Welcome to part two of my short series on book distribution. If you read part one, you’ll know that distribution is an integral part of a book’s success – but it’s also an area that many emerging authors don’t know much about.
Book distribution is essentially what it says on the tin – distributing your book so that readers can discover it and buy it. In part one, I looked at book distribution for traditionally published authors, and interviewed James Layton, publisher at Larrikin House, about the nuts and bolts of how it works for a company like his.
In this post, I’m focusing on self- or indie-published authors. If distribution is a challenge for established publishing houses, what’s it like for authors bringing their own books to market?
I asked author Anna Featherstone, Australian Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors, for her insights.
Book distribution for self-published authors
Anna Featherstone is the author of four bestselling non-fiction books, including ‘Look – It’s Your Book! Write, Publish and Promote Your Non-Fiction Book: A Self-Publishing Guide for Australian Writers’. Find out more about Anna and her books here.
You have many pages in ‘Look – It’s Your Book!’ dedicated to distribution and covering ebooks, audio books and print books – while your book focuses on self-publishing non-fiction books, do the challenges of distribution affect all indie published titles?
“Absolutely, and not just indie fiction and non-fiction, trad-published authors are affected by the nature of distribution, too. Why?
“Let's look at distribution in a few ways: there's online distribution (ebooks/audiobooks), which is relatively easy to do. But then there's physical distribution (paperbacks and hardbacks into physical and online stores), which has a few hurdles.
“Physical distribution is very expensive in Australia due to distance, freight costs, storage fees and the administration process – so most distributors charge around 30% of the RRP for offering the service (this is in addition to the 40-50% discount that is given to bookstores for selling the book).
“But, just because your book is taken on by a distributor, it doesn't mean that bookstores will want to buy it. And just because a bookstore buys it, it doesn't mean they will position it face out on the shelf. And even if they do, it doesn't necessarily mean customers will buy it. If your books aren't selling lots of copies in the space of a few weeks to months, bookstores need to make room for the next tranche of books so will return them (potentially damaged). Yikes huh! But, it's not all bad news, there are some great opportunities for authors to do distribution smarter.”
What avenues are open to self-published authors when it comes to distribution – and which of these do you recommend as the most effective?
“For ebooks/audiobooks: You can distribute your book globally by going direct to most major sites, or, you can use an aggregator/distributor to do it for you. Using an online distributor can simplify things, but it means you won't have as much control and you will be giving up more of your royalties. You can also distribute your titles direct from your website using a variety of services.
“For print books: It all depends on the book (and the audience for it), the book marketing plan/investment, and the author's goals. For many authors, they will be able to sell books and make more money if they concentrate on selling direct to readers via in-person events and from their website.
“If the book will have a mainstream market, will likely generate lots of publicity and is on a hot topic, they could seek out a distributor, and the ASA (Australian Society of Authors) has a program for members that can help with this. To do this though, you need to ensure you have the margin (between your print cost/freight) to be able to offer the bookstore discount and distributor's fees. You will also be waiting a long time before you receive payment.
“But, another great way to distribute your book is to print it on demand (POD) via IngramSpark, as bookstores in Australia and around the world will then be able to order it via their system if a customer requests it. The book will also show up in the bookstore's online shop too. Similarly you can POD print with Amazon KDP so your book shows up as an available to order on Amazon.
“I also recommend approaching Australian library distributors at least three, but preferably six months before your book is due to launch. Being in libraries is a great way for readers to discover your books and also may make you eligible for lending rights. Library distributors expect a 40-50% discount.”
How important is the distribution process in a book’s success?
“It all depends on the author's goals, the type of book, and the economics. Online distribution is so much easier and more economical than print, but you need to be bang on with your cover design so it fits your genre, title, sub-title and, of course, your book needs to be great so it gets reviews and positive word of mouth.
“Many authors in genre fiction have success without their books ever appearing in a real-world bookstore. Other authors strike up relationships with their local bookstore and have their books available on consignment. Some non-fiction authors have huge success being in stores related to their book topic, from nurseries to museum bookstores to vet surgeries.
“If you're a fiction author, you might have set your book in a certain town so you might be able to sell it on consignment at the local tourism bureau or cafe. Or, if you're a non-fiction author, you might be able to sell 150 into a conference goody bag in one go. You've thought imaginatively as you wrote your book, now it's time to be imaginative in how your market and distribute it!”
How much of the cover price of a book does distribution cost?
“Distribution costs can vary, but it's in the order of 30% of the RRP. You then need to factor in, on top of that, the 40-50% of the RRP that the distributor needs to offer the bookstore, so you're looking at a huge chunk of the RRP going to other people. There will also be a cost for you to ship your books to the distributor, so it's important not to underestimate that.”
Where do you start as a self-published author when thinking about distribution?
“I counsel a lot of authors on this and it always comes back to the author's goals, capabilities, their book, their ideal reader and their timeline. There's no one path or way that works for everyone but I'm constantly delighted by the success some of the more passionate and innovative indie authors are having – it's soooo cool to see!”
What would be your top tip for self-published authors when it comes to book distribution?
“Broaden your focus. There are so many ways to get your books in front of readers and into readers hands, distributing your book via real world bookstores is just one of them!”
Allison Tait is the author of three 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.