 years young) with a sizeable amount of great-grandchildren running around. Things like this aren’t going to be worth going out of your way to include in a book, but if you already have it, it’s worth a bit of effort to see if locals would like it.

Another example would be an alternate history I read that takes place in a very different Shenandoah Valley. There’s a description of the capitol of the empire and I immediately recognized it as a place I’d spent a considerable amount of time in: Front Royal, VA. Were I involved in marketing for the publisher, I’d be contacting the two bookstores — both of them combination new/used stores — in the town and asking if they’d like to stock signed copies.

This doesn’t have to be just the author or publisher, either. Supporting favorite or fellow authors by recommending them to local booksellers is usually worth the effort. Then you’re not a salesman; you’re making recommendations and offering to put them in touch with the author or publisher in some way. People might be guarded against direct sales attempts, but are usually more open to that kind of an approach. Enthusiastic fans who’ve already bought the book probably won’t buy another copy of the same book . . . but that kind of goodwill will generally secure future sales from that fan, plus other fans who get told about it, plus direct sales on the new title.

Author Was Here

When an author does get a book in the store like this, it’s helpful to not just sign the work but also put in a custom bookmark or business card (or a business bookmark) with website and series information on it. Bookmarks are often appreciated and can of course move on to other titles; they also make the book stand out on the shelf if the bookmark is visible.

If you’re an author who has a decent chance of walking in a bookstore and finding your book on the shelf, always present identification to a manager and offer to sign your books. Announce any you sign on your social media, with a photo of the shelf or stack if you can. Keep a stack of bookmarks with you for such occasions, too.

If it’s a library, they may not want you to leave the bookmarks just because of confusion over whether someone who checks out the book is expected to return it. A signed copy may still be appreciated, though, especially if it’s a direct donation. In that case, sign it as “Donated to [Library] by the Author on X Date — [scribble]”; maybe with a “thanks for reading” as well. If you’re signing a stack or some bookplates for a donation by your publisher, replace “author” with “publisher.”

You may want to also carry around some author stickers, such as “Autographed by the Author” or “Local Author.” (Please note these are Amazon Affiliate links.)

Hospital Donations

One thing that many authors and publishers forget as well is that public libraries aren’t the only places that may accept your donation. Hospital libraries may want them as well, especially children’s hospitals. Even if your book isn’t smack dab in a younger-than-adult market, if it’s still appropriate for family reading consider donating it anyway. Many of those children have had to grow up fast . . . and the parents with them may need a good read too.

Nothing’s guaranteed, but it’s worth trying — for yourself, a friend, or an author you look up to. The worst they can do is say no; but you might just succeed for very little effort.