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How to sell your book


So you have a book - it's written, it's designed, it's printed and it's registered. You should see it beginning to appear on the online bookshops. Try amazon or some of the others. You can search using your new ISBN!

Amazon have several services available to help the publisher. Start with their Publishers Guide which will explain how to get your book listed on, much of which will be useful for other online bookshops.

They will also encourage you to join their Advantage programme, which allows you to send books direct to at a massive discount - currently 60% off the cover price but it does have advantages. The main one is that your book will show as 'In Stock' and will ship within 24 hours. I can't find any serious other advantages and the main disadvantage is the amount of discount they insist on. However, it provides a lot of useful information for the self publisher and will stand you in good stead when it comes to getting information about your book onto other websites.

You now need to visit all the other web based bookshops and add 'Author Comments' and update the data they have with your own, as required. You may also want to add photos. Each has it's own way of doing this - you just need to click on the various help buttons on the pages that contain your book info.

Whitaker TeleOrdering service

Before we go about the business of getting your book into the bookshops we need to give them a way to order from you. Of course you have the option of getting it into a distributor or wholesaler but you can say goodbye to any profit and defeat the whole object of the exercise.

The answer, of course, is to handle the distribution yourself.

In the UK there is a nifty system for bookshops to order online through a service operated by Whitakers called TeleOrdering. They act as a clearing house for orders and each night - send orders from all and sundry bookshops to all and sundry suppliers. Of which you need to be the one for your book. It's an excellent system and makes it easy for shops to order and for you to get orders. And the best bit? It's free!

So now I've sold you on the Whitaker TeleOrdering system you need to register. You ought, at this stage, to give yourself a name. OK I know you have the name your parents gave you, but if you want to act like a publisher - you ought to sound like one! Once you have made up your name (check it's not already in use and owned by some large company that's likely to sue you first - the web is a good resource for that), you can go and register with Whitaker. Contact details can be found below.

Whitaker will fax the orders or mail the orders through to you. If you don't have a fax machine there are services on the web which will give you one and send the faxes as emails.

The Bookshops

Right and now for the hard bit. Getting your book into the shops. Most large bookshops now insist that you go through their head offices to get an account with them. You generally need an account in order to supply them. This sets up your account details - your publishing name, contact details, terms and conditions of sale and so on. Without an account it's pretty hard to supply them at all.

Waterstones used to allow you to sign up with a local shop but that practice seems to have stopped now with them wanting to reduce the number of suppliers they deal with.

Smiths insist you go through their head office and so do Books etc. All contact details are below.

Before you get on the phone, you need to prepare some "Advance Information". This is simply a single A4 page describing your book, just like you did earlier with the Bibliographic data for the online stores. This time, though, you need to make it look good, include a picture of the cover, add the groovy words from the back cover and provide the relevant ordering info. You can do all this on your general household PC.

The order of events is as follows:

  • Call the head office of the book chain
  • Ask for the buyer for your book type (e.g. humour)
  • Make sure you get the name, direct line and email address of that person if unavailable
  • Tell the buyer that you are looking to place your title in their chain and want details of how to do so.
  • You'll probably be asked for a copy of the book for them to look at
  • You may well be palmed off with some reason why they don't have time to talk to you - don't be put off
    • Ask for a good time to call back if needed
    • Offer to send a copy for them to look at
    • Offer to send 'advance information'
    • Explain you have already sold 10,000 from your own website (or whatever is relevant)
    • Ask for their email address so you can send more info (this will come in handy later)
  • If at first you don't succeed - try again
  • If you managed to send a copy or advance information, call back in a week as a follow up
  • If the buyer is not interested - ask what other routes there are to supply - e.g. can local store managers buy direct?

This can be disheartening work but it has to be done. Use all the tactics you can think of to get the buyer to either look at your book or suggest other routes to supply.

If the large chains are hard work then you can start at the other end of the scale - the local bookshops. In fact you might want to start with your local bookshop. Ask for the manager, explain you are a local publisher then go through the same conversation that is laid out above.

Remember to be professional - have a copy of the book to leave, some advance information, your contact details - a business card made on your PC will do. Avoid looking scruffy, taking your stuff in a carrier bag or worse still, not being prepared at all. Don't forget a paper and pen as you may need to write stuff down.

On the assumption you manage to get someone to take some books you'll need to be able to come up with the terms and conditions. The first few times you'll get ripped off as the manager takes advantage of your obvious newness to the trade, discomfort and lack of experience.

Be ready with the discount - most shops will settle for 30% off but they'll start at more like 50% off. You need to negotiate and you'll end up somewhere between 33-40%. This would be OK. They will also expect Sale or Return. This is a misused and abused term which these days seems to mean that if at any point before they die, they decide to return the books, they can! You'll probably have to agree to sale or return but you may be able to convince them to go FIRM SALE - i.e. no returns, in return for a slightly larger discount.

