Write the book, edit the book, market the book… there’s a lot for a new author to think about when publishing a book. But there’s something else in the mix when it comes to a book’s success.
Distribution is something that most emerging writers never think about – and many published authors don’t know much about either – but it plays an important role in getting your book into readers’ hands. It’s also an expense that publishers need to factor in when considering the production costs of a book and crunching the numbers that help them decide whether or not to publish your book.
So I decided it was time to lift the veil, even just a little bit, on this back-end but essential component of book publishing.
And then, because I’m not writing one of my epic fantasy middle-grade novels, I decided to split the information into two parts so it doesn’t take you all night to read it.
First up, then, is book distribution for traditionally published authors, and for this bit I’ve put James Layton, publisher with Larrikin House, into the hot seat to answer some questions about how his publishing house distributes books and why.
Book distribution for traditionally published authors
James Layton owns and manages Larrikin House, a publishing company focused until recently on children’s books but now also moving into adult fiction. A bookseller for 30+ years, Layton distributes Larrikin House titles through own-branded book fairs, as well as through a book distribution company, and also supports established authors with school visit sales. Find out more about Larrikin House here.
What’s the role of a book distributor for a traditionally published author?
“Authors need their books in bookshops, public libraries, school suppliers and in the DDS [Department and Discount Stores], so this is the job of the distributor and their sales team. They make the appointments with the bookshops etc and ‘sell in’ the books three months out from release date. Most bookshops and suppliers will only deal with publishers direct or with larger distributors, so it’s impossible for authors to do this on their own (apart from their local bookshop maybe). Most larger publishers are their own distributors.”
How important is the distribution process in a book’s success?
“See above. Unless you’re an online viral superstar, you’ll need distribution.”
How much of the cover price of a book does distribution cost?
“As an example, a hardcover picture book with an RRP [Recommended Retail Price] of $24.99 breaks down like this:
- Bookshop gets 40-50% discount
- Distributor buys [from the publisher] at 65% off RRP to cover the bookshop margin and their own costs.
- Publisher gets $8 (ex GST) to pay all their production expenses*, making a profit of around $1.50 per book, perhaps $2 (if we’re lucky)”
(*Editor’s note: the author’s advance/royalties are included in this)
Is every book that a publishing house publishes distributed in the same way?
“Mostly, but some sales go direct to larger accounts like Scholastic or Big W. Foreign rights’ deals also make up a large proportion of the publisher’s income.”
What are you, as a publisher, looking for in a book distributor?
“Enthusiasm is key. If the books aren’t fully on brand for the sales team then they won’t penetrate the market as well. We have just changed distributor to Simon & Schuster [because] we wanted someone who wanted to build their kids’ list and give it some serious enthusiasm. Entrepreneurialism is important, too. They need to be creative and do interesting deals to sell more books.”
Larrikin runs its own school book fairs – what’s the benefit of this method of distribution when it comes to children’s books?
“We’ve had our own schools’ division [Learning Discovery] for 30 years. I sold the old book fair business to Scholastic in 2003 and then, in 2020, I decided to start book fairs again as it’s the best intel on the market. You’re selling to the end user (kids) and kids select very different books to adults who buy on their behalf. Adults buy books they want kids to read, and kids simply buy books they themselves want to read. Publicity is really hard to get these days so school book fairs are a winner if you can get them right. We’ve been doing 100+ book fairs each year and growing. It’s also a great way to sell what we publish.”
Check out Part 2 of this series, which investigates book distribution for self-published authors.
Allison Tait is the author of three (aforementioned) epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s new middle-grade novel The First Summer of Callie McGee is out now. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.