Book Distribution—The Necessary Evil

DeatriHaving your book professionally edited isn’t the only necessary evil you must deal with in your journey to becoming a successful author. Don’t forget your book’s distribution. This article will focus on print distribution.

You’ve written what you know will be a best seller and done all of the other production legwork, and now you’re holding a copy of your finished print book in your hand. Yes, there are still billions of dollars in sales per year for print titles and you want your chunk of it. But how do you get your title to the point of sell? Oh no, you skipped an important step–distribution. In order to talk distribution, we need to talk printing also.

Print On Demand (POD) Printing

POD Printing is used for small print runs. Publishers have been using this technology for over a decade for Advance Review Copies and when they want to do small print runs. Using this method is more expensive per book than using offset printing (which is used for large print runs), but you don’t have to pay the storage and insurance fees you do for large print runs or risk having large amounts of books, that you’ve paid for, taking up space (space is money) if they don’t sell.


Many printing companies offer POD Printing services. Create Space and Lightning Source are two popular ones, but there are also companies that do offset printing (large print runs) such as Bang Printing that offer POD Printing. In self-distribution, you’d have the company print however many books and send them to you to sell from your home, website, storefront and so on. You’d make contact with book sellers for your book’s inclusion in their catalogues. You’d submit your book to wholesalers such as Baker and Taylor and Ingram (at least six months before your book’s release). You’d do it all. If you go this route, be careful of signing consignment agreements with book sellers. In consignment agreements, the author sends the seller an agreed number of books. The book seller then sells the books and is supposed to give the author his/her agreed upon royalty for those sells, and the books that don’t sell are supposed to be returned to the author. Unfortunately, numerous authors have been ripped off by signing consignment agreements. Many do not receive their pay or return of their books. Be sure to speak with other authors who have had their titles with the seller and do your research before you sign anything and/or ship your books.

POD Distribution/Publishing

With POD Distribution, you work with a POD company such as Create Space or Lightning Source for the printing and distribution of your title. The company utilizes POD printing combined with its distribution channels to have your title listed in book sellers’ catalogues (for example Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Barnes & Noble). When a customer orders your title online or from the physical store, a copy of your book is printed and shipped to the customer or seller, depending on the arrangement between the POD company and the seller. Once the sell is complete, you will receive a royalty on that sell.

Many authors (and some publishing houses) use POD distribution/publishing because of the low upfront cost, but there is a major downside that you must understand. Numerous book sellers will not carry your title in their establishment because if the copies do not sell, the book seller can not return them (which is common practice in the industry for unsold books).  It does not matter that your title is listed in Baker and Taylor or Ingram, they still will not be returnable when working through most POD distributors/publishing.

Some POD publishers, such as Lightning Source, have an arrangement with the wholesalers such as Baker & Taylor to allow returns. The author, of course, pays the POD company additional fees for this. The great thing about this is more stores will be willing to stock your title on their shelves. The downside is, outside of being listed in catalogs and websites, there is little to no additional marketing from the POD publisher and distributor. It’s up to the author to make those connections.

Traditional Distributor

A distributor stores your print run, markets your titles to the booksellers (chains) and works to ensure your title will be on as many store shelves as possible. This is the main type of distribution traditional publishers use and is very costly, which is why many self-published authors do not go this route.

Having a marketing team promote your books to major book sellers and your title being returnable is HUGE. Granted, you’ll still need to market your title to get readers to the bookstore (online and physical) to buy your title, but at least it will be on the shelves.

Not all traditional distributors are created equal. Some of the smaller ones do not market your book to book sellers. If they aren’t going to market your book to the major chains and book sellers, I suggest you go a different route.

Final Words 

It’s important that you know your options where distribution is concerned so you can make informed choices. The publishing industry is ever changing and so are the roles of distributors. Do your research and know what you are getting into.

Deatri King-Bey

As Featured On EzineArticles

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