The other bargaining tool is the credit terms. Most bookshops will go with 30 days. This usually means they will pay you at the end of the month following the one you sold them the books in.

Basically you are aiming for:

  • 30% discount
  • Firm Sale
  • 30 days credit

The bookshop will be looking for:

  • 40-50% discount
  • Sale or return
  • 60 days credit

Most often you should be able to settle on 30-40%, SOR and 30 days. More than this and you have been fleeced! And I'd recommend a 'negotiation skills' class!

So you settle on a deal - now you need to provide the books and an invoice.


Parcelforce provide a useful service for delivery of books. It is pricey but available through your local Post Office. Once your volumes are starting to pick up - call them direct and set up an account. You can negotiate prices with them and get them to collect from you. You’ll end up paying less for a 48 hour service than you do at the Post Office for their standard service - which can take up to 4 weeks at Christmas time.


Some larger book shops will provide you with a template for their invoices. I used one from Waterstones and it has stood me in good stead for all chains so far. Here is an example. If you are really clever you will be able to get your database to make these for you as you enter your order details but I do it manually!


An alternative to supplying bookshops direct is to get your books into the wholesalers, who already supply the bookshops and won't have your problems with getting an account. You can then market the book direct to the shops but they will buy from the Wholesalers.

The two main Wholesalers in the UK are Bertrams and Gardners. The normal terms for these guys are pretty nasty - 90 days credit and 55% off the list price. These are not very negotiable, particularly for the small publisher. But it may be your only way into the main bookshops.


Distributors are different to Wholesalers. They tend to take total control of your books, along with exclusive rights, which prevent you from selling or marketing it yourself. The upside is that they have a professional team of people who will create, market and sell your book to all the bookshops they have access to - more than you! Of course for all this they take a huge cut and leave you with little for yourself. And they can be choosey about the titles they take. They are not really ideal for the small self publisher.

Useful Links

Useful contacts

Blackwells UK Limited
50 Broad Street
Tel: 01865-792792
Fax: 01865-790646

Books etc
122 Charing Cross Rd
Tel: 020 7379 7313
Fax: 020 7836 0373

Borders (UK) Ltd
122 Charing Cross Road
Tel: 020-7379-7313
Fax: 020-7836-0373

Ottakers Plc
Rougemont House
Rougemont Close
Manor Road
Tel: 01722-428500
Fax: 01722-428501

12-14 Long Acre
Tel: 020-7836-1321
Fax: 020-7836-0189

Waterstone's Capital Court
Capital Interchange Way
Tel: 020-742-3800
Fax: 020-742-0215

WH Smith Head Office
Tel: 01793-616161

Whitaker TeleOrdering
Woolmead House
Bear Lane
Tel: 01252-742542
Fax: 01252-742501

Case Study

Once I got my ISBN sorted out I was also issued a Publisher Key. This is part of the ISBN number and is required by Whitakers to set up the TeleOrdering. You should also ask them for a Mnemonic as this is what shops like Books Etc use on their computer system to link to Whitakers. My key is 9536968 and my mnemonic is POT. The company I have registered is called Effingpot Productions, but that's another story.

I bought a cheap fax machine and set up a second BT line so that Whitakers and other bookshops can fax me. It's worth having a fax as all publisher info will expect a fax number and it does get used. Before I had a real fax I set up a US based fax number that converts faxes into emails that are sent as an attachment. It worked but made the process somewhat cumbersome.

I was lucky with Waterstones as I set up an account before they cracked down on small suppliers. It would be worth asking the larger shops what they recommend for small publishers if they give you a hard time. You do need to be persistent. With Books etc I spoke to the main buyer about three times and in the end pleaded with her to give a small publisher a break in life. That's what did it - I can still remember her (she sounded like Roz from Monsters Inc) saying in that slow, grating voice ... 'OK I'll give your little book a try'. That was three years ago and now I have an account I steer well away from head office!!

I gave up with WH Smiths in the High Street. I did all the right things, got the right buyer, had a chat, sent him a book and called back. He said he had looked at it carefully and given it full consideration and that he would not take it. After selling 20,000 copies I tried again but he still was not interested.

Interestingly though, his colleague in WH Smith Travel Retail likes the book and sells lots of them at their railway station and airport shops.

I kept away from wholesale as I thought they were an expensive option. Whilst I had no contract with them the only thing they could do if they got orders from bookshops was use a pro-forma system to order from me. This is great as it means they send me an order, I send them an invoice at much reduced discounts - I gave 25% and charged postage. They pay and THEN you send the books. The disadvantage is that you don't know if you are losing orders because they do not stock your book.

So recently I set up an account with Gardners - I managed to haggle the discount down a little but they would not move on the 90 day terms. The main reason I did this was because Hammicks only seem to order from them, some other bookshops rely on them and I wanted to see what happened to the pro-forma orders from Bertrams (they stopped).

So far Gardners are selling it quite well and let you see the stock level on their website so you can see how well they are going.

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