Are you getting to your manuscript’s final touches and starting to prepare for the anticipated launch? However, before you pop the champagne and book the release party, make sure you have a distribution plan in place.
As a self-publishing author, you need to work out how to get your book in the hands of your potential customers.
Step one is marketing to your current audience through blog posts, emails, and social media.
But how do you make sure your book reaches a broader audience?
And what about getting it into bookstores and libraries across the globe?
That’s where having an experienced book distributor comes in. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using a book distributor as a self-published author.
Looking for something specific? Here’s what we’ll be covering in this book distributor guide:
- What does a book distributor do?
- Why you need a book distributor as a self-publishing author
- Book distributors vs book wholesalers
- eBook vs printed book distribution
- Finding the right book distributor for your book
- Book distributors in the United States
- Book distributors in Canada
- Book distributors in the United Kingdom
What does a book distributor do?
Book distributors pitch and sell titles directly to retailers, book stores, and libraries through catalogs and sales reps. Their job is to maintain a relationship with the bookstores and take care of the marketing side of things for you. More precisely, they help authors and publishers with these two things:
- Getting your book listed with wholesalers (usually a condition for getting it into bookstores).
- Actively selling and pitching books to retail buyers, getting as many as possible in front of customers.
Distributors can also be responsible for warehousing your book, depending on if you’re using a print-on-demand service (like Amazon KDP) or not. Authors usually have to sign an exclusivity agreement, meaning that your distributor is the only one who can sell your book to retailers.
Since distributors take a cut (sometimes as much as 55% of your book’s sticker price), you want to make sure you take your time finding the right one.
In self-publishing, there are three common types of book distribution models. Let’s take a closer look at them to help you decide which one is right for you.
Full-service book distribution
A full-service distributor is similar to a publishing house regarding what services they provide. They’ll do book fulfillment, warehousing, sales representation, inventory management, and much more.
The key benefit of working with a full-service team is that they often have plenty of experience and good connections in the industry. That said, it can be tricky for a self-published author to get a foot in the door with a full-service book distributor. Especially as a newbie with no sales records.
Having high presale numbers or a large online audience will make it a lot easier.
Wholesale book distribution
They can help you publish your book online and take care of your printed book’s distribution. Your title will appear in their wholesale catalog to send out to book stores and libraries.
Of course, they can’t offer any guarantees that the book stores or libraries order your book – but chances are a lot higher when you’re partnering with a well-known distributor.
Some self-publishing authors may choose to take care of the distribution themselves. The obvious downside of this approach is that it’s more time-consuming.
Plus, bulk printing your book will be a significant investment (rather than using a print-on-demand service).
Since many larger book stores won’t work directly with authors, self-distribution usually works best if you want to reach your local independent book stores.
There are many reasons you need a book distributor as a self-publishing author.
First of all, you’re otherwise limited to your network, and the chances of seeing your book on the book store shelves are slim to none.
Here’s why: book store buyers use wholesalers to order their books, which means your book title needs to be in the wholesaler’s catalog.
To complicate things further, wholesalers often have an application process and require a minimum number of titles before listing your book.
For example, to be listed in Ingram’s catalog, authors or publishers need to have at least ten titles.
Otherwise, you’ll need to work with a distributor.
So as a self-publishing author, chances are you won’t get very far without a distributor.
Boost the marketing of your book
Not only can they get your book listed with wholesalers, but they’ll also actively market and sell your book to retailers.
Without someone continuously pushing to get your book into the book stores, it will likely stay in a warehouse somewhere, far away from potential customers and readers.
Experienced distributors and their sales representatives often hold credibility in the industry and already have a well-established relationship with retailers. Even if you had the time to approach every store in your area, they’re more likely to do a better sales job. Plus, they’re just as invested in selling your title as you are.
If you already have a large online audience, you could get away with not using a distributor.
But even then, a distributor could amplify your sales and give you time to focus on other things.
Book distributors vs. book wholesalers
While wholesalers are the middlemen between you – the author or publisher – and the retailers, distributors take a more active marketing and promotion role. You could say that wholesalers act as depots for your book, storing copies in a warehouse and sending them out as customers order them. Retailers usually want to order from a few trusted sources (i.e., wholesalers) rather than hundreds of individual authors or publishers.
Book distributors often function as book wholesalers (although this isn’t always the case), but their main focus is to handle the promotion and generate demand for your book. Really, there’s no need for a wholesaler if you’re using a print-on-demand service, but a book distributor is still necessary.
eBook vs. printed book distribution
Since you’ll only need to deliver files digitally, eBook distribution is less complicated than print distribution. It’s also cheaper, with the eliminated shipping costs. For this reason, eBooks are typically less expensive to buy for the customer.
And naturally, you and the distributor would usually get a smaller profit from this deal. But eBooks are still a great way to sell your book, especially when more people choose the digital format.
If you choose to go down the road of eBook distribution, the process looks something like this:
- Find a self-publishing platform (such as Amazon KDP) and set your price.
- Customers will find your book by searching online and then (hopefully) place an order.
- The self-publishing platform syncs with the customer’s eBook platform.
- The eBook is delivered for the customer to read.
Amazingly, the whole process is done through automated systems online, so you free up more time and concentrate on writing your next book.
Finding the right book distributor for your book
Getting set up with the right distributor is vital for self-publishing authors. Ideally, you want to find one specializing in your particular niche or genre. If you’re self-publishing a book about personal finance, signing an exclusive deal with a children’s book distributor isn’t the best move. Ensure that you do plenty of research, check their websites, and read about the services information. Be aware, and pay close attention to detail and make sure you understand what they’re offering, so they line up with your niche, values, and priorities. Here are some more tips to help you find a book distributor that fits:
- Check impartial reviews online (i.e., not the reviews on their website.)
- Ask questions. Prepare a list of questions about the process and how they’re going to promote and distribute your book. Here are some examples:
- Is it an exclusive contract?
- What are their fees and commission structure?
- What are the costs of warehousing and logistics?
- Are there other fees or requirements along the way?
- In what regions will they be promoting your book?
- To what types of outlets will they sell your book?
- Can you see some examples of books they’ve sold successfully?
- Read the fine print carefully. You need to know what you agree to before signing anything.
We hope this guide has given you some clarity around planning your book’s distribution. If you’re ready to start searching for your next distributor, check out the list we’ve put together.
Book Distributors in the United States
There are many book distributors in the United States. Check them out!
Ingram Content group
The largest distributor of books to schools, libraries, online and retail stores.
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
The second-largest book distributor in the U.S, distributing for large and small independent publishers.
Baker & Taylor
No longer supplies books to retailers but focusing instead on public library and publisher services businesses.
Publishers Group West
The largest distributor of independent titles in the U.S, with full-service distribution.
BCH Fulfillment & Distribution
Distribution services for small presses, with ten or fewer titles. Authorized distributor to Baker & Taylor and Ingram.
Consortium Book Sales
Distributor working with independent publishers and academic, wholesale, and specialist markets.
DeVorss & Company
Distributor and publisher specializing in spirituality and self-help books.
Distributor specializing in natural science, outdoor guides, and regional history, mainly distributing to specialty retailers.
Book Distributors in Canada
Publishers Group Canada
An award-winning wholesale and distribution company offering full-service distribution to independent and specialty retailers.
Book Distributors in the United Kingdom
Distributor of gift books, children’s books, and stationery in England and Ireland.
CBL Distribution Ltd
A distribution company focusing on books and digital media, working with publishers across the U.K. and Europe.
Combined Book Services Limited
One of the largest distributors in the U.K, offering publishers in the U.K and overseas full-service distribution.
Distributor specializing in archeology, history, and sciences.