Getting Your Book on a Retail Shelf

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Sometimes there is nothing more gratifying for an author than to walk into their neighborhood bookstore and see their own blood, sweat, and tears resting on the shelf. While there is no guarantee that your book will appear in “brick and mortar” bookstores, these tips and suggestions will certainly put your book on the right track for consideration.


First things first, your book needs an ISBN. Whether you decide to register for one on your own through an ISBN agency such as Bowker ( or opt for a free Lulu-owned ISBN, this number will be the key identifier for your book and is also a requirement for the next tip.

globalREACH Distribution

globalReach distribution is essential for any author looking to increase their readership in stores because it enables your book to be available through the wholesaler, Ingram Book Company, which is the preferred go-between of most big-name retailers.

Go Local

Try visiting your local, independent bookstore (like Quail Ridge Books here in Raleigh) to see if there would be any interest in carrying your book. Typically, these retailers feel more open to supporting the work of homegrown authors. It may even sweeten the deal if you already have buyers lined up.

If you’ve tried and tried and still haven’t made the leap into bookstores, don’t feel discouraged. According to Book Industry Study Group, less than 40% of books are purchased in actual stores versus online. And the Lulu Marketplace is home to over 2.5 million unique visitors – that’s a lot of folks just itching to discover your remarkable work.

11 thoughts on “Getting Your Book on a Retail Shelf”

  1. I have had no sales at all from lulu, while i enjoyed publishing my own book greatly, I do not seem to be able to market. ie. not my forte… I have had other publishers offering deals etc. but if i had money to begin with i would have gone to a traditional publishing house.
    Just feeling a bit discouraged thanks Lee

  2. Patricia Della-Piana

    I HOPE you have more than 2.5 unique visitors to Lulu!!!
    I’m sure you meant 2.5 thousand or 2.5 million, but even then, most of those visitors are cruising through Lulu for any number of reasons, and may not have anything to do with purchasing a book – mine or anyone’s.
    I’ve followed all the suggestions in this little blog, and still have no brick and mortar shelves offering my books, but it has to do with my subject matter, which is not necessarily conducive to local book stores in my area. I have to deal with a niche market, and that spreads me all over the country (the world, in fact). Sure would like to see more explicit suggestions for breaking into a niche market.

  3. I spoke to the local newspaper first and when I knew the article would be going into print visited my local Waterstones. Both branches ordered copies and sold out following the articles publication, leading to more orders through Lulu Global Reach distribution.

  4. My understanding is that few bookstores will carry a POD book because most PODs (including Lulu, if I understand correctly) do not offer the same terms for returns (if they’re allowed at all) as a traditional publisher offers. One exception I’ve heard of is Lightning Source.
    A bookstore is less likely to take a risk on a book by a self-published author if they know they’re stuck with the book, whether it sells or not.

    1. Karen,
      That is actually a great point to raise in that an author should negotiate the terms of return with any retail outlet they sell to/thru. One of Lulu’s many print vendors is Lightning Source.

  5. Thanks for the blog post Cary. If I may, I’d just like to add, that if you’re like me and utterly crap at selling or promoting yourself in person to others, get someone else to do it for you! Your partner, family, friends, your kids… etc. And always follow up a couple of weeks later on any book you give away. Wrt stores stocking POD books, I’m forever the optimist and feel that times are a changing. Definitely negotiate at your discretion if you feel you have to, but don’t sell your soul. I have worked in managerial retail and have ordered stock from small, but well known book wholesalers who DO NOT accept returns, even on traditional print titles, let alone POD. The key, I believe, is your audience. If enough of the public (yes, I’m talking in terms of thousands) buy your book and rave about it, the stores will want to stock it. Sell to your audience… and give them something to rave about!

  6. I can certainly understand Lee Green’s frustrations, as I have not sold many books over the last two years. I am disabled and don’t have much money so got three websites so people can learn of my books and who I am. As someone who used to perform music professionally, the only way people buy what you sell is by “exposure.” The more the better.

  7. Julius Jatau Jatson

    This is the number issued to me by Lulu for about two years now but I do not know the status of my novel: 978-0-557-17272-6
    Please help me

  8. Julius Jatau Jatson

    I copy and paste the e-mail received from Lulu for your kind help please>
    Dear Julius Jatau Jatson,
    An ISBN has been assigned to your book
    ISBN #: 978-0-557-17272-6
    Content ID: 7734054
    Next Steps:
    Add your ISBN to the copyright page of your book.
    If you design and upload your own book cover, add your ISBN to the back cover of your design. If you use Lulu’s cover design tool, we will add your ISBN to the back cover automatically.
    Check out our distribution requirements and format your book accordingly.
    Once you’ve published your book, get ExtendedReach (it’s free!) or purchase GlobalReach distribution – you must purchase a distribution service for your book to be listed in major bibliographic databases.
    Upon purchasing a distribution service, you will receive instructions on submitting your book for distribution.

  9. Steven Steinberg

    My university bookstore has agreed to sell my book. What is the best way to have them work with Lulu? or me?
    How do we price the book?
    Just FYI—Lulu provided the ISBN and the book will be available on Amazon mid-Feb, I think.
    I’d appreciate any info.

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