Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How and Where Will Your Book be Sold?

This is the sixth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the past few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past five weeks:

In both self-publishing and traditional publishing models, the most critical stage is determining how or where your book will be sold. Sure, most of us want our baby in every bookstore and e-book marketplace that will take us, but that wish is very hard to accomplish. These decisions, ebook only or e-book/paper, must come early in the process of the book's journey. We authors want our books in independent bookstores, chains, and on-line booksellers. And we want them in libraries as well. For this we need book distributors.

If you are going to develop the final book yourself and market and sell the book online through e-book purveyors such as Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, and a host of others, the path is fairly clear. Follow the stages outlined in the previous blogs (1-5) and then load your book onto the various sites. There are also many people and companies in the publishing business that will help you through these steps for nominal fees. Sign up with the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), there are sources advertising in their monthly magazine as well as on line. Attend publishing seminars; many are associated with writers workshops and through regional writers groups.

In fact, self-publishing with only an e-book product is relatively easy. Many writers such as Amanda Hawking, Russell Blake, and Hugh Howey have made a very comfortable living doing just that. And their e-book platforms led them to lucrative contracts with traditional publishers as well. For most writers this is the best way to jump in and see what the water is like.

It's when we want to see our work on paper with hard and soft covers in bookstores that everything changes. Here are two important points to remember, 1) Most authors don’t know how book distribution works, and 2) Book-distribution is extremely difficult and expensive for authors to do on our own.

Traditional Publishing:
A contract with a traditional publisher includes distribution. They are not going to spend money on bringing your work to the market (editing, book design, cover design, etc.) without making sure that it's available. They have a sales force to put your book in front of buyers for chains and bookstores or they use a national distributor to get them to the marketplace. And remember that many distributors focus on specific genres or subject matter – match your book to the distributor. If there is one critical aspect of the process that sets the traditional apart from the self-published is their access to and their understanding of book distribution.

With a co-publishing arrangement where you the author handles many of the tasks (and costs) and your partners handle the marketing and distribution make sure that they have the experience necessary for distribution. Without this experienced partner in the process the book will flounder.

But the self-publisher can use the services of a book distributor to their advantage. This is critically important to the prolific writer with many books. Remember as a small publisher (multiple books) you will be able to offer the book distributor a bigger package for them to consider adding you as a client.

Be careful here, self-publishing costs can easily get out of hand. It is a matter of scale. Printing 10 to 100 books is expensive through the print-on-demand process (POD). It can easily be one third of the book's price. Add in shipping and then distribution percentages and the bookstore percentages, you can be quickly in the red. Every nickel must be watched. If you chose to distribute through your own blog or web site, these same numbers apply. The costs of shipping or mailing are rising; remember packaging and storage/warehousing as well. But again you will not be in bookstores except for your book signings and a month long consignment. It is very disheartening when they send your unsold books back – at your expense.

I suggest two venues that help the independent self-publishing writer. IngramSpark and CreateSpace. Each has their plusses and minuses. I suggest their web sites to better understand their models – each is different yet can produce the same result: An on-line order converted to a paper book that is sent directly to the customer. Ingram is one of the largest distributors of all types of books in North America (and the world as well), their Spark division allows the author a chance to get their books to the independent and national bookstore marketplace. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and has distribution across the world through their on-line portal. Seen as an enemy of bookstores though, most shops will not order your book for their shelves through CreateSpace. This is just one of those facts of life. Be in both.

Publishing is a fast-changing business; in fact for such a staid industry we are now at warp-speed. There are now hybrids of hybrids where agents are taking books not placed with a traditional house and producing books themselves with their own team of editors, designers, marketers, and channels to distributors. And most are going with IngramSpark.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .

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