Distribution – another piece of the publishing puzzle

Publishers always have distribution on the brain because it’s a vital piece of the marketing puzzle. If you can’t get your books out to market, then it’s better to just stay home and take up knitting nose warmers. I’ve had it on the brain more than usual because we’re in the process of signing with a nice big fat distributor.

Maximizing one’s exposure is why publishers place such a huge importance on distribution, and this is why it’s important to authors to understand the idea of distribution because it will impact your book’s sales.


Distribution, simply put, is the delivery or giving out of an item to the intended recipients. So, first and foremost, you need product. The intended recipients are readers. To get product out to readers, it needs to be stocked in places where they can easily find them.

And this is where things can get a little interesting.

Publishing Options

With the advent of publishing options – trade, POD, vanity, self-publishing – there has been an attempt to blur the definition of distribution by claiming this are murky waters. It’s no longer about the simple “product in, product out,” but the degree and intent in which that is accomplished.

This muddy thinking advocates that even though POD, vanity, and self-pubbed books aren’t distributed in the same manner of trade books, they are available for ordering – and that constitutes distribution. It doesn’t, and here’s why:  Nothing is being shipped out to the marketplace. Being listed on a database, such as Amazon and B&N.com isn’t distribution – it’s merely a listing. Being a part of a list is akin to finding a needle in a haystack because there is no guarantee your book will be found unless someone stumbles across it.

And this has huge implications to authors because it all comes down to exposure. I’ve seen firsthand what crap distribution can do to a title. It’s an uphill battle to get the book placed within the bookstores – where most books are bought . On the other hand, I’ve seen the power of having our books in the stores all over the country. Good distribution casts a wide net that launches a book into the hands of our intended recipients.

I’ve seen any number of POD presses insist that their books are distributed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor. This is NOT distribution. Ingram and B&T are centralized distribution warehouses that ship to the bookstores when they place an order for an author event or to replenish stock. A centralized warehouse is more efficient than having bookstores calling hundreds of different publishers to buy books. Ingram and B&T are the middle men and don’t have sales teams who pitch titles to bookstores and libraries.

The reason this makes me see purple is because it fools authors into believing they’re getting something they aren’t. Know the difference.

Marketing and Promotion

The ultimate judge of whether a book is any good falls to the overall consensus of readers. But they have to know that the book exists – and this is where marketing and promotion plays an invaluable role in the distribution puzzle.

While distribution is about delivering product to the marketplace – how many units of the product that go out depends on expected demand. Stores don’t want to be burdened with stock they don’t believe will sell, so one of the big things they look at is the planned promotion for the book. Does the author have a platform – meaning how many people know the author? How much publicity is being generated for the book?

Trade publishing depends on a set of ingredients that make up a successful recipe for sales:

  • Quality product
  • Distribution
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Sizeable print runs

But what about the POD/vanity author?

Options for the POD/vanity author

Bookstores don’t expect POD and vanity books will have a great demand because they do very small print runs. Their budgets make large print runs risky because they still have to pay for the print runs – whether the book actually sells or not. Furthermore, their budgetary concerns prohibit marketing and promotion, so POD and vanity authors need to find their intended recipients elsewhere. And this is perfectly fine. I’ve seen authors sell a lot of books because they had very effective marketing and promo plans that targeted readers.

The trick to this is to understand that a) you’re on your own, b) your book won’t be in the bookstores except for special order, and c) this is going to cost you time, money, and patience.

  • If you have a proactive personality and love doing public events, you have increased chances for success.
  • If you have solid editing and understand your competition, you have increased chances for success.
  • If you know how to let readers know your book exists, you have increased chances for success.

Publishing is changing. It always has and it always will. I’m all for it. Yeehaw. The important thing to keep at the forefront of every author’s mind is how they can best ensure their books will have maximum exposure. It may be that you’re happier going the DIY route, and I wish you all the best. Just always be mindful that without distribution, no one’s book stands a chance. So decide what options best fit your writing career, your book, your personality, and your budget.

7 Responses to Distribution – another piece of the publishing puzzle

  1. authorguy says:

    I created my own bookstore, Author Guy, which goes to a variety of craft/gift fairs, book festivals, and conventions. I did this because I couldn’t get any bookstores near me to stock my books.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    Bookstores also won’t stock without a return policy (Is this true in ANY other industry?)

  3. AstonWest says:

    I’d suggest for those deciding whether to sign with a small press to go to a chain store and find out if any of their existing titles can be stocked (not just ordered)…but that’s just me.

  4. Chris says:

    I say sign with a small press if they’ll have you. I can say Behler Rocks. Thank God for them, because the truth of the matter is the more I learn about this industry, the more I realize I don’t know anything.

  5. Chris, thanks for the props. I’ll tuck that extra $50 into your Christmas card. And it’s ok that you don’t know that much about the industry because you have a great agent.

    In truth, every author has to decide what’s most appropriate for him/her and who can help them best attain that goal.

  6. Rik says:

    I can’t think of anything to add to your post, Lynn. An excellent summary of the mountain ranges self-pubbed authors will need to climb.

    The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the future lies with smaller, more agile, more focussed publishers.

  7. I’m not sure where the future of publishing lies, but the conglomerate presses are very focused – believe me.

    I do know from hard experience that any publisher MUST have distribution and good cash flow. You can have a great product but be standing in quicksand if you have no way of getting it to market.

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