Distribution, it turns out, is the key to success as an author.
Now, that’s not to say the ability to write should be underestimated, or a good cover for the book, or decent levels of editing, or a good price-point. All of these are important, but none more so than distribution. Distribution makes a hobby into a career. Distribution gets the books into the market place. Or more specifically, books into bookshops. The problem is… The Face.
That face. That one up there. But more of that later. Back to distribution. The big publishing houses have it. Small press publishers have it and, in a way the Independent Author / Publisher has it, but not really. You see, the modern Indy author / self-publisher / freelance (call them what you will) who uses Publish-on-Demand technologies should have global distribution sewn up. I mean, what is more global than having your book available on Amazon? But that’s just Amazon and that is only selling to individual Amazon customers. Not your average high street bookshop. To get your books into them, you need to supply printed books, in boxes.
It is perfectly true that Amazon’s Createspace will make titles available for extended distribution to any other book buyers on the planet. Sadly, quite a number of those buyers don’t fancy buying books printed and distributed by their biggest competitor. Fair enough.
That’s where Ingram Spark and their parent company Lighting Source come in. They are the biggest book distributors on the planet. They have a Publish-on-Demand platform that is equal to anything out there. They also allow the publisher, regardless of size, to set up industry standard discounts for book buyers. So that’s that. Sorted. Sit back and wait for the orders to roll in…
Except, of course, it isn’t that simple. Most bookshops want their books to be sale or return. Now that is okay if you are a huge publisher with many, many titles. You send out fifty of one title. They don’t all sell, you get forty back and you send them around and around, reducing the price until they end up in the bargain bin of a supermarket. Any money you lose, you make up on the other titles you have in other shops. BUT, if you are an indy publisher, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t afford shops to order fifty and return forty, because the original cost for printing has to be borne by you, and you alone. So, you set your book distribution model to be sale only. Firm sale, no returns. And most, for that read all, bookshops don’t want to do that, unless they know the book is good. That means visiting them and introducing yourself with the phrase, “Hi, I’ve written a book…” and it doesn’t matter what else follows that statement because you will already have received…
That sceptical look of “Oh, here we go again…” from the poor bookshop owner who thinks, ‘another waste of my time’. You hand a copy over and hope they might, maybe, just possibly actually open it and read it.
I know. I’ve had the look. But I have also been blessed with the good fortune to have three bookshop owners open my novels, read them and love them. Then they have stocked them over and over again. That sounds great and it was, it is. Of course, there were a lot of shops visited before I found those three. A lot… Saying that, I’ve even had the good fortune to have one of those shops provide a glowing testimonial to other bookshop owners. Alas, I suspect when they receive the email with the testimonial attached, many other owners give the email… The Face.
So, what’s the answer to the distribution puzzle? Other than developing a thick skin and continuing to visit bookshop owners to hopefully convince them of the quality of your product, I can’t see one at present. I know there must be “a better way” and I did wonder if an initial order limit would work. Some mechanism within a distribution model that if I do make my books “returnable” I can’t be laid open to hundreds of copies being ordered and potentially returned in the short term. But, to be honest, I don’t have an answer. So, if you are an indy author, I would love to hear what you have done to master distribution.
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: