DISTRIBUTING SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS by Richard Hoy

This week I’d like to discuss the trials and tribulations of distributing self-published books.

There is an incorrect perception that every book has to be distributed through traditional channels in order to be successful. What I mean by that is authors think their books have to be distributed by Ingram or Baker & Taylor and in physical bookstores in order for them to sell a lot of copies of it.

So armed with this misconception, authors forge ahead with self-publishing only to run into a wall when it comes to distribution.

For ebooks, the market is still so small you have to basically create your own storefront on the Web or go with someone like Booklocker.com who has invested the resources to create a storefront where customers can buy the ebook online. It will be many years before you can walk into every bookstore and buy an ebook. (Some authors have successfully convinced their local bookstores to sell their ebooks on disks.)

For Print-On-Demand books, the options are a little better. But in order to move physical books through traditional distribution you have to grease so many middlemen’s palms that your profit margin quickly evaporates. And in some cases, it is just plain impossible because there isn’t enough profit margin to go around.

For example, selling POD books through Amazon.com. Amazon.com’s Advantage program takes 55% of the list price of the book as their commission. For most books, you have to raise the list price just to cover Amazon.com’s cut. And by doing that, you usually price the book out of the market. Furthermore, all the orders from Amazon have to be processed by someone. And that someone has to float the cash to print and ship the books to Amazon because they won’t actually pay you for the books for about 60 days and the POD supplier will want its money at the time you place the order. Same issue with Ingram’s regular distribution program or with Baker & Taylor, only with them you have the problem of returns on top of it.

So if you are going to realize all the benefits of epublishing, you have to be prepared to circumvent traditional distribution channels. How do you do that? Here are some ideas:

+ GET AN ISBN
Having an ISBN for your book means the book is listed in “Books-in-Print,” the resource bookstores and libraries use to order books from publishers. You can’t sell your book to bookstores or libraries (not even to Amazon.com) if you don’t have an ISBN.

+ SELL DIRECT TO THE CONSUMER VIA THE INTERNET
Having a Web site where you can send customers to buy the book is by far the best distribution method for self-published books.

+ WORK WITH A POD SERVICES COMPANY THAT OFFERS DISTRIBUTION THROUGH INGRAM
All POD books published through Booklocker.com are also made available through Ingram, the largest book distributor. Your book should be listed with a POD publisher that has a relationship with Ingram, too.

+ SELL TO BOOKSTORES DIRECTLY, NOT ON CONSIGNMENT
If you don’t want to be slammed with a huge liability at the end of the year for unsold books, specify no returns when offering your book to distributors and bookstores. Booklocker.com does not allow bookstores to order books on consignment so nobody will be left holding the invoice when a bookstore orders more books than they can sell. Booklocker.com has a firm “no returns” policy. After all, does your local grocery store get to return all the unsold bread to the baker or unsold milk to the dairy farmer? No. And authors and publishers shouldn’t have to be held financially responsible when a bookstore fails to sell what they order.

+ APPROACH THE BOOKSTORES YOURSELF
Three of Booklocker.com’s authors have had great success approaching bookstores directly about selling their books. These authors buy the books from Booklocker.com at a deep discount and then resell the books to their local bookstores at a modest markup.

Remember, it isn’t how many books you sell. It is how much profit you pocket on each sale.

Type at you next week!

Richard Hoy is co-owner of Booklocker.com (http://www.booklockerr.com) which develops low-cost, author-friendly products, services and programs that help authors publish and market their own works. More than 600 authors use Booklocker.com because we’re focused on generating book sales through innovative ways (book sales is how we make most of our revenue), not upselling authors on fancy publishing services.