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How to get your book into Waterstones

Most indie authors channel their sales through online outlets such as Amazon, as it’s convenient (it does all the legwork), international and provides customers with an option to buy the eBook, too. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile (and if you’re a writer then that’s a given), nothing beats an actual bookshop, where you can be captivated by a cover, seduced by a spine and beguiled by a blurb. In short, you can have a good old browse. Once you’ve written your own book, it’s natural to wonder, ‘How can I get it into a bookshop?’ This blog will tell you how. I’ve focused mainly on Waterstones because it seems to be the national chain that authors most covet.

Get an ISBN

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, and it’s a unique, 13-digit code used by publishers, bookstores, online retailers and libraries. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no law that says you have to have one. For instance, you may just want to share your book with close friends or family. However, if you want to sell through multiple outlets, then an ISBN is a must. KDP, Amazon’s publishing arm, provides free ISBNs to its customers, but taking up this offer prevents you from selling your book through other stores. It’s best to either buy your own ISBN or get one through a publisher. My self-publishing packages come with an ISBN under Wrate’s Publishing, meaning you’ll be free to sell your book wherever you like. I’ll also register the book for you. Much like when you have a baby, when you’ve published a book and given it an ISBN, you need to inform the appropriate authorities (in this case Nielsen, which supplies ISBNs). Unlike when you’ve had a baby, however, you’ll also need to send copies off to various UK libraries, including the British Library. In the long-term, this means your book could be discovered by readers in years to come. In the short-term, once the registration has taken place, your book is classed as official and will appear on a national book database, meaning anyone can go into a bookshop and order a copy. An additional perk is that it will also appear on the Waterstones website; for example, this Waterstones link shows all of the books published under Wrate’s Publishing.

Set up a Gardners account

Waterstones orders their stock from Gardners Books Ltd, the UK’s largest book wholesaler. So, in order to be in with a chance of receiving your own order, you’ll need to be ‘in’ with Gardners. You can download your Waterstones/Gardners Trading Application form here. If you’re working with a publisher such as myself, you’ll need their signature, and they should be able to help you fill in the form. Remember, you’ll need some copies printed out ready to fulfil an order, or at least have your printing company at the ready to get some rolled out (this is something I can also help with).

Give a decent discount

You’ll need to decide what percentage off the RRP you want to sell to Gardners at, bearing in mind that it takes a margin and then passes on the rest to its customers, such as Waterstones, so it needs to be an attractive offer. Its standard terms are 60 per cent, which I recommend sticking to.

Keep it local

Terri Boas with her books on display in WHSmith

Author Terri Boas, who got her books into Waterstones and WH Smith.

Although Waterstones and similar chains do support indie authors, they are more likely to order books to roll out nationally that have been traditionally published through the big players like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins. But don’t lose heart, as where there’s a will there’s a way, and that ‘way’ just involves a bit of gumption. Your strategy should be to visit the store that you either have a connection with – i.e., the one in your local town – or that has a connection with your book – i.e., it’s set in the town where that particular Waterstones is based. Ask if you can speak with the manager and make sure you have a copy of your book, along with your contact details, to give to them. It’s also a good idea to give them copies of any online or print coverage you’ve received, as well as any online reviews. This can feel daunting, but trust me, it does pay off. Author Terri Boas, who published Two Scoops, not Three with me in 2020, followed my advice and, once the national lockdown restrictions had eased, visited five national bookshops in towns that she had a connection with, both where she’d grown up and where she lives now. As a result, she received orders (via Gardners, of course) from Waterstones in Camberley, Surrey and WH Smith in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, meaning her books are officially browsable (at least once the bookshops open again)!

Finally, don’t forget indie bookshops. They are thriving in the UK and may be more open to dealing with indie authors. Again, I’d concentrate on your local shops, but also do some research. For instance, if you’ve just published a children’s book, you could do a Google search for any UK indie bookshops that just stock books aimed at this market. If you like the look of the shop, send them a copy of your book along with an introductory letter – you never know where it may lead. Good luck!

Do get in touch if you would like to find out more about my editing and publishing services. I’m always happy to talk books and you can contact me here.