How to Sell Books to Gift Shops and Specialty Retailers

Giftshop_The Greenery Nursery and Garden Shop_Flickrby Dana Lynn Smith

Bookstores are the traditional place to sell books, but other potential retail markets include small independently owned gift and specialty shops, national and regional chain stores, and specialty online stores.

One advantage of selling books through gift and specialty stores is that there is usually little competition from other books. And retailers have the opportunity to cross-promote your book with related items.

Look for retailers that are a good fit for your particular book and don't be afraid to think outside the box.

Where to Sell Books

•  Cookbooks in kitchen shops, gift shops, specialty food stores, and upscale grocery stores

•  Children's books in toy stores and the gift shops of children's and science museums

•  Gardening books at gardening centers, gift shops, and botanical gardens

•  Chic lit and gift books in clothing boutiques

•  Travel guides and regional titles in hotel gift shops, tourist attractions, RV parks, gift shops, chambers of commerce and visitor centers.

•  Health, diet, and exercise books in fitness centers, pharmacies, and beauty salons

•  Inspirational and gift books in hospital gift shops

•  Golfing books in golf pro shops and sporting goods stores

•  Home decorating books in gift shops and home décor stores

"First of all, you have to have a quality product that is conducive to the gift market," advises Max Davis, the author of 15 books. "The book I had the most success with was Never Stick Your Tongue Out At Mama & Other Life Transforming Revelations. I sold about 100,000 copies to gift shops," he says.

"I can’t stress enough that you must have a good looking product with a title that catches people. A lot of self-publishers produce material that is not well done and then wonder why it won’t sell. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you sure can sell or not sell a bunch by its cover! The cover and title are critical," Max adds.

While nonfiction books are usually easier to place in gift and specialty shops, fiction can also be sold successfully. For example, book marketing expert Tony Eldridge has sold his action/adventure novel, The Samson Effect, to a variety of retailers, including a gas station. 

"Authors think fiction is hard to sell to alternative venues. That’s because they don’t have their marketing bonnets on," says Carolyn Howard-Johnson, an author and book marketing expert who also has decades of experience as a gift shop owner. "The trick is to consider the angles in the story. My first novel, This Is the Place, sold well in airport gift shops throughout the U.S. just before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, because the story was set in Salt Lake City."

"The setting of the novel is important, but there may be other elements that will appeal to certain kinds of shops. A story about a woman who makes it in fashion might sell in clothing boutiques. A story about a woman who develops a miracle face cream might do well at Body Works kinds of shops," adds Carolyn.

Selling to Hospital Gift Shops

Hospital gift shops can be a good place to sell more books. People visiting friends or relatives in the hospital are looking for something to read or for a gift to cheer their loved one. Hospital employees shop in these stores for themselves as well as buying gifts for others. Gift books, humor, inspirational books, and regional topics would be a good fit.

Many hospital gift shops are run by the hospital auxiliary and staffed by volunteers, but the larger ones usually have a paid manager and sometimes paid staff. Some gift shops are managed by an outside management firm. Get a feel for the market by visiting the gift shops in several area hospitals and talking to the manager about your book's appeal and how they order. 

Cindy Jones Associates offers mailing labels and telephone lists of 3,700 hospital gift shops across the U.S. 

Lori's Gifts manages 200 hospital gift shops. According to their vendor page, they work through "national book distributors" and do not buy books from individual authors. It's not clear if they consider Ingram Books to be a distributor (they are technically a wholesaler), but if your book is an excellent fit for hospital gift shops and is available through Ingram, you may want to submit it along with sales materials prominently stating the availability through Ingram. The hospital gift shop photos on the Lori's Gifts website will give you an idea of the type of merchandise they stock.

Locating Gift and Specialty Retailers

Several national and regional chains sell gift items and books, but most gift shops and other small retailers are independently owned, so it can be a challenge to locate them.

Max has been extremely successful with retailers, selling his books to approximately 3,500 gift and specialty shops. How did he find all those shops? 

