The sights, the smells, the whispered sounds; there’s something about the humble bookstore that this writer would eloquently describe as ‘ohhn’.
(The delighted grunt you make when you take the first bite of something delicious. Hit me up Merriam-Webster.)
Seeing a physical copy of your book on a local bookstore’s shelves remains the holy grail for budding authors. Sure, an ebook is generally a more efficient and effective way to deliver words to your baying public, but to gaze at your cover, your name pride of place, sitting there on its appropriate shelf… there’s no feeling quite like it.
The question for self-publishing authors then, is how do you make that happen?
Getting the word out
Book complete, a successful author will transform themselves from writer to promoter. Not a used car salesman or Don King, but a passionate advocate of their own work.
Create social media profiles for your book – Facebook and Goodreads are great places to start – and consider constructing a basic website or blog too. The aim is for something informative and alluring to come up when a potential reader types “Title by Your Name” into Google. Consider advertising on social media or Google to reach more eyes.
Next you should create a press kit that includes a complete book description, glowing reviews and your contact details. This is essentially your book’s CV, and like a resume the aim is to deliver important information in a punchy way. This WikiHow article is a great guide.
Consider offering live readings of particularly saucy, scary or intriguing passages in libraries, at writing conferences or in bookstores (that at this point you won’t yet be stocked in.) Giving your book a human face greatly increases the interest of listeners.
Individual vs network distribution
Having laid a solid marketing foundation for your book, the next step is to choose how you want to distribute it. At this early stage you’ve got two options: using an established distributor or distributing the book yourself.
For most authors this won’t be a difficult call at all. The truth is that self-distribution is limiting, time-consuming and to put it bluntly, ineffective. You need to make a significant investment in printing physical copies, you need to foster relationships with a number of bookstores, and you need to convince them that the extra time and effort of dealing direct with you is worth their while.
I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but almost all bookstores will decide it isn’t.
Hard facts: Ordering a handful of books direct from an author simply doesn’t make business sense. When compared to the largely automated systems offered by major distributors, mucking around with an individual author is heavy on resources and light on reward.
You can ignore major distributors and self-distribute in the same way that you can ignore supermarkets and become self-sufficient. It’s possible, sure, but the rewards come more in the form of DIY satisfaction than they do in efficiency, effectiveness or profit.
Choosing a distribution network
Wanting to give your book the best chance at bookstore success, you’ve chosen to utilise a major distributor. Bully to you.
In reality your choice is a race in three.
IngramSpark is the self-publishing subdivision of the undisputed king of the book distribution market, Ingram Content Group. If you want to get your book into as many bookstores as possible, this is your horse.
Amazon KDP is better known as an ebook publisher, but with KDP Expanded Distribution your electronic tome can be turned into something you can hold, smell and taste (if you’re into that sort of thing), before being distributed to brick and mortar retailers. While their network isn’t as sprawling as Ingram’s this could be considered the simplest and most user-friendly option, with Amazon taking care of almost all the heavy lifting. If you prize simplicity over reach, this is your nag.
Until mid-2019 Baker & Taylor was Ingram’s largest competitor in the retail book distribution market, but they have since pivoted to focus exclusively on supplying libraries and education providers. While they remain a legitimate option for educational and non-fiction authors, their reach is now somewhat limited.
The minutiae of the arrangement will differ from distributor to distributor, but they’ll generally handle everything from printing to delivery. They’ll also have a set of requirements that any book in their catalogue must meet, including format, content, language and authentication. A thumb-sized copy of ‘Hitler Had Some Good Ideas Too’, written in Klingon and lacking an ISBN, probably won’t cut the mustard.
One thing your chosen distributor won’t be is a hype man. It’s therefore up to you to stoke demand.
Contact local bookstores
Just as we began with marketing, so too will we end.
Contact local bookstores and ask whether they’d be interested in stocking your book. Using a major distributor grants you the opportunity to say “I’m in the Ingram catalogue!”, making this decision far easier. Prioritise local independent bookstores and make it known that you’re from the area (locals tend to support locals.)
Tell your personal network about your book. Resist the temptation to sell copies direct, and instead ask them to request it from a local retailer. This demand will hopefully induce supply, and you’ll see your book on the shelf in no time.
When that time comes, be sure to wander into the store, grab your book with both hands, and deliver the most satisfied of ohhns.