The Study

Distribution 101 - Part 2

Okay, so now we all know a little bit about what distribution is and how it works. (What? You missed that blog post? Holy smokes, click here and go read it right this instant!) But there's a huuuuuuge misconception about book distribution that persists rather stubbornly, and I think it's an important one to address. And it is this:

Just because your book is available for distribution doesn't mean you'll see it on bookstore shelves. 

Even when you make your book available for distribution, a store needs to contact the distributor and ask for them to ship over some copies of your book. And the tricky thing about bookstore shelves is, they're finite. They have extremely limited space. Barnes & Noble isn't going to call up Ingram and say, "Hey, we've got way too much open space on our shelves, send over a gaggle of self-published books, will you?" They won't say this for two reasons: 

  1. Almost no one says "gaggle" anymore, unfortunately.
  2. B&N's shelves are stuffed to bursting with New York Times bestsellers as it is. In order for them to order your book, they'll have to sacrifice a Dan Brown novel or a John Green book to make room for yours. And odds are, your book's not selling nearly as many copies as The Da Vinci Code or The Fault in Our Stars. (If it is, please call me ASAP and give me the key to your sorcery.)

For some reason, there's an idea that book distribution = bookstore placement. And it's just not the case. 

Now, does this mean signing your books with a distributor isn't worth it? Heck no! There are a lot of indie bookstores out there who make some of their inventory decisions based on local tastes and writers, and if you put in a little work, you might have some luck convincing them to add your book onto their next order form. And, hey, if your book takes off and B&N comes a-callin', you probably want them to have access to it, right? Last October, I spoke on self-publishing at the Chicago Writers Conference, and the conference had a pop-up bookstore that was set up and managed by Barnes & Noble. B&N ordered a handful of copies of my book to sell, and they sure didn't email me about it. They got the books through Ingram. So you never know when listing your books for distribution will come in handy.

Just make sure you're operating under the right bit of knowledge. Getting a distributor means little if bookstores don't have an extremely compelling reason to add your book to their shelves.

Got questions about distribution (or about the poor grammar we used to construct this sentence)?

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