"I get an atlas and pick a state," says Max. "Then, I go to Yahoo Yellow Pages and search every city and small town. After I enter the city, I type Gift Shops into the search box. This brings up all the gift shops within a certain mile radius. Keep in mind that tourist areas like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, are booming with gift shops."

This same method can be used to search for other categories of retailers as well. You may also be able to find mailing lists for specific types of retailers, through online searches. Also search for online retailers that are a good fit for your book.

Tony recommends considering sales to local builders or real estate agents. "A signed book by a local author is a wonderful housewarming gift for a new homeowner. A basket of fruit rots—your signed book will have a cherished place on the owner's bookshelf for years to come," says Tony.

Contacting Retailers

Carolyn recommends contacting gift shops by telephone, then following up with a sales kit, even if the answer is no.

"I literally call every shop in the state," says Max. " Hallmark shops are good because they are typically individually owned. Some owners have multiple stores. When I call the shops, I ask for the manager or owner. Usually the manager has the authority for small purchases. And I talk fast. A whole presentation takes about 45 seconds."

"During the pre-Christmas season I drove to gifts shops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Texas. If you want to spend a little more money, you can get a booth at gift shop markets and take orders. I never did that because I was having such good success," he adds.

Max observes that selling books is hard work. "Make sure you have a beautiful product that you are excited about. Enthusiasm and confidence in your product sells. Pick up the phone (or go in person) and start asking them to try your book. Don’t ask them to buy. Ask them to try a few. Don’t be afraid of rejection. If you just sell 3 out of 10 shops you’ll sell a ton of books. Be persistent and be ready to call back. A lot of times the manager or owner will be out. Keep calling. Be very polite. Be grateful. They are helping you out," he says.

To sell more books, Carolyn advises authors to use facts and figures as well as selling the sizzle. For example you might say, "I can put on an event on for you and will invite 300 locals from my own personal list," or "I can conduct a workshop for you. In the past my workshops have drawn an average of 130 people and sold 65 books with a net profit of XX for the stores."

Brian Jud, author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books, recommends considering the store's image and customer base and what type of books they already sell. Visit stores and visualize how and where your book would fit.

Think about how your book can tie in to specific products in your target stores and include that as part of your sales pitch. For example, in a kitchen shop your book about baking cakes can be displayed with the cake pans. "Look at your product not as a book, but as an accessory to a particular industry," says Brian.

Demonstrate to store owners and managers how your book is a good fit for their store, how it ties to current trends and their other merchandise, and why it will appeal to their customers. For larger stores and chains, be prepared to give them a sample book along with good quality sales literature. 

"Gift stores are seasonal in nature, and if your title is appropriate to one of the major holiday periods you stand a better chance of acceptance," observes Brian. Gift shops sales spike around Christmas, Hanukkah,  Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and the June graduation period. Chain buyers look at seasonal items about six months before a holiday period, but individual stores may purchase up to one month in advance.

Tony points out that non-bookstores won't act like bookstores when it comes to taking on your book. "Many times, your book may be the first book that a business owner tries to sell, so they don't come in with a lot of experience in selling books. How well you work with the business owner can make the difference in them carrying your book or not," he says.

Displays and Promotions

Carolyn recommends providing a point-of-purchase display unit to retailers. "The more you do for the retailer, the more successful you will be," she says.

Max provides his retailers with a free clear acrylic display that is U-shaped and holds about six books. This allows the books to be displayed face out so the cover is visible. The book stand can easily be placed on the check-out counter or in other high-traffic locations in the store.

"Gift shops love to do book signings," adds Max. "Any time you can do a book signing, especially during the holiday season, it's a real plus. I’ve probably done fifty or a hundred signings. Some shops have me back every year. I might sell 100 copies during a signing (all day, from opening until closing if they allow it). Then, they always keep books after the signing."

"Store owners tend to talk up books to their clients if they had the exciting privilege of meeting the author in person," says Tony. "And if the business advertises, you may be able to talk them into featuring your book in their ad, especially if you agree to promote it with an in-store event," he adds.

