Most self-published authors want to know how to get bookstores to carry their books. The most common way to do this is to work with a book distributor. These companies employ sales people who go out and convince bookstore buyers to try out new books.
Distributors can have a specialty focus area, such as children’s books, cookbooks or nonfiction. They can also serve other markets, such as colleges and schools, gift shops, specialty retail, the military market and more.
Bookstore distribution is not impossible, but there are some pros and cons to consider.
The Upside of Bookstore Distribution
- Potentially reach more readers.
- Potentially sell more copies and earn more money.
- Be able to tell people your book is available in stores.
The Downside of Bookstore Distribution for Independent Authors
- Distributors take 65% or more off the retail price. This means you have to leave plenty of room in your book pricing for profit.
- Distributors want to see the author doing a LOT of promotion/media interviews, and many require proof of this to get accepted into their program.
- You will typically need to print 1,000 or more copies to be warehoused while the distributor’s sales force goes out looking for buyers (plan for a significant investment on your part).
- Just because a book is available in a bookstore, it doesn’t mean that it will sell. With so much competition on the shelves, you still have to create demand so that buyers go out looking for your book.
- If a bookstore decides to carry your book and it doesn’t sell well within a few months, all copies will get returned–and you have to issue a full refund. Worse, books are typically shipped back haphazardly so they’re often damaged and unsellable—but are a standard part of the book industry.
- Also keep in mind that the majority of book sales today are conducted online (via Amazon), and that’s not just ebook sales. Print book sales are also booming at Amazon. You can potentially reach the majority of readers by having your book and ebook available through online outlets.
Tips for Success if Bookstore Distribution is Your Goal
- Make sure your self-published book is professionally produced, from editing to typesetting to cover. Though the stigma of self-publishing has improved greatly over the years, stores (and distributors) don’t touch titles that have errors or are obviously self-published.
- With that in mind, your publishing company imprint matters too. Many distributors and bookstores won’t consider books produced by some of the “big box” self-publishing firms. If you publish your book through one of these firms, make sure to establish your own publishing company imprint—something that sounds like a legitimate company, not “Joe Author’s Publishing.”
- As with nearly everything in publishing, a lot of the success you’ll have comes down to your platform. You need to be building an audience and generating demand. Whether through a high-traffic website, a popular column you write for a major publication, a large presence on social media or YouTube, lots of media interviews, etc., it’s important that you generate buyers for your books—and that they walk into bookstores and ASK for your book.
An Alternative to Consider: Reverse Bookstore Demand
Because book distributors also get a large cut of the revenue, another option is to create reverse bookstore demand. When lots of people request your book at Barnes and Noble, the store will ultimately contact you about carrying your book and will usually be willing to buy from you directly. This is the best case scenario since you cut out the middle man and handle your own distribution. Or, the store my connect you with one of their distributors and recommend that you set up an alliance (an automatic “in” with the distributor, but again, you will increase your discount since they need to earn a cut too).
In the best case scenario, you’d form an agreement directly with the retailer, offering them 40% to 50% off the retail price (industry standard rate). Keep in mind that traditional bookstores will also want the option to return books, a frustrating industry standard.
So if you’re putting in the effort to market the heck out of your book and generate demand, it will only be a matter of time before the bookstores come calling.
If you still want to investigate working with distributors, see our current list of book distributors here.
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