Business, Marketing

The Argument for Spending Money Part 8: Distribution

Image from Pixabay

In the past few weeks, I’ve explained marketing, what it is and why authors struggle with it so much.  This week, I’ll wrap up the marketing discussion by talking about distribution.

Talk to any indie author and they’ll tell you that distribution is a huge problem.  Many authors can’t get their books into certain stores without serious drama.  Why is that and is there something we can do about it?

Expanded Distribution: Not Worth the Trouble?

Newbie authors often don’t understand that distribution is a part of marketing.  If you’re book isn’t available for purchase, nobody will be able to buy it.  There are expanded distribution deals offered by places like CreateSpace, and Author Solutions but they’re often crap.

Though Smashwords has recently made their ebooks available to Library Direct and there are rumors that a deal is being made with Over Drive another international library distribution database, it’s unlikely to revolutionize indie publishing.

The sad reality is that many major distributors won’t touch a self-published book, because most retail stores won’t touch a self-published book.  It’s all due to returns, if you don’t offer a return policy on your book, stores won’t bother.  This is where the big 5 have us beat.  They can afford to take books back or even pay to have them destroyed, most indies can’t.  However, if you’re willing to risk negotiating this sort of deal with a store, understand what you’re getting into.  Many indies have been burned and have gotten books returned to them that have been obviously used and worn out.  One author online claimed she got a book back with coffee stains on it!

Lightening Source

For those of you who don’t know, Lightening Source, a subsidiary of Ingram, (one of the biggest book distributors in the world.) is a POD service but unlike CreateSpace, offers returns, to its business partners (bookstores).  This makes LS a darling to bookstores especially, smaller independent ones who can’t afford to warehouse books on their shelves indefinitely.

There are other distributors besides Ingram, and here’s an article listing them.

You Will Still Have to Convince Stores to Buy

If you want to see your books in Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore, then you will have to pitch them.  Just because your book is in a retailer’s database and available nationwide, doesn’t mean stores and libraries will buy.  They won’t know that your book is available unless someone tells them and since you are your book’s PR person, that will have to be you.

That means creating a possible script, and practicing your sales pitch until you have it perfected.  Here are some sales script tips via Eric Lofholm.

Now, if you’re absolutely terrified of talking to strangers, then hire a book shepherd or a sales person to get your books into stores.  As a small business you can offer them a commission or flat fee for every book sold.  Here’s a list of people who can help you sell your book.

Despite what you may believe, you’ll have to price your book competitively just to make money.  There is a reason why many bestsellers are priced at $20.00 and it’s not because some big named author wrote it.  It’s because there are so many people taking a cut of the profit and it’s all about getting the most from the initial marketing push.  Just read this article by Media Bistro’s GalleyCat to get a taste of what you’ll have to give up in order to do business with a brick and mortar store.

Final Thought:

It’s quite simple, if you’re book is popular then the more people will want it.  This is why it’s called “Expanded Distribution” if you’re lucky enough to become the next literary sensation, then your books may warrant wider distribution.

However, many authors feel like this is a chicken and egg scenario where money follows the money makers.  That’s not true at all, we indies unlike the NY big 5, need to start small and see what works for us.  Our marketing campaigns can last a year and not the typical 3 months of a trade publisher.  Time is actually on our side, that’s one of the biggest advantages of being an indie author.