When any book is released, two things need to happen:
1. Bookstores need to be notified of its existence; and
2. Your audience needs to be notified that it's available.
Each bookstore has a book buyer, and large bookstores like Barnes & Noble, for example, have a separate buyer for each genre. In the case of independent bookstores, the owner is often the buyer (unless the store has grown large enough to hire and designate someone as the buyer, events coordinator, etc.)
The book buyer is the only person who decides whether or not to carry a new book, and they are very good at their job; they know which types of books easily sell at their store and which ones do not.
When a bookstore orders a title from their distributor, they pay for shipping if their order isn't large enough, and always pay for shipping to send back returns. As such, bookstores are VERY picky about their orders (for good reason), and they are rightfully reluctant to get more than one or two copies of any book, especially if it targets at a very specific or unique audience.
Larger stores (like Barnes & Noble) have a buyer in their corporate office who makes a blanket decision as to whether or not any store will carry a book (customers can always special-order it at the store, of course, or get it from bn.com, but to get a book onto the shelves at Barnes & Noble anywhere other than in your own hometown, a buyer in New York has to decide that it's a good fit, and then s/he picks which few of the 600+ B&N locations will actually carry it). To give you an idea, the percentage of books submitted to B&N that actually end up on their shelves is around 0.15%.
Bookstores are notified of new releases in two ways:
The author (or their PR or literary agent) contacts the bookstore directly with a press release, which we can create for you, as well as an email, phone call, and/or walk-in (whatever it takes), to tell them about the new book.
That takes care of bookstores knowing that your title is available. Our job at HP is to make sure that when bookstores receive your previously-mentioned press releases in the mail, for example, or a phone call or an email from you, and they look up your title in their distributer's database (often WHILE on the phone with you), the book will show up as available for them to order with the same discount and conditions they get on the rest of their inventory. They won't even consider it otherwise. Yes, some shops will certainly entertain carrying your book on consignment, but that's the exception, not the rule.
The second and equally important part of publishing a new book is notifying your audience that the book is available. That's where a blog and Facebook page can really come in handy, for example, a podcast, a YouTube channel, and a book tour, of course (discussed at more length below). Make sure you have a way to collect your blog visitors' email addresses so you can regularly stay in touch with them, and also utilize any channel you can think of to spread your message (Twitter, Instagram, etc.), each offering promotion and marketing opportunities to fit your budget.
As you get more online followers who buy your book, they will end up being your greatest asset because nothing spreads news better than word-of-mouth, not even a poster in Times Square.
In the rare instances when you hear of publishers promoting a title —like when you see a large poster of a book cover hanging at a bookstore— what most authors don't realize is that the promotion cost is taken directly out of the author's royalty payments at a hundred bucks a pop; true story.
A book is not a stadium where "if you build it, they will come." You have to build a book, dress it up, throw a party, tell everyone in the neighborhood about the party, offer free food, and THEN, maybe, they will come.. maybe.. and there's still a good chance they won't buy the book before they leave. The bottom line is that you can't do this for money; you gotta do it for the love of it. We don't want to burst your bubble if you're envisioning overnight fame with little work on your part, we want to be honest with you about how much grit and dedication it takes for a book to do well.
Having said all that, don't be discouraged. In fact, we hope you're excited about spreading your message, and we look forward to helping you make it happen.
Organization is key
Start a spreadsheet listing each bookstore you have contacted regarding your book (indicating whether you have sent them a press release, emailed them, called them, or visited the store in person).
We recommend organizing the list by state (you can find a list of independent bookstores here, but call each one of them before mailing them a press release to make sure they are not a children's books or used books shop, and that they are still in business, as it is impossible to keep a list like this up to date). Write down the shop's name, address, phone number, website, email address, and the name of the person with whom you spoke. Ask them if they host author events, and note the names of the book buyer, event coordinator, etc.
The above-mentioned list of bookstores is not regularly updated because they so frequently go out of business so we recommend visiting IndieBound, where you can search for independent bookstores by city or zip code, go to their website, make sure they are still in business, and start contacting them (using the spreadsheet described above to keep notes about each communication).
Send press releases, follow up with an email in which you include a picture of the front cover of your book, follow up with phone calls, more emails, visits, etc. Bookstores are very busy and overwhelmed with requests like yours from other authors; make sure you stand out.
If/when you schedule an author event, keep in mind that most bookstores are actually very reluctant to host them because people rarely show up. You will need to convince the bookstore that you will advertise the event and that you can guarantee an audience. Bookstores can't gauge possible attendance at your event, so they won't know how many books to order. They want to avoid having to pay to ship any overstock back to the distributor (and you want to avoid returns at all cost), so we strongly recommend you tell them that YOU will supply the books to the shop, and take any excess books with you at the end of the event. The bookstore will typically pay you 60% of the retail price for each book they sell. This means you give the bookstore a 40% discount (they will pay you $7.79 for a $12.99 book, for example, and they can sell the book for whatever price they want). If the bookstore gets your books for an event from their distributor (not from you directly), and there are leftover books at the end of your event, we strongly suggest you have the store sell the surplus books to you at wholesale price so that they don't return them to the distributor (book returns will end up costing you a whole lot and the returned books are destroyed), but if you buy them from the shop at the end of an event, you can at least resell them somewhere.
We can drop-ship your order of books directly to the store so you don't have to carry them with you, or we can ship them to your address so you can keep a box or two in the trunk of your car; your choice.
Schedule the event, create a Facebook Event Page, Tweet about it, send Instagram reminders, and send out an email to everyone who has registered through your website to receive updates. Contact local newspapers so they list the event in their social activities section, reach out to local radio stations, and do whatever you can to create buzz about your book and event.
Engage with your audience, take pictures, hashtag your title, and.. have fun!