The marketing of novels is big business. I have discovered that it doesn't matter if your novel is the best since To Kill a Mockingbird. What does matter is whether your publisher will accept a return on the books not sold. Now, that gets to be a big problem for university presses that operate on a shoestring budget. While they produce a quality hard back book, they cannot afford the budget of the big publishers.
Today I visited Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million just to introduce the managers of both big box stores to my novel. Swimming with Serpents is Alabama history in fiction form published by a university press with an excellent reputation. One would think it would be included in the local section of a book store of Dothan, Alabama, the home of the author, even if it were not carried elsewhere. Unfortunately, that is not the case. At Barnes and Noble, I encountered a very nice young woman manager who informed me that they could order the book through the store but only one copy at a time. They could not keep any on the shelf even though it should be included in the local history section. Yet the the book can be ordered through the Barnes and Noble website already at a great discount. She was not very encouraging.
However, at the Books-A-Million store I met with an enthusiastic new manager and a store clerk who wanted to know more about the book. The manager took my name and number so that he could call me back after discussing how to handle books by local authors who are published by smaller presses. Whether they carry the book or not, I left with a fondness for that store simply because the people were so nice and encouraging! They acted like they really WANTED to carry the book even if their corporate policy prohibited it.
I now understand why the Southern Independent Booksellers Association is such an important meeting for publishers and authors. It is a lot like getting your song on the radio. Unless someone believes in you enough to carry your book and tell folks who like that type of book about it, your novel will die a lonely death, unless it catches on with Amazon and you have an internet sensation.
There is only one independent book store in Dothan that I am aware of. Theressa Nynan at the Little Red House Book Store on Oates Street acted excited for me about the book. She has been hearing about it for years as I have been a regular at her store (before I had to hibernate to write the book). She has ordered the books through Ingram the distributor who Mercer has associated to distribute their books throughout the nation and wants to host a book signing.
Self-published books have an even harder time.
There's a learning curve about the writing business. I am still on the first rung.