How to distribute your self published book

This week I had an interesting catch up with the somewhat exasperated PA of one of the authors I worked with a while back.

‘Don’t you dare mention the book,’ she joked. ‘Every single call he makes, or email he sends, he asks the person at the other end of it whether or not they have a copy of his book. If they say no, he offers to sell them one. Then he offers to do a masterclass so he can sell books to everyone on their team too.

‘It’s relentless.’

It did make me laugh, because the author in question is indeed relentless. It is the characteristic that has made him an enormously successful business man and the reason why he has sold six times the amount of book he initially projected. And he projected a hefty amount too.

One of the conversations I always try to have with authors very early on is about how they will distribute and promote their books once they are published authors. While getting the manuscript written is, of course, crucial, the next stage is often forgotten until the last minute. My advice to anyone considering self publishing is to focus on their distribution strategy as early as they can.

There are a number of distribution points to explore.

Selling your book via Amazon is remarkably easy and the internet giant posts all sorts of guides to help authors. All you need to get started is for your book to be designed, printed and registered, so it has its own ISBN and you can sell books on the site. Amazon encourages authors to sign up to their Advantage programme which allows you to send books direct to their warehouses throughout the UK. Their algorithms predict how many books will sell and they order accordingly so they have enough in stock. You’ll have to agree to an eye-watering discount of 60% off the cover price, but it does have its, well, advantages. Your book will be listed on the site, so people searching for it will easily find it. If it is ‘In Stock’ (and it is up to you to promptly respond to Advantage requests) they ship within 24-hours.

So, what about physical, bricks and mortar, bookstores? Well, if you want to get your book onto the high street, booksellers need a way to order from you. There are two national trade wholesalers, Gardners ( and Bertrams. You will need to register with them and send details of the book in question. Like Amazon, they take a cut from the cover price, but that cut is considerably less.

In addition, there is nothing to stop you approaching booksellers yourself, even national chains such as Waterstones. Waterstones, for example, actively employs people who love reading and do have a certain leeway on what each branch stocks. Plenty of authors have chanced their arm by walking in and engaging the booksellers. It’s certainly worth a try.

Obviously, not many people have the time to bang on the door of every bookseller in the country. Besides, not all book shops enjoy unannounced visits. It may, however, be worth your while to send emails out to a select number (read: as many as you can) to tell them about your book. Include a short synopsis, a few lines about the author, what section of the shop it should be displayed in and any accompanying marketing materials. They’ll also need details of how much the book sells for and the discount you’d be prepared to offer. Market research agency Neilsen says the average discount the publishing industry offer sbookshops is just over 40%. You also need to factor in the fact that the onus is on you to absorb the cost of delivering the books to the store. It is usual for books to be supplied on ‘consignment terms’, which basically means the bookshop will pay once a copy of your book sells, or can return it if it doesn’t seem to be shifting. The alternative to this is ‘sale or return’ where they pay for it upfront, but can request a refund on unsold stock when it is returned.

There are many other ways to sell your book too. Like the author above, I would never miss a chance to sell your book direct to your contacts, which works particularly well in the business book market. Certainly, it is very helpful to add a permanent signature footer to your email: ‘Teena Lyons, author of Complete Guide to Ghostwriting’. Add a thumbnail size picture of the cover for impact and even an offer if anyone buys direct.

Conferences and industry presentations are another good place to sell books. Many organisers ask to buy books from speakers as part of the initial negotiation. The idea is they can be sold after a keynote,. And, if they don’t offer to do so, ask. It is a great way to shift hundreds of books in one go.

The more personalised master classes mentioned here can prove to be another good opportunity to sell direct. Another author I worked with recorded a YouTube video describing some of the content of his book in a sort of online masterclass. The culmination of the (now much watched) piece was a lingering shot of the star of the show (his book) and an invitation to buy one via a link on his website. Overnight it virtually doubled the amount of books he was selling each week.

The point to remember is: people will buy your book from a variety of places. You just need to make sure it is there, in front of them, whenever they are minded to buy. And, yes, that means being relentless.