Setting Discounts and Sales Terms

Retailers need to purchase books at discount for resale. A 50 percent discount is usually sufficient for smaller stores, but some chains may require more. When distributors are involved, it increases the discount. 

Tony advises authors to be ready to offer a higher discount if necessary to close a big deal. "Know what discount you can afford to give to make sure you don't cut so deep that it's a losing proposition for you," he says.

Carolyn says that authors need to be prepared to invoice retailers, and to offer at least 30 day payment terms.

"I always send the books with an invoice and have about a 95 percent pay through," says Max. "Most people pay unless the shop goes out of business."

Unlike bookstores, most retailers don't expect return privileges.  However, you may be able to sell more books by accepting returns—it can encourage a small store owner to buy your books and increase your order size. You will need to weigh the advantages of returns against the disadvantages, including receiving books back in unsalable condition.

Carolyn likes to offer return privileges to encourage retailers to order in larger quantity. "Books sell better when mass displayed, preferably in a display with a header," she explains "So, if you have 12 books displayed that way at the check-out counter, you’ll have better luck," she adds.

"I have minimum order of six copies, but often sell 12 to 24 copies. I’ve sold as many as 300 books through one gift shop," says Max. "A typical invoice is about $45 and I can sell between 10 and 20 stores a day, which is about two to five per hour." Max also offers free shipping to his customers.

"I have so much confidence in the product that I give retailers the option to send them back if they are not satisfied with the books when they first arrive," says Max. "I get very few returns, probably less than 2 percent. But remember, it is a great book with a catchy title." 

Follow up is also important in marketing a book to retailers. Max calls his retail customers back every couple of months to see how the book is doing and if they need any more. "I found that many stores would buy six and the employees would buy them or take them home. If they really liked it then they would be a walking advertisement for the book. Some stores sell great and some stores do not. It all depends on the location and traffic of the store," he explains.

If a retailer is unwilling to take a chance on your book, you can consider selling on consignment, particularly for a first-time order. Under a consignment arrangement, the retailer pays you only for the books that sell and returns the others to you. If you do offer consignment sales, provide a written agreement of the payment terms and keep careful records.

"If your book does well on consignment, then they may be willing to make subsequent purchases of your books upfront with a bit of a deeper discount," says Tony.  

Max says he never sells on consignment because it's not worth it. "The minute you tell them consignment, then the store doesn’t have any motive to sell. If they buy the books, then they are going to push them," he explains. 

Most gift and specialty shops are accustomed to ordering merchandise through distributors and wholesalers. Some shops order books through major book wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor, but Carolyn notes that many shops are happy to order through the author. 

Max asks retailers to order directly from him because it helps him out, and he says that most of the time they are happy to do so.


To learn more about selling to gift shops and other non-bookstore venues, see How to Make Real Money Selling Books: A Complete Guide to the Book Publishers' World of Special Salesby Brian Jud. The chapter on gift shops includes detailed information on selling to Hallmark stores, a list of gift shop chains, and information about gift industry publications, tradeshows and distributors. The specialty store chapter discusses working with national distributors who supply products to large chains and gives insight into how to sell to these stores. The book also provides detailed information on selling to other nontraditional sales channels, including bulk sales, educational sales, selling to the military, book clubs, catalogs, and more.

Here are some sources for point of purchase displays:

Book Displays - cardboard counter and floor displays

Display Stands 4 You - plastic book stands

Gibson Holders - wire book stands

Also, check at discount stores or craft stores for easels that can be used to display books. I found some small metal easels on the picture frame aisle at WalMart for $1 that are perfect for displaying a single book. Retailers can stack several books spine out and then place the easel on top to display one book face out.

Dana Lynn Smith, author of the Savvy Book Marketer Guidebooks and Author Training Programs, has a degree in marketing and 19 years of publishing experience.Click here to contact Dana by email.

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