Getting Books into Bookstores

If you are a writer who wants to publish independently without working with a traditional publisher then a key question that is possibly on your mind is once the book is published, how do you get it into bookstores.

I’ll share that when I began the self-publishing journey, I had no clue what I was doing. This is becoming a theme for me, right? I jumped into writing, I jumped into publishing and I did it blindly. I didn’t know what could or should be done and what shouldn’t. I learned along the way.

One lucky day, I attended the Maui Writer’s Conference with many of the top writers in the industry at the time. Terry McMillan, Christopher Vogler, John Saul, Carrie Fisher and so many others were there. It was amazing! I got to meet Princess Leia, how cool is that? But the most interesting and most valuable guy that I met there was an author by the name of Dan Poynter who gave a workshop and sold his book, The Self-Publishing Manual. This book was gold for me because it walked me though each step of moving from a finished manuscript to getting the book into bookstores, namely, distribution.

Distribution Is Absolutely Necessary

Distribution is how your book gets into bookstores. Back then, the early 2000s, there were many large bookstores and tons of independent, smaller bookstores to potentially place my book. It was before Amazon took over.

Over time big bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders started gobbling up the medium size bookstores like Waldenbooks and soon Amazon took over and even Borders was unable to compete. As we know, Barnes & Noble is the only one still standing. But before all this happened, my goal was to figure out how to get my books into these stores.

Today, even though the number of bookstores is no longer as plentiful, we have other avenues and other exciting ways to distribute our books into places like Target, Walmart and independent neighborhood bookstores. Plus, there are libraries and other retail markets as well.

The question is still how do we do that?

Publishers work with distributors. Bookstores do not want to deal with hundreds of individual publishers, or today with thousands of self-published authors. Bookstores want an easy way to get all the books that they want to place in their store. So, they work with distributors instead. The two main distributors are Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Baker & Taylor mostly focuses on distributing to schools and libraries. This means that publishers have contracts to send books to the distributors, and the distributors get the books to the bookstores.

Getting Distribution of Our Books

So, how does this work for us the independent self-published author. Thankfully, it’s much easier than it was when I started out. I had to create my own publishing company because distributors did not work with self-published authors. And I had to print and ship my books to the distributors. That way when I scheduled book signings at Waldenbooks or Barnes & Noble, their community relations person could contact the distributors and order my books.

Today, Ingram has a program called IngramSparks specifically for small publisher or self-published authors and they do the same thing that they would for a major NY publisher.

In fact, there are other programs now as well that will do everything for writers including print, bind, ship books and distribute where needed. All for a price, of course. It can be overwhelming when trying to decide which program to use as a self-publisher. Some charge a little more upfront but less per book sale. Some have better services than others. It’s worth spending the time to research and choose the perfect service for your book at this time in your publishing journey.

And then we have the giant, Amazon. They have their own publishing program KDP. There is no cost to upload books, they get paid when you book sells. They print it when it’s ordered and ship it to the customer. The drawback is that they will not distribute to other bookstores.

I believe it’s an exciting time for writers because we do have so many more choices as self-published authors. Small bookstores are also making a comeback and are willing to work directly with an author even though they also appreciate working with distributors. Having a plan to distribute your books as widely as possible, as well as working with an all-inclusive book printer where you can order print on-demand books or wholesale cases of books to sell the books on your own is a good idea.

Originally published at

Women’s Fiction author of That Was Then, Say You’ll Be Mine, and Evenings at the Argentine Club. Speaker and and teacher.

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