An Enigma in Silver

How to distribute a self-published book

Sadly, those who would gain the most from this article are the least likely to read it.

Part One: Printed books and shoe leather

Many self-published authors dream of seeing their books in stores from coast to coast, but the reality is that it's not just highly unlikely ... it's pretty much impossible. However, you may be able to get your books into local stores, where you have face-to-face contact with the staff or the manager. The first part of this article explains how to go about it without annoying busy people.

Remember that counter staff are there to sell books, not buy them, so your first task is to make sure you're speaking to the right person.

This is usually the manager, and they're busy running the bookstore. Keep it short and be prepared to leave a copy of your book and an order form rather than trying to convince them on the spot. And if they say no, it's pointless arguing with them, because they'll only want you out of there even quicker.

Bear in mind that publisher's reps make appointments to talk about new books in their catalogues, and discuss a whole range of new titles in one sitting. If you pop in unannounced, you can hardly expect the same attention.

None of us have dozens of local bookstores, and there's a good chance the handful in range have already been hounded by self-published authors who won't take no for an answer. To counter this, many stores refuse to take self-published books, or buy anything which isn't in their ordering system.

(It would be great if these large distribution companies would carry self-pubbed books, but they don't. There's not enough margin, stocks and supplies are a problem, and they'd end up dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual authors. The best you can hope for is a catalogue listing, where the distributor doesn't carry your stock but CAN supply your title on demand. When you're investigating self publishing it's important to find out how your chosen printer handles this. An ISBN and a catalog entry means your book is accessible from any bookstore.)

If they do agree to carry your book they may want copies on consignment, which means you don't get paid up front. Instead, they pay you for however many they've sold, usually at the end of each month. If they haven't sold any after a month or two they might ask you to pick them all up, since bookstores have limited space. The answer is to make sure you mention promote that bookstore to anyone interested in buying your books.

You should also consider giving the manager a free copy of your book. They might read it or pass it on to their staff, which can help to build support for your book. One fan in a bookstore is worth any number of posts to internet forums and mailing lists.

Think about donating a copy to your local library. You won't earn anything, but you may gain new readers, and libraries will sometimes get local authors in to talk about their book. Each copy has a cost involved, but your books aren't being read if they're still in the packing cartons.

The internet is a useful resource for self-published authors, but don't overdo the promotion, particularly on forums where people are talking about writing and publishing. Some of these forums have specific areas for posting news and press releases, but you'll soon get banned if you try and turn every discussion into a promotion for your book.

One final suggestion. If you spot someone hawking their book in any of the ways mentioned above (e.g. by posting thinly veiled ads instead of participating in the discussion), why not give them a link to this article?
Marketing your book online

Part Two: Virtual books

What a difference five years make. Here I am in 2011 and bookselling chains are disappearing, POD books have become affordable, and just about anyone can publish their books with companies like CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

There's no longer any advantage to printing off a thousand copies then trying to push them out through stores. Nowadays you publish to ebook and offer a print version through one of the majors mentioned before. For example, Lightning Source can print and ship a book in hours, and you can set the retail price very close to those sold by trade publishers. As a plus, if you set yourself up as a publisher you can purchase ISBNs and have your book listed with major distributors.

After 2010, my distribution model would go something like this: Publish to ebook. Maintain a blog. Be active on twitter and the various writing & reading forums (Kboards, Mobileread, Absolute Write), and release a print edition at a keen price. Write and release more titles. Work on gradually increasing your audience, and write more of what they want.

Please remember that none of my articles are meant to discourage. In fact, they're all written for the me of ten years ago, the writer who was ready to take the next step but didn't know what that step was.

About the author: Simon Haynes is the author of over 25 novels. He also designed and created yWriter.

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