Insights on What Are Booksellers Looking for in a Non-Fiction Book
Through three seasons every year, Winter, Spring and Fall, our sales reps visit booksellers (or, during COVID, Zoom with them) to sell them the next season’s offerings. They show book covers, sample text, and for illustrated books, some interiors—and they often have less than a minute to spend on each title.
So, in that minute, what are the key things booksellers are considering when choosing to stock a book on their shelves or online?
1) Author’s Past Sales History: while an author’s past history does not necessarily indicate how their next book will do, it is certainly an important piece of data. For that reason, at the beginning first-time authors may have a harder time getting their books stocked on store shelves and may need to focus their attention on online sales to establish themselves. For an author with a strong past sales history, it is often not a question of whether to stock the book, but of how many to get.
2) Comparative titles: How have similar books sold? The sales rep will point out other books that have done well with the same target audience to show that, yes, this book will appeal to that group, as other books have done.
3) Differentiation: Originality is a very good selling point, and it really helps to offer a work that looks at its subject in a new light. Is this book different from what has gone before?
4) Great cover and design: You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but poorly designed covers really do hurt sales. As such they affect how a bookseller will respond to a book. A great cover means the book will at least be noticed, and that is the first step in getting a customer to buy it. Covers also need to look good online in thumbnail form. For illustrated books, like art, architecture, or cookbooks, the interior design is especially important (though it’s also important with non-illustrated books). Publishers invest a lot of resources to get good photography and reproductions. Good design makes a huge difference in how a book is received by the public, and by the bookseller.
5) Social Media: Booksellers want to know what an author’s reach is with their public, and for good or ill, the number of social media followers is a metric that they look at closely. With the shrinking of book media over the past two decades, it is enormously helpful for an author to have a strong social media presence.
6) Endorsements: Getting a great blurb from a relevant author or expert is very helpful. It should appear prominently on the book, in order to influence how the book is perceived by both booksellers and the public.
7) Marketing Plan: Booksellers want to know the publisher and the author are going to expend energy on marketing and publicity. Authors with a track record of strong interviews or regular media appearances will increase their chance of success and this will be shown to the bookseller during the sales rep’s presentation.
By Executive VP Sales and Distribution Richard Nadeau.