"Distribution" is a hot topic among self-publishers these days. We've been getting a lot of email asking for more information about distribution, so we thought we'd break down some basics!
When we writers talk about distribution, we're technically talking about distribution channels, or all of the different ways your book can get into the excited, lit-loving hands of readers around the globe. Amazon is a distribution channel; your website is a distribution channel; the trunk of your car, when filled to the brim with books that you hawk in a parking lot like some sort of weirdo, is a distribution channel too.
But more specifically, when people talk about distribution, what they usually mean is the distribution of their books to bookstores like Barnes & Noble. After all, aren't bookstore shelves the Holy Grail of book distribution?*
If you want your book distributed to small bookstores, that process can be handled personally. There are a lot of stores out there that will at least consider self-published books, especially if you're a regular visitor to the shop and the owners or managers know who you are. (Pro Tip: If you don't already to so, start spending more time in your local bookstores. It'll be good for you as a writer, and it's great to support indie shops.)
But when it comes to the big players in the world of brick-and-mortar bookstores--which, let's face it, is mostly Barnes & Noble--the process is different. You can't walk into a branch of B&N with your book in hand and say, "Hey, can I throw this on the end cap?"
Well, I mean, you can. But I wouldn't advise it.
No, if you want your book on the big boys' shelves, you need to list your book with a distributor. A distribution company can add your book to its (typically massive) catalog so that your book is made available to major retailers who might want to stock it on their shelves. If you want to get into Barnes & Noble, a distribution company is the way to do it.
Ingram is the leader in this area. According to their website, "Ingram Content Group is the world's largest and most trusted distributor of physical and digital content." And who am I to disagree? Ingram is the distribution company, and they have the biggest catalog of books and the best relationships with bookstores of all sizes around the globe. If you want your book on bookstore shelves, Ingram is probably where you want your book to be.
There's just one problem: Ingram doesn't really need you or your little self-published book.
So that's something of a hurdle.
Fortunately, most print-on-demand companies have agreements with Ingram (or other large distributors) to make your book available for sale. CreateSpace, for example, which is Amazon's print-on-demand company, offers you the opportunity to make your book available for distribution through Ingram (via a partnership with Lightning Source, but that's a topic for another time). That's why, when I spoke at the Chicago Writers Conference last fall, my book Apocalypticon was available for sale through the Barnes & Noble-run conference temporary book store; B&N secured some copies through Ingram.
There are also several smaller distribution companies that work with smaller publishers, and if you have several books under your belt and can send them a highish quantity of books, you might just secure yourself a spot with one of them.
So that's a quick rundown of how distribution works and how you can make your book available for the Barnes & Noble shelf.
But that's just the beginning.
Tune in next week for Distribution 101 - Part 2, where I'll tell you about the A-#1 World's Biggest Ever Oh-So-Common Misconception about Distribution (and why it may not be worth your time).
In the mean time, why don't you sign up for our mailing list? It'll be fun, I promise!**
*Maybe not. More on that in Part 2!
**If you like typing your email address for fun. I don't know. Some people do.