Helping you determine if bookstore sales is the way you want to go.

Some writers don’t just dream of having their books published, but of having those books sold in traditional bookstores.

As an experienced author and publisher myself, I truly believe that being a published author is within reach of any determined writer. However, selling your books in bookstores, while an admirable goal, is not a course of action I recommend for everyone. Today I’d like to talk about why that is.


Space in a brick-and-mortar bookstore is finite. Each book a bookstore stocks means that they’re not stocking a different book. Competition to get on those shelves is fierce. With all the books, publishers, and authors out there vying for the same space, it can be very, very difficult to lock in bookstore orders. Doing so can require a lot of time, money, and patience, and the return on investment isn’t always worth it.

For example, imagine that you or your publisher approach 100 bookstores. One bookstore agrees to stock two copies of your book, another bookstore agrees to stock 12 copies of your book, and all the other bookstores pass on the opportunity completely. However, let’s say that only 50% of the books sell in the allotted amount of time. That means only selling seven books. In this example, would that be enough for you?

What type of return on investment are you looking for?

Will You Make Money If You Sell Your Book in Bookstores?

As brick-and-mortar businesses, bookstores want to turn a profit. They typically have a lot of overhead to pay and they’re taking a big risk by agreeing to stock your book. As a result, the amount you’ll receive for each book may not be the amount you were hoping for. In fact, 7% is not an unheard-of number. And that’s if the books sell at all. Not every book will receive a prominent place on a bookstore shelf or find a home with a customer before the bookstore wants to try something else.

Bookstores may want to buy books from you at a large discount, but they will expect to be able to return them if they don’t sell. Of course, you or your publisher can try selling those books somewhere else later on, but they will no longer be brand-new books and you won’t be able to sell them at full price. Other bookstores prefer consignment agreements. That’s where you or the publisher provide them with books and they give you a percentage of the book price if the book sells.

However, it’s possible to actually lose money by selling books in a bookstore. I know a publisher who had a well-known independent bookstore accept two copies of a book on consignment, but the bookstore lost both books and did not provide any compensation.

How much money do you want to make, or how much can you afford to lose?


For many authors, having their book sold in bookstores feels like hard proof of being recognized and accepted as a “real” author. Yet, bookstore sales don’t have a monopoly on author recognition. There are many paths at your disposal to enjoy that feeling of recognition and acceptance as an author. Some examples might include: selling a large number of books, receiving greater respect from your family and community, winning an award, being mentioned in the press, speaking in front of groups, signing your books for others at local events and earning money from book sales.

What would be the best indicator of recognition as an author for you?

General vs. Specialty

Even when you get in the door, bookstores that stock a little of everything and cater to general audiences can be riskier for authors who are not as well known yet. For example, let’s say that your book is a title about the British Raj. A particular bookstore agrees to stock your book, but you weren’t told that this bookstore’s science fiction books sell well, while their history books sell very slowly. They might need a book like yours to round out their history selection, but they wouldn’t expect it to sell at the same clip as a comparable science fiction book.

One way around that, however, is to focus on specialty bookstores where your ideal customer is likely to congregate. For example, let’s say that you published a travel book. On the shelf of a travel bookstore would be a better bet than at a bookstore with a wider range of topics. However, there would then be a greater selection of travel books vying for your ideal customer’s attention.

When considering selling your book in a bookstore, it’s wise to think about what type of bookstore you’d sell it in and the advantages and disadvantages each type offers.

Sell Your Book in Bookstores If You Really Want to

Think I’m being a bit of a pessimist? If you have read up until this point and still consider bookstore sales to be your dream, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it. As long as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for you, then selling your book in bookstores can be done.

However, another aspect of selling to bookstores that you’ll need to consider is the role of distributors. Many bookstores only stock books that they can order from established distributors. Often bookstores will not stock self-published titles. Be cautious in raising your expectations about bookstore sales if you have self-published or your publisher doesn’t have a relationship with a distributor.

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors.

For more information, including about DCP’s programs for writers including Writers’ Sprint, Memoir Writing Made Easy, and Aspiring Author to Published Pro, please get in touch at