Home > Other Resources > For Authors > Indie Pub 101 Main Page > Indie Pub 101: Moving Physical Books

Indie Pub 101: Moving Physical Books

Moving Physical Books is part of the Indie Pub 101 resource. This section shares tips for placing physical copies of your books in libraries and bookstores. Visit the Indie Pub 101 main page here.

Moving Physical Books

Libraries and bookstores are cornerstones of our literary lives, so it’s no wonder that many authors strive to see their books on the shelves. There’s something special about walking into the local indie bookstore and seeing your book on display. As authors, we long for that next big milestone, whether it’s the signing where readers show up to see us, or that coveted wide distribution in the nation’s largest bookstore chain. It’s pure joy when your local library picks up your book, and bliss when libraries across the nation start to notice.

Libraries and bookstores may or may not be the most important aspect of your author business. It’s hard to make a fortune selling to libraries, and some genres do better than others in bookstores. Regardless of how libraries and bookstores play out in your money-making operation, there’s no doubt that they are an integral part of the reading community, and they’re a great way to reach people who might otherwise never find your books.

You might also consider joining an organization that can help you market to bookstores and libraries directly. While we don’t give endorsements, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has a long history of working with indie authors and small presses, and has a number of marketing outreach projects to help them reach libraries and bookstores. An IBPA membership also grants free Ingram Spark tokens, which will come in handy. As of June 2023, Ingram no longer charges for new books, but they do still charge for changes, and IBPA’s tokens give you 5 free changes per month.

We’ll take a look at the two major print book markets separately below:


If you’re looking for readers, you’re in the right place. This is where they’re made.

Because of their position in the center of their communities, libraries are a fantastic way to reach readers who otherwise might not find your work. Not everyone shops online for e-books or browses bookstores for fancy expensive hardcovers. Though these readers might not be big spenders, they’re still incredibly valuable—because they’re readers.

The question, then, is how do you get into these communities?

Librarians Are Your Friends

Talking to your local librarian is the first thing to do! Remember, you and your favorite librarians have the same goal in mind: make readers happy. If you can offer a library a book or program that their readers or community members want, you will be in demand.

It’s best to start with your neighborhood library and make yourself known as a local author. Many librarians will be happy to work with you, either by telling you how they purchase books or purchasing the book directly. Some will require that your book has met certain benchmarks—like having been reviewed in a professional journal like Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal. Find out if the library in question accepts paperbacks or if they take hardcover only. Ask what their other requirements are, and how to submit your books for consideration.

Making Your Physical Book Library-Ready

This is where those Ingram Spark tokens come in handy. It’s best if you publish your physical book through Ingram Spark, because larger libraries often prefer to order through Ingram rather than Lulu, Amazon, or Draft2Digital. You’ll also want to make sure you have an ISBN handy (either one you have purchased, or get one from Ingram).

Librarians prefer books that are sturdy. That means creating an edition specifically for libraries that is case bound, instead of perfect bound—if you’re not familiar with the term case bound, that’s the hardcover format where the cover is printed on the actual book, not the kind with a dust jacket. Ingram Spark has an excellent explanation of the difference here.

Some authors will choose to outsource printing to a specialty book printer. These authors want to lower the costs and know they have to order a certain number of case-bound hardcovers for sale and distribution to libraries or collector fans. That can get expensive, with minimum printings of a hundred to a thousand copies. This works best for authors who plan to do serious marketing and outreach to libraries, or have a preorder method in place so that they don’t over order. NOTE: there is also a saddle stitch printing option that is not offered by most small printers or print-on-demand (POD) printers, so is not a part of this discussion.

A few other companies that offer casebound hardcover book production are Acutrak, Blurb, and 48hr Books.  Unless you already have a large following, the POD Ingram Spark is going to be your best option. It may not give you the best price per book, but it can scale up indefinitely without filling your garage with unwanted extras. Once you have a book in hand, you’re going to want to find a home for it.

Readings, Expert Talks, and Other Library Events

Remember when we said that librarians are your friends? Well, sometimes they’ll even throw a party for you.  Libraries are great places for launch parties or signings. The libraries often have their own newsletter list and will be able to do some of the tough outreach for you to find fans in the community. You’ll also draw in your fan base, which means publicity for them so everyone wins.

They’re also great places for larger events, so keep an eye out for calls for mass signings, panel discussions, and other events that may include other local authors or publishers. Often, there are fundraisers where you can donate copies of your books or other related material. It’s all about becoming part of your local library’s community.

You can also find out if your local library system sponsors local talks or panel discussions. Offering to present a “how-to” on self-publishing may be a great start. You might also find interest in discussions about the specific types of books you write. Not all libraries do events, but the ones that do will be happy to have you.

More On Libraries

Once you have a good working relationship with your local library, you’re going to want to start ranging farther and farther. Ideally you’d like to see your books featured across the country, but managing those relationships can be trickier when you aren’t part of the community. You might plan a library tour as part of a book launch or attend larger events in a neighboring county or state, but you’re not going to visit every library in the world.

Libraries respond to their individual communities, which means your readers are your most important asset. However you communicate with them, whether it’s through social media or a newsletter, make sure they know that libraries are an option. Tell them that if they can’t afford the first book in your new series that they should request it at the library. Enough requests, and any librarian will take notice. The library gets a book that people want to read, your readers form a tighter connection to their library’s community, and you get your book in another library. Everybody wins.

Library E-Book Programs

Physical books are not the only way to reach readers through libraries. Many libraries also engage in e-book lending through programs like Libby and Overdrive. As mentioned in Sales Channels, these channels can be easily reached via distributors like Draft2Digital. This distribution gives libraries access to the books, but it is usually reader requests that will bring your books into the local library’s catalog.

The way these tools are used by your local library will vary, so as with all things in the library, your best option is likely to speak with your local librarian.


Bookstores are one of the hardest places to land your books. Retail shelf space is valuable, and they have to be convinced that your book is worth their time and money.

Bookstores will not, generally speaking, buy your books from Amazon, though it’s possible to do so. The discounts are too low, and the books are not readily returnable. So it’s essential to have your books available through a major distributor, like Ingram Spark, so bookstores will feel comfortable buying your book. More on that below.

The other way to get your books into bookstores is on commission, but this is generally only viable for local-to-you stores with which you are able to make a personal connection.

One other trick… release your book in a Large Print edition. For the cost of resizing a cover and reformatting an interior, you get potential access to a market that’s currently very underserved.


We can’t talk about selling to bookstores without discussing the hazards of returns. Bookstores, both indie and chain, won’t buy books unless you allow returns. The business model simply won’t allow them to take that risk.

That means you are the one taking that risk. When the bookstore orders your book, your POD service prints it. The bookstore might pay $7 for the book. Maybe you get $3 and the printer gets $4. The bookstore then tries to sell the book for the listed $14. If it sells, great! If not…

If the bookstore ever returns the book, whether they go out of business or decide that they just need to free up shelf space, they’ll either destroy the book or ship it back to you (your choice). They get their $7 back. Fair, right? The problem is that they get that $7 from you, the author, not from the printing service. After all, the printing service did their job. They printed the book.

But you only made $3 on that book in the first place. On a return, you can end up paying back more than you made on the original sale. If you ship a hundred books and fifty are returned, then you’re running at a loss. If you ship a thousand books and they’re all returned, then you’re running at a big loss.

The risk of returns is one reason why many authors put their energy into e-books. There’s still plenty of business to be had selling books to bookstores, but make sure you know all the variables and all the hazards when you’re selecting a price for your physical copies.

Making Your Book Bookstore-Ready

Your book needs to be appealing and professional. Your cover is the first part of this—it should look like it was professionally designed (even if it wasn’t) and should have the barcode with a human-readable price on the back. Distributors like Ingram can supply these from your ISBN number when they print your books.

