Selling and Distributing Your Book: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

The road to writing a book is fulfilling, but it’s often so much more work than people tend to give it credit for. Even once the rounds of drafting and editing are complete, that’s not the end of the road. Rather, it’s the beginning of the sales and distribution process that actually gets your hard-wrangled book into the hands of readers.

This can be particularly challenging if you’re self-publishing. You won’t generally have the expertise or connections that large publishing houses do or the marketing resources at their disposal. Yet, we live in a world in which technology has broken down many of the traditional barriers to publishing. As such, self-publishing is now not only accessible, it can be a viable form of business.

Let’s take a moment to explore a few of the things that you need to know if you’re planning on diving into self-publishing sales and distribution. What strategies and methods can work for you? How can you best go about reaching your audience?

Build Relationships

One of the most important things to remember when selling and distributing your book is that you shouldn’t go it alone. Yes, you may be an independent author, but attempting to take care of everything is a surefire recipe for burnout. This doesn’t mean that you need to hire a team, particularly if this is your first endeavor. However, it’s about building relationships with people who can make your publishing experience easier and more successful.

If you can make it to the big industry book fairs —  BookExpo America (BEA) in the U.S., Frankfurt and London, internationally — this can be a great opportunity to start cultivating relationships with distributors. BEA in particular has also started to see more ebook distributors attending if you are targeting the digital markets. Major and independent businesses alike will either have their own booths at these events, or they’ll have representatives. Make efforts to get to know them personally. Be interested in what their goals are and how you can help. Even if these distribution representatives can’t take on your book, they may be able to provide you with advice and introductions that can help you move the process forward.

However, you should also make efforts to cultivate relationships with independent bookstores. If your book is in print, booksellers can make a huge difference in where it is featured on the shelves and whether it is recommended to readers. Reach out to stores, particularly if you plan a small tour with readings and events to promote your book. If you’re attending festivals, make inquiries with independents about stocking some copies and the potential for putting together an event at the same time. These relationships are mutually beneficial — you get your book into stores, and independent sellers can compete with the online marketplace.

Focus on Marketing

One of the challenges of selling and distributing your self-published book is making sure that people actually know it exists. This begins with increasing your online presence. Make a clean, professional-looking website that also has personal touches. This should certainly include a blog that you update regularly. Make sure that you are not just present on social media, but active. One of the mistakes too many self-published authors make is to just self-promote their books on their platforms, targeted at no one in particular. Engage with your followers on social media, make content that they actively want to consume — perhaps about the genre you write in or even the writing process itself. Reply to commenters, invite responses to your tweets, and go out of your way to join discussions with other authors in similar fields.

As an independent operation, you have the freedom to take your marketing down some more creative avenues. Merchandise can be a fun method here. Creating t-shirts and other apparel featuring your book’s characters or a witty quote can both cultivate a sense of fandom and also be talking points when people see other readers wearing them on the street. It’s a form of guerilla advertising. Selling and delivering apparel doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, either. If you’re printing items in bulk and shipping them yourself, you can usually save some money with prepaid postage and boxes that are provided by the shipping company. You certainly don’t want to risk paying for damaged items, either, so take the time to pack clothes securely, with the garment protected inside a polythene bag.

Diversify Everything

One of the many things you’ll learn as a self-published author is a need for agility. Without the ability to adapt to various challenges and even roles, you are unlikely to get very far. As such, you can benefit from taking the attitude that you need to diversify everything.

This should include:

●     Your Income

When you’re just starting, you’re unlikely to make a livable salary from your book. As such, it’s worth taking on freelance writing work that you can perform around your publishing efforts. There are additional challenges this presents. Negotiating pay requires some research into the current markets, not to mention confidence to advocate for yourself. You also need to devote time toward outreach to ensure you have enough work, and administrative tasks like invoicing. However, this is largely a matter of good organization, and this can diversify your income in a way that allows you to keep prioritizing your book.

●     Your Distribution Methods

When you don’t have resources, you’ll need to be more agile about how you get your book out there. You may have to make regional deals with smaller distribution companies, rather than conglomerates that also take care of overseas territories. You might also have to take care of ebook publishing on each platform. If you can’t sign an exclusive deal with a provider, this means you need to capture your ebook readers wherever they can find you.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

For quite a while, PG has operated under the belief that the ebook royalty rates Amazon pays for indie authors who are exclusive with Zon outweigh the extra money indie authors can make by going wide (remembering that every distributor has its own royalty structure).

In other words, a given indie author could make more money from ebooks (the large majority of the money indie authors make are from ebooks) by exploiting the higher rate Amazon pays than using other reputable ebook distributors (Draft2Digital is the one PG hears/reads the most about.)

As PG was reading the OP, he wondered if his belief was still correct or if something has changed with ebook purchasers, ebook distributors, etc., that make going wide a more profitable approach.

PG is happy to hear opinions and would be particularly interested in seeing blog posts and stories from successful indie authors that compare the costs and returns of going wide vs. Amazon.

PG also admits that he is a bit cautious with articles on independent websites focused on information for indie authors like the OP because he’s concerned they may have affiliate income or advertising deals with other ebook distributors that they don’t have with Amazon.

But PG could be wrong about that in more than one case.

11 thoughts on “Selling and Distributing Your Book: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know”

  1. Rule 1 for dealing with unorthodox information on the internet:

    If the owner of the domain name is hidden by a proxy server (in this instance, GoDaddy’s Domains-by-Proxy service), and https secure connections to that domain fail, and the “publication”‘s website doesn’t disclose a physical address of any kind — not even a PMB or PO box — then you’re no longer in “trust but verify” territory. You’re in “view with skepticism, and suspect undisclosed conflicts of interest until cleared” territory. In this instance, comparing the text of the OP to the text of the “founder”‘s vague bio sketch — the sort of thing I was doing long before law school — gets Interesting. There could be explanations; there would need to be a lot of them.

    (Aside: All of the above goes for any service in the stream of commerce, especially one that offers to place ads. If you can’t even determine which court(s) might have jurisdiction over the potential other side, they’re not someone you should be blindly trusting.)

      • “Research” would be effort. This was a (literally) two-second referral to a DNS server (I use viewdns.info because it’s anonymized and free, but there are lots of alternatives) followed by another minute or so perusing the actual website. That’s… not… research.

        And that’s my point: If it’s this easy to spot the newly-self-proclaimed-emperor’s wardrobe malfunctions, everybody should be doing it.

        • Perhaps should have thanked you for your public service, there – not service to me. I don’t waste even the two seconds on digging into something that I have no intention of pursuing. If the emperor of Northwest Eastern Mandaley wants to run around naked, I don’t care. If the President of the US, or even the PM of the UK has the same notion, I do. In this case, I have far more reliable sources for whether – and when – to go wide, and do “trust, but verify.”

  2. Looking only at D2D, you will make approximately $0.30 for each dollar of sales at Amazon. You will make approximately $0.21 for each dollar of sales at Barnes & Noble. (This is for ebooks; as PG notes, most of the sales for indies are from ebooks.) I haven’t gone through their other stores – so these might be atypical.

    Assuming you “go wide” and are distributed by D2D to Amazon and Barnes & Noble only, you have to sell 230% more at Amazon, or 330% more at Barnes & Noble, to make the same amount as selling exclusively through KDP Select. (I’m also ignoring the extra income that you could receive from the Library – although that is a significant chunk to many, many, writers.)

    Very simplistically (I’m not firing up the spreadsheet to do a full analysis) – you have to sell about 280% (the average of the two) of your current Amazon only sales by going “wide” to break even. Now, that is not impossible, by any means. See the KKR business posts (not the political ones); she has real numbers.

    But – you have to be in approximately KKR’s position to do so. A well established writer, with a large reader base, a long back list, and a constant flow of new titles. Very few writers have that. (If you are beginning to have some success, though, keep an eye on it – if you do get to that point in your career and miss seeing it, you are only hurting yourself.)

    • Not being an author I have no skin in this game, but to me it sounds as if – if you do go wide – you should still publish direct to Amazon and just use D2D for all other stores (so not just B&N, though maybe not Google if they still make arbitrary and unasked for price reductions which are then matched by Amazon). You’re still giving up on page reads on KU and presumably only experiment will tell which gives the better return …

      • I should have mentioned that, but it was a rather quick reply (and late at night). Most people who go wide do exactly that. Others only go through D2D for the extremely small markets, handling all of the others themselves.

        I should note that you also need, when seriously analyzing, to examine the cost in production time (or, as KKR does, the wages paid to an employee) for each market. A real business case analysis is much more complex than what I tossed off above.

        • One thing is clear: Spending money to attend trad-pub industry fairs and schmooze with distributors, as the OP suggests, has zero value for any business case involving a single author. You will not make any useful contacts, because you will be lumped in with the horde of shrieking poseurs who are blithely taking the OP’s advice and trying to do the same thing.

          The big distributors don’t want your business if it means wasting their employees’ time at a major (to them) event.

  3. The Wide for the Win group on Facebook has plenty of wide success stories, along with lots of great tips for doing well wide. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/556186621558858/

    As for myself, most of my money does come from Amazon, but I’ve been seeing the percentage of my non-Amazon income rise this year as I gain a foothold in the wide stores (although I’m a mixed author with some books in KU and some wide, so I am not STRICTLY wide).

    P.S. Going wide doesn’t mean distributing exclusively through a distributor like D2D (unless you want to, of course). Most of the other big retailers have a self-publishing program similar to Amazon’s, so you can go direct to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc. and not have to give up a cut of the royalties to a distributor. Libraries are the biggest exception, though, as I don’t think it’s possible to go direct with libraries, so you typically need to use a distributor like D2D or Smashwords to get to them).

  4. Hi,
    While I don’t agree with some of the statements in the OP going wide all depends on the markets you are targeting and your business goals.

    I have always been wide since I’m a Canadian author, and my books are targeting a Canadian audience. Kobo, a Canadian based company, is a big player in Canada. For a while, what few ebook sales I had were mainly with Kobo. The Kobo dashboard has a Promotion Tab that allows indie authors to submit their books for consideration for some of the promos that Kobo runs.

    Once upon a time, you could only run Amazon ads on Amazon.com. Then Amazon starting rolling out ads for indie authors for various markets such as the UK, Australia, and finally, in August of 2020, Canada. Now, most of my ebook sales now are coming from Amazon.ca.

    I’ve always upload my ebooks directly to Amazon, Apple, and Kobo. For libraries distribution, I use Kobo and Smashwords. Smashwords for other smaller markets. For print, Lightning Source.

    Several authors such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who recently published Wide for the Win, espouse going wide.

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