How to distribute your self published book
One of the conversations I always endeavour to have with authors very early on is about how to distribute and promote their self published books once they’ve completed their manuscript. While getting the book written is, of course, a crucial part of the process, 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. Then, once they get to that stage, think about what they can do to get their books into a reader’s hands every single day.
One author I worked with took this advice to heart and was absolutely relentless in his quest to sell his book. I had an interesting catch up with his somewhat exasperated PA one year after the book was first published.
‘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 copies to everyone on their team too.
It did make me laugh, because it was typical of the author in question. It is also the characteristic that has made him an enormously successful businessman and the reason why he has sold six times the amount of books he initially projected. And he projected a hefty amount too.
It will not probably come as much of a surprise that the place to start with a book distribution strategy is Amazon. Authors who only want to sell a digital version, can use its Kindle Direct service to upload their manuscript, which will be converted into the correct format, (details of the title, genre and keywords will also need to be added to help it sell), and it will appear on the website in a matter of hours. And, it’s free. It’s not much more difficult to sell physical books either. A front cover design is required and the book needs to be formatted on a PDF, but it can then be handed over to Amazon’s own Print on Demand service which will print stock as and when needed. Authors can, alternatively, design and print their manuscripts and keep the stock themselves. In this case, they can still sell via Amazon as long as the book has its own ISBN and is printed with a barcode. Amazon encourages authors to sign up to their Advantage programme which requires books to be sent direct to their warehouses throughout the UK in response to requests emailed to authors. Algorithms predict how many books will sell and they order accordingly so they have enough in stock. Authors have to agree to an eye-watering discount of 60% off the cover price, but selling on Amazon has its advantages. The 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 authors to promptly respond to Advantage requests) they ship within 24-hours.
What about physical, bricks and mortar, bookstores? It can feel like a complex process to get a book onto the high street. There are two national trade wholesalers, Gardners (www.gardners.com) and Bertrams who directly supply booksellers. Authors 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. Then, when a potential buyer walks into a bookstore and asks for an author’s book, the store will contact the wholesalers to request stock, who will in turn contact the author.
There is nothing to stop authors approaching booksellers themselves, 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, particularly if an author has a connection with a particular branch, such as living locally, or having originally come from the area.
Obviously, not many people have the time to bang on the door of every independent bookseller in the country. Besides, not all book shops enjoy unannounced visits. It may, however, be worth an author’s while to send out emails to a select number (read: as many as they can) to tell them about their book. They should 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. The bookshop will also need details of how much the book sells for and the discount the author would be prepared to offer. Market research agency Neilsen says the average discount the publishing industry offers bookshops is just over 40%. Authors will also need to factor in the fact that the onus is on them 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 a 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 a 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: ‘Joe Bloggs, author of The Book You Can’t Afford to Miss’. Add a thumbnail size picture of the cover for impact and even a discount 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 personalised master classes mentioned above 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 as a mini 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.