Speaking of ISBN numbers, RR Bowker sells these in bulk. They follow the movie theater pricing model—at last check, a single ISBN was $125, a 10 pack is $295, and a 100 pack is $575—so yeah, $5.75 each when you buy the big pack. So you’ll need to plan ahead a bit and decide how many you think you will need over the next several years and what you can afford. Remember, you will need one for each print edition you do, so if your book will be sold in trade paperback, case bound, dust cover hardback, and large print, that’s four ISBNs.

You should also make sure your book is professionally formatted (whether you do it yourself or hire a formatter to do it for you). See Making the Book for details on how to put together a professional product.

According to one of our marketing contacts at Ingram, indie authors/small publishers within the USA should consider setting their books to 53% return/destroy (meaning they don’t ship the books back to you in the US market), and 48% non-returnable for the international market. While it may seem appealing to get the books back to resell them again, you have no guarantee that they will be in good condition, and Ingram will charge you the return freight AND a handling fee, which can quickly kill any profits you made in the first place. If you choose return/destroy, you only pay back what the bookseller paid you in the first place.

Booksellers Are Your Friends

Booksellers live to sell books, and they love connecting their readers with something new they will love. That said, they are also bombarded with sales pitches and author requests, so keep this in mind, especially with your local stores. They want to buy your book. You just have to make it easy and give them a reason why it belongs on their shelves.

Your Local Bookstore

As we mentioned above, bookstores are flooded with author requests. So do what you can to make them your friend? Spend time in the store. Meet the employees and owners. Buy a book or two. Maybe even bring them muffins? And then ask them what their policies are for local authors. Many stores will take a few of your books on commission, and may also ask you to sign them to add value for their customers.

While you’re scoping the bookstore out, take a look at their current stock. Some stores might focus on a particular genre or cater to a subset of their clientele. Other stores may focus mainly on used books. If the store is packed with half-priced dogeared paperbacks, it might not be a great environment for your shiny new full-priced book. Approaching a bookstore that isn’t a perfect fit is fine, but make sure to go in realizing that you may not move many books.

Or maybe you will. Oftentimes, an indie bookstore focused on an entirely different genre will have a little local author table and it’ll be the best thing to ever happen to your books. You never know, and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Distant Indie Bookstores

At some point, you’re going to want to start pushing your books to more bookstores. You won’t be able to visit in-person and create that perfect author–seller relationship. A wide-ranging book tour might help for a book release, but that can only get you so far before expenses start to stack up.

It helps to wait until you have decent sales at a local store to separate your book from the many other authors sending pitches. “I’m selling well in X and Y, and I’d love to see my book on your shelves,” is a much better pitch than, “Buy my book, please.”

If it sounds like the first step here is to simply write a wildly successful book first, then you might be right. Even so, as your book reaches a point where it’s starting to get sales but does not yet have much visibility, you’ll want to start making that push to booksellers. IBPA publishes a bookstore catalog that gets sent out to bookstores, and slots are available for purchase. Ingram Spark also sells access to their catalog if you’re using them for your printing. These steps can help, but shouldn’t be counted on for a large number of sales on their own.

What it comes down to is visibility. Do that extra interview. Learn to write press releases. Find ways to connect to the bookseller communities, either through conventions or professional organizations and publications. Get your books in front of booksellers enough times and trust that the right people will make the right decision.

The Big Box Bookstore

Big box stores tend to be even harder to get into than those indie bookstores. They’re often laser-focused on that bottom line, and even the ones that allow more local book buying have significant influence from the corporation. That means that writing that big, successful book is even more of a must for a first step.

Not everything is lost, though. Many big chains have given back a large portion of the book buying authority to the local managers. This means there’s probably someone local who works there that you can talk to about carrying your book. If it does well in one shop, that can be your leverage for finding wide distribution.

Readings, Signings, and Other Events

Contact the store manager to find out their policies for book signings. Smaller stores often close their doors for these events, so they want to know you can bring in your fans—enough for them to make a small profit on your book sales. One way to accomplish this is to band together with other local authors and share marketing efforts so you can fill up those seats.

You can also look into getting your event listed on the calendars of local newspapers, and see if your paper will interview you before the event. Your local public broadcast station (in the USA) might also have a show willing to interview you before the big day.