Monday, June 23, 2014

Think Outside the Bookstore

When my first book, Cowgirl Dreams, was published, I was shocked and surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily sell books in bookstores.  That just doesn’t seem logical, does it?

Well, it does, if you think about it.  Bookstores shelve thousands of books.  Customers have their favorite well-known authors and usually they go in specifically to purchase that particular author.  Some may browse and run across your book and be intrigued enough to buy it, but unless your name is John Grisham or Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts, don’t count on it.

Even when I put on a reading and PowerPoint presentation one time at a local independent bookstore, I had an audience of about twenty people, but I sold two only books.

Seems daunting, doesn’t it?  Where do you sell books, if not in bookstores?

Since my novels are based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos, I look for any store or event where people might be interested in rodeo, horses, ranch life, and cowgirls.  My very first signing was at a local Farmers Co-op store, where they sell feed, farm supplies, and some gift items.  It was around Christmastime, they featured a “customer appreciation day,” and Santa was there.  I sold about 20 books in three or four hours.

Other venues I’ve tried:
  • I’ve set up a table outside a western wear store.
  • I’ve attended an event for National Cowboy Day at another farm supply store.
  • Rodeos and horse shows.
  • I’ve given talks to local organizations—libraries, museums, service groups such as Soroptimists or Rotary.  These service-type organizations are always looking for speakers.
  • Farmers markets.  Many will allow crafts and other items besides fruits and veggies.
  • Arts and crafts fairs around the holidays are good for selling books.
  • Since I teach classes on writing, I give workshops.
  • I was invited to participate in a “Storytelling Roundup” event in Cut Bank, Montana, where my grandparents lived, and gave workshops in schools. 
  • When my non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! comes out in September, I have a presentation and launch party scheduled at a local western history museum. 
What is your book about?  What are some sub-themes?  If you have a mystery but your main character raises show dogs, look for stores and venues that cater to dog people.  Is your character in your thriller a gourmet cook?  See if you can set up a signing at a kitchen store.  Where is the setting of your book?  If possible, go to that town.  Find organizations or places that might be interested in subject matter in your book.  Is there a specific landmark mentioned, a well-known bar or restaurant, a university, Alcoholics Anonymous or the Society for Retired Train Conductors?

To paraphrase the old cliché, “think outside the bookstore.”  And have fun!

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


  1. I think it's much easier to sell cozies and lighter mysteries than it is to sell darker ones, especially if there's language or sex. Too many people are offended by language even though cops don't usually say, oh darn, and stores don't want to be put in the position of defending their merchandise. Maybe in large cities it's easier, but not in small town South.

  2. I agree. Those are great places to sell your books!

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  4. Terrific advice! I've seen authors at local home and garden shows, craft fairs, etc. Get a group of authors, or your critique group, together. It will be more fun, garner more attention, and give a greater selection. There are many book events around the country. Consider getting a table together and go on a road trip. There are bound to be some close to you. There are even more opportunities if you can travel. Maybe we could do more articles on this topic. Hints for a successful event and a list of the different events around the country.

  5. Great suggestions, although the cost factor and ROI have to be considered as well. What's your goal? Selling books (you'll likely be disappointed) or meeting people and getting your name out? To me, that's probably the mental approach to take when you talk to 20 people but sell only 2 books.

  6. I saw Mike Meyer's movie 'Supermensch' over the weekend ... the story of uber showbiz manager, Shep Gordon. I walked out with two very important 'Aha's': Selling books, like selling any kind of entertainment, is all about promotion and I know absolutely nothing about promotion ... and anything I thought I knew is wrong.

  7. Heidi: You've given terrific advice! My first book, The Easter Egg Murder found a home at a very small, independent book store in Old Town Albuquerque which specializes in books about New Mexico. Since my story is based on a real-life unsolved murder from 1949, they keep it in stock. However, that's the only bookstore I can count on. Believe it or not, I've sold lots of my books at Amateur Radio events. My husband and I are both 'hams' and the book says nothing about that hobby. But hams are a friendly bunch and like to buy a book written by someone in the hobby. I'm thinking after I finish my second book, I'll try to have Amateur Radio involved some way in the mystery!

  8. I love this post, Heidi. Not a marketer by any stretch of the imagination, I need all the ideas I can gather -- and this article goes straight to the top of my list.

  9. You have offered up some great ideas here!

  10. Thank you all for your comments and ideas. My husband was having surgery yesterday, so I was late in chiming in.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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