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  • Vince Font

Brownies, Books, and Egos: Bookstores vs. Online Sales

As an author, your ultimate goal is to sell books. But will being on the shelf of a big retailer like Barnes & Noble actually help you achieve that? Or is it just an ego thing?

I’ve heard it said that books are like brownies. If you’re a baker, you don’t hide your goods in the kitchen. You put them on display at the front window of your store and watch the hungry masses stagger in with tongues and wallets out.

The same goes for books. If you want people to see your book, you have to get it on display at a bookstore. The bigger the bookstore, the better the visibility. Right? Well . . . not exactly.

Let’s start with the analogy. Books, with very few exceptions, are rarely brownies. And brownies, as far as I know, are never books.

Then there’s this: Brownies have a short shelf life. If you’ve ever bitten into a twenty-year-old brownie and survived, you’ll probably attest to this. Books, on the other hand, stay fresh forever. A good book, no matter how old, will always go down smoothly—sometimes best with coffee or red wine, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Now let’s talk about the issue of visibility. Ask yourself this question. If you’re successful in getting your book into a local Barnes & Noble, how many copies do you think they will stock? Four? Five? Of those, how many can you expect to sell? Even if the bookstore sells all copies and orders another half dozen, your reach will still be extremely limited.

Which brings us to honesty time. Getting your book displayed on the shelf of a bookstore is not going to generate a ton of sales. But when you make your book available online, the sky’s the limit. It can be seen, ordered, and read by people everywhere.

Crafting a compelling book description will capture people’s interest, and by building effective keywords into your book listing, you can catch the attention of casual browsers. If your book sells well, Amazon and other online booksellers may place it alongside similar titles in your category, exposing your book to an even bigger audience.

It doesn’t end there. By taking advantage of some of the marketing and advertising tools available to self-published writers today, you can gain visibility with a virtually limitless audience. It’s the kind of exposure writers thirty years ago could only dream about. When anyone anywhere in the world can find your book and have it delivered to their doorstep, you stand the chance of selling lots of books. I don’t just mean five or six a month. I mean thousands. Maybe even more.

This isn’t something you can accomplish by getting your book into a Barnes & Noble retail store, even if you somehow manage to gain a coveted spot on their list of approved titles. Being in a mainstream bookstore will do very little for you other than to give you a feeling of accomplishment. I say save your energy and move on.

Rather than pouring your efforts into gaining admission to the cool kids’ club, you should be focusing on your book’s online presence. If your book is already available for purchase on Amazon, that’s a great start, but it’s by no means everything. Build a website where people can go to read more about your book, and include links to your Amazon listing on the main page of your website. Don’t make it hard for readers to find and buy your book. Make it so easy that it practically buys itself.

Some authors sell autographed copies direct from their website. This can earn you a bit more money than if you were to make a sale through Amazon because they won’t take their standard 60 percent share. But keep in mind that direct sales don’t increase your book’s online sales rank. The great benefit of making sales through a high-profile site like Amazon is that your book rises in visibility with every sale made, thus attracting the eye of more potential readers.

Social media can also be a very powerful tool for promotion, but only when it’s done right. If you use social media to spread the word about your book, avoid blasting your friends and followers with links on where to buy. Instead, create engaging posts that will pique people’s interest.

Being a successful author isn’t like Field of Dreams. “If you build it, he will come” doesn’t translate to “If you write it, they will read.” You have to take it upon yourself to give your book what it needs to be seen. It may be a wonderful feeling to walk into a bookstore to see your own creation on the shelves, but a visible online presence is worth far more than that.

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