Distribution and Sales
Once you’ve written a book, it’s time to decide how to get it into the hands of readers. The good news is that self-published authors have the same access to online retail distribution as the major publishers, and they do not have to hire an expensive self-publishing service to get their books distributed through them.
Let me start with Amazon, the gorilla in the room, which handles both print and e-book distribution.
More than half of all book sales take place online, with Amazon the number one retailer in both print and digital formats. If you publish through Amazon’s KDP subsidiary, and your book is original content that has never been published before, you most likely have what they consider worldwide rights, which means customers can purchase your book through any of the eight Amazon.com companies (United Kingdom, Turkey, Spain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, and Australia). Uploading your e-book file or print manuscript is super easy and costs nothing. Amazon makes its money by taking a percentage of your royalties.
Amazon does not require exclusivity (unless you opt in to its KDP Select service for e-books), so if you want to order print books for yourself to sell elsewhere, you can do so for the cost to print the book plus shipping.
For print book distribution, you may want to consider print-on-demand technology to print your books, as opposed to investing in a print run (with which you produce hundreds or thousands of books at a time). Print-on-demand means that your book isn’t printed until someone orders it. If books are printed only when they’re ordered, you will pay more for each book, but you won’t be stuck with an inventory of books if they don’t sell.
The key distributor (other than Amazon) to consider for print books is IngramSpark—the largest book wholesaler/distributor in the U.S. If you go into a bookstore and order a book, they will likely order it from IngramSpark. Most libraries, schools, and other institutions also order from them.
IngramSpark does not require exclusivity and allows authors to purchase print copies of their books at cost plus shipping.
Readers can purchase e-books from a variety of online retailers (Amazon’s KDP, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play, for example). To reach these different stores, authors have two options—work directly with the retailers or use an aggregator (Draft2Digital, IngramSparks, Smashwords, and Bookbaby, to name a few) that will distribute your book to a large number of stores and other venues in exchange for either a cut of your royalties or an up-front fee for each book they distribute for you.
Like so many other authors, I choose to keep things simple by working directly and exclusively with Amazon via its KDP Select program for the sale of my e-books. That’s not to say it will be the best method for you. You should investigate the other methods and make the best decision based on your circumstances.
I’ve talked about using online retailers and aggregators to get your books in the hands of readers, but there are many other methods you can use to accomplish this, albeit on a smaller scale. Here are some to consider.
Selling your books directly from your website is potentially the most lucrative way to sell your books, as you enjoy 100 percent of the profits. If you include a PayPal feature on your website, you will make payment easy and avoid dealing with credit cards and personal checks. I advise including the cost of shipping in the price you set, as it keeps things simple. To encourage purchases, be sure to include on your home page the book’s cover image, excerpts from good reviews of the book, and testimonials. Ship the book from your own inventory and offer to write an inscription inside the book. Make it a more personal experience for the purchaser than going to a large retailer.
I do very well at local book fairs. When I lived in downtown Chicago, I participated in Printers Row Lit Fest and sold out both times. Now that I live in the far north suburbs of Chicago, I attend several smaller venues and do well at those. I price my books to do little more than break even, as exposure in these instances is more important to me than income.
Community Craft Fairs
My small community of Venetian Village holds a local craft/vendor show each year. Last year was the first one I attended, and I sold twenty books—not bad for a small event. And what was even more promising was the number of people who stopped by to talk to me and left with a bookmark, business card, or some other item with my contact and book purchase information on it. Getting the word out locally where you live is a great way to get exposure.
While major bookstores are closing branches, the smaller independent stores appear to be hanging on. Many of them will take your books on consignment. Some have a local author section. You’re probably not going to make a ton of money here, but the exposure is worth the small effort you’ll make.
I love when someone in a book club selects one of my books for their monthly read and invites me to join in on the discussion. The conversation always starts out about the story line of the selected book but inevitably turns to my journey as an author. Book clubs are fun. Such interactions between author and readers almost always result in invaluable feedback.
I haven’t attended very many conferences, but the ones I did attend usually resulted in meeting other authors who ended up either wanting to buy one of my books or exchange one of theirs for one of mine. Not a big money-maker, but again, you never know where such a connection can lead.
You’ll want libraries to have copies of your books. Some have a local-author section that many locals find interesting. I started out by donating a copy of each of my books to local libraries (in my case, six libraries). If they are checked out often enough, the library will purchase more so there is always one on the shelf.
Small towns in particular have boutiques in their downtown areas that include a book section. Approach the owner for space on their shelves. Many will be thrilled to have books written by a local author.
I find that book signings are more common in small towns than in large cities (at least for us relatively unknown authors), and they take place in bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, and other places locals frequent. Small businesses are usually receptive to the idea because it may attract customers, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.
The above suggestions are not going to make you rich—each is just one thing that will help you get your name and book titles out there and build your author platform and brand. And they can add some fun to your busy author life.