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What Are Booksellers Seeking to Buy for Stocking Their Shelves?

While Chanticleer Reviews was exhibiting books vetted by our reviewers and writing competitions at several Independent Bookseller Association Trade Shows this September, I was able to observe (a marketing habit of mine) professional book buyers in action. Their traits  were consistent with what they were seeking to fill their shelves. Also, I was able to ask the book buyers what they were looking for in particular to make their buying decisions.

A Sea of Books

Book buyers  “walk the show” rather quickly as they scan for covers that pique their interest enough to stop and inquire. Book covers had, maybe, two or three seconds to catch a book buyers attention.

They do this because this is how most readers (aka customers) shop for books in their bookstores. Most independent book stores carry approximately seven thousand books. Inventory must be refreshed constantly to keep the core clientele coming back and to attract new clients.

Book Buyers with Sell Sheets

TOP TEN OBSERVATIONS of the Independent Booksellers Association Trade Shows (so far)

  1. The book store buyers were there to discover “new finds” for their patrons—not just the New York Times bestselling books. Many said their patrons shop with them to discover new authors.
  2. They want to know what the author is doing to push sales on all fronts (websites, p-o-s, social media, etc.)
  3. Book buyers want to know if the author is reaching out specifically to her targeted audience.
  4. Are authors promoting their books in social media platforms that are targeted for their genres?
  5. Do authors supply point-of-sale promotions (shelf-talkers, shiny award stickers)?
  6. Is the book an award winner? Are there shiny stickers to attract the eyes of the readers? (Yes, I am repeating the bit about shiny stickers.)
  7. Does the cover list review blurbs and endorsements?
  8. Stores are becoming more event oriented. Is the author willing to do an event at bookstores (not just a reading)? Events add value to a title and author brand.
  9. Booksellers LOVE series! They love series and the promise of works to come.
  10. Booksellers can tell the quality of a printed book in a heartbeat and at thirty paces.
    • It is an unspoken tenet that Booksellers do NOT want books printed by CreateSpace/Amazon — primarily because they are not available through the usual distribution channels.
    • Booksellers do NOT want books from certain vanity presses and/or  author services known to be disreputable because of terrible past experiences. Everyone in the business of book selling knows about this unspoken list of disreputable publishing houses.
This Cover Sells Itself


  • Booksellers do not care if a book is traditionally published, Indie published, or small press published. They care if the book will sell itself as it sits on the shelf–will the cover reach out to the targeted audience and pique interest? Booksellers want to know what the author/publisher is doing and will do to create book buzz.
  • Booksellers do want to offer independently published books that have been vetted, but unless the authors are  local community members, they want the books to come through the typical distribution channels.
Book Buyers Asking Questions about Carrying Indie Books while another book buyer is reading the back cover of one of the books in the Chanticleer Collection.

However, they do care about:

  • Covers — covers must be compelling, perfect, targeted, and sell the book by itself while sitting on a shelf. The cover must convey:  Genre, Sub-genre, time period, mood (humorous, scary, romantic, light reading, intense, etc.), age appropriateness, targeted audience, tone, and the TITLE! The cover must convey ALL of this information in seconds.
  • Professional Reviews (Editorial Reviews)
  • Professional Editing
  • Availablility through traditional distribution channels (Baker Taylor, Ingram Spark, etc.)
  • Professional Formatting, Typography, and Graphic Design and Layout
  • Conventional credit terms that are available through the distributor.
  • Are the books returnable to the distributor?
  • A minimum of 40 percent discount off retail price
  • Ease and reliability of re-ordering from a stable supplier/distributor/publisher in to restock a bestselling book quickly
Simon & Schuster Book Covers

What Independent Booksellers do care about is meeting their sales goals so that they can continue as a going-concern (staying open and in business). To do this, they must keep their clientele coming back by offering unique books and great “discoveries,” hosting events, and providing excellent service. 


At each show, I met NEW INDIE bookstore owners who have just opened their stores in the past six months or were opening in November for the upcoming holiday season. All the bookstore  owners told me that they were bringing in approximately $75,000 to $100,000 (in wholesale dollars) of books to initially stock their shelves.

Denver MPIBA Show – Book Buyers Cruising the Show

Independent Booksellers do care about the quality of the books (content, cover, editing, formatting, and design) that they stock because the books reflect the quality of the bookstore.

AND, one more time, booksellers care the most about the cover (front, back, spine, dust jacket) which sells the book by attracting the targeted audience, acting as a point-of-sale promotion, and getting the book in the reader’s hands.

NEVER underestimate the power of the cover–especially for first time authors. The cover of the first book will sell it, and then is the content that will sell the second book.

Denver MPIBA Show – Book Buyers Cruising the Show


  • Either the cover attracted the bookseller to pick it up and check it out, OR the book did not exist — books with less than stellar covers seemed as if they were invisible or just did not exist.
  • The cover must convey the genre, sub-genre, tone, mood, and be compelling to its targeted marketin a glance.
  • There must not be any question from the cover as to whether or not the book is  a mystery, sci-fi, thriller, romance, etc. If there is any question as to its targeted readership—it is a pass to the book buyer.

In Closing

I am proud to say that the booksellers were impressed that the Chanticleer Reviews team members staffing the booth knew so much about the books that we were exhibiting and the authors.  They found the author sheets given to them to take back to their offices very professional for Indie authors. They also were pleased to know that the titles were available in our printed and online catalogs, and that each and every book we were representing was vetted by us—Chanticleer Reviews—either with a top Chanticleer review that they could read and/or that the books were award winners in the Chanticleer International Writing  Competitions.

Kiffer Brown Hand-selling the Chanticleer Reviews Collection

Only books that received a four or five star Chanticleer Review and/or have been awarded a First in Category Award in the Chanticleer Reviews Writing Competitions are eligible for exhibition at the Chanticleer Reviews trade show booths for Booksellers and Librarians.  If your book has received a coveted four or five star review from Chanticleer or was Short-Listed in the Chanticleer International  Book Awards, it will be eligible to participate in Chanticleer’s exclusive trade show representation service.

This post originally appeared on the Chanticleer blog:

Author Icon for archived authors #3
Kiffer Brown

Chanticleer Reviews was founded in 2011 as a response to the growing need for a company invested in the success of authors, whether they were independently or traditionally